Six Ways to Fish Lipless Crankbaits

From the jungles of Venezuela to the Northwest Territories above the Arctic Circle, no lure has proven more consistent for scoring on a variety of gamefish for me than the lipless crankbait or vibrator lure.

In Venezuela it scored on arm-long peacock bass. And while we carefully steered clear of huge floating icebergs, it fooled arctic char and hefty lake trout at Chantrey Inlet Lodge in the Northwest Territories.

But you don’t have to go to an exotic location to put these lures to work. In fact, probably 95 percent of the fish caught on these shimmying baits are more common gamefish like largemouths, smallmouths, freshwater stripers, hybrids, walleyes and panfish.

Big largemouth bass are fond of these lures because of their realistic shad shape and sound appeal as they wiggle tightly through the water. They also rattle if they contain internal bb shot, adding sound appeal.
Big largemouth bass are fond of these lures because of their realistic shad shape and sound appeal as they wiggle tightly through the water. They also rattle if they contain internal bb shot, adding sound appeal.

You can’t go wrong simply casting them out and cranking them back. A long rod, 6 ½-7 feet is best, with a somewhat limber action and 10-20 pound line.

But that isn’t the only way to fish this unique artificial. The lipless crankbait is more versatile than many people realize.

In spite of its current popularity, early versions of this type of lure have actually been around for a long time. The first was the Pico Perch, created in the 1940’s. The Bayou Boogie and Heddon Sonic were two other popular early models. Today most major lure companies have their versions, with the Rat-L-Trap and Spot two of the most popular.

Vibrators are flat plastic lures that look like a shad. They lack a lip, but have a tight, side-to-side shimmying action that drives fish wild. Many also make noise from metal shot inside that rattles as they’re retrieved. This clattering noise is particularly important in enticing strikes in murky or muddy water, heavy cover, windy weather, or at night.

A variety of sizes are available, typically from ¼-1 ounce. Most bass fishermen prefer the ½-ounce size for the majority of their fishing. If the water is particularly clear or the forage small, go with smaller lures. For muddy water or when fish are feeding on large baitfish, ¾ or even one-ounce versions can be deadly.

Color choice depends on what the local forage fish look like and what hues work best on a particular body of water. Chrome with a blue or black back is an excellent choice. Red, “fire tiger” and gold are also good colors.

Sinking and floating vibrators are sold, but sinkers are the most popular and versatile. Typically they’ll drop at about 12 inches per second. Knowing this lets you cast over suspended fish or weed beds and count down to put the bait right above the quarry or the cover you’re fishing. Count as the lure drops until you hit weeds or bottom, then start the retrieve the next time a second or two earlier on the drop.

Lipless crankbaits can be effective either on open water schooling fish or aimed at cover such as humps, points, ledges, docks, stumps, rock piles, islands, sunken brush and drop-off edges. Working them along the top of sunken weed beds or the outer edges of vegetation is deadly.

Experiment with the presentations detailed below and chances are you’ll draw a willing response whether you’re going after largemouths and walleyes in a local lake or tarpon in the jungles of Costa Rica.

Gun it. Cast out as far as you can towards potential fish-holding water, let the lure sink 4-12 seconds, then crank it back steady and fast. This tactic is terrific for aggressive fish in warm water.

Creep in back. This uses the same retrieve, only slow. Let the lure sink until it is near the bottom, then crank it just slow enough that it doesn’t hang up. Most good vibrators will still wobble enticingly at these slow speeds. This tactic is great for wary fish or cold water conditions.

Sweep and drop. Cast out and let the lure sink to the bottom until the line goes slack. Then sweep the rod up high and fast, 2-6 feet. Then let it drop back. Keep excessive slack out as it flutters back, since strikes are common at this point, but be sure you don’t impede the free fall of the lure.

Twitch it. Sometimes a bit of extra action will entice more strikes. As you reel it in, twitch the rod upwards a foot or so every few seconds to add a different motion to the lure. This tactic often works on hard-pressed waters where fish have seen dozens of steadily-retrieved lipless cankbaits.

Trolling. Not many people fish vibrators this way, but it’s an excellent tactic for exploring new water. It also keeps your lure in the strike zone for long periods of time.

Use an electric or gas motor and work along contour lines in large creek arms of lakes and along channel drop-off edges. Also troll over points, humps and reefs, as well as between bridge columns. Bass, stripers, hybrids, and walleyes will all strike vibrators presented this way.

Sudden stop. If a cold front has pushed through, try this delivery. Cast out past a likely fish-holding spot, let the lure sink to the bottom or just above it, then begin a slow to moderate steady retrieve. As you get near the prime area with the lure, simply stop your retrieve and let the lure sink.

This free-falling lure presents an image of a wounded shad that bass, walleyes, and stripers find hard to resist. When possible, time it so that the pause occurs when the lure is over a prime area such as a drop-off or weed bed edge.

To the gamefish, it must look like a wounded shad or minnow trying to escape but running out of steam. That’s usually too tempting for a voracious finned predator to resist!

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