This is a BBZ guest post by forum poster J10b. Jonathan Brown grew up in Pelham, New Hampshire, and currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, but calls Shreveport, Louisiana home. He was commissioned as an Officer by the United States Air Force in 2003, and has flown the B-52 as a navigator while stationed at Barksdale AFB, and is currently an MQ-1 Predator pilot stationed in Las Vegas. While living in Shreveport, Louisiana, he began to actively participate in American Bass Angler tournaments, where he finished with multiple top 25 places. He also fished over 15 local and club tournaments, where he never finished lower than 7th place, and had multiple top 5 finishes. In August 2007, he fished the prestigious U.S. Open at Lake Mead and finished in 14th place for the AAA division. In 2008 he was the 2008 US OPEN AAA Champion and finished 38th overall in the BASS Open Central Division Co-Angler standings.
Don't give me any lip,
We all experience tough fishing at one time or another and most of us have confidence bait. There are two people I know of that have over 60 years of confidence in the Lipless crank, or as most of you know it by, Rat-L-Trap. I had never heard of someone having that much confidence in a bait until I moved to Louisiana 5 years ago and met two men from two completely different backgrounds and neither knew the other one. Enter Tom Davis and Scottie Franklin.
When I started my foray into tournament bass fishing my good neighbor and great friend Tom Davis insisted on my purchase of a rattlin’ bait to be on the safe side. This fine southern gentleman had used this particular brand of lipless crank since it was created, which happens to be created and manufactured just a short 2 hour drive south in Alexandria, LA. Little did he know that just across town and later thousands of miles away while serving in the US Navy, Scottie Franklin had also developed the “Trap” as his confidence bait.
The two tales of this great bait meet in the middle with me, yours truly Jon Brown. I went to my local Bass Pro Shops and purchased the colors Tom had suggested and being more of a worm/flipper didn’t think I would use them. Well, I take that back; I figured I’d trust a new bait if my worm fishing failed me.
Fate smiled on me as she placed me in the boat of Scottie “Rattlin’ Scottie” Franklin’s boat that cool December morning. We talked a bit about the military, as I am active duty Air Force, and he told me he was getting back into tournament fishing after a long absence and basically fun fishing. I can’t put into words how grateful I was to draw a guy like Scottie. He treated me, a greenhorn first time co-angler, like I strive to treat my co-anglers. We got to our first spot and Scottie starts living up to his nickname and flingin’ that trap.
I was struggling with my worm in the back until he landed a fish close to 3 pounds on his trap. Little did I know that Tom had packed in my fishing brain, a bag of tricks and in my tackle box the tools I needed. Who knew that I would have a great teacher to help refine and demonstrate those tricks like Scottie did. Oh, we caught fish that day. Not enough to win but we had an absolute blast. To this day I can’t believe how fortunate I have been to have two guys that have never met each other both having such confidence in a bait for a combined 60+ years. I think that speaks volumes for that bait. I have been out on the boat hundreds of times since then with Tom and actually fished against Scottie since then and every time that trap found itself tied on our rods. I’d like to share some of the tips and trick they’ve shared with me. Hopefully this will give you that same confidence that so many other have put in that little lipless crank we call, Rat-L-Trap.
I am in no way going to tell you what lipless crank you should buy. I personally use the Rat-L-Trap. So feel free to pick out any lipless crank you may want to apply some of the ideas here and you will have a blast. If you are anything like I am, you are thinking long and hard about a fishing trip. With gas well over $4.00 a gallon, I think to myself “do I really want to spend the $50.00 in gas for the boat and truck to only go and get skunked?” I say grab yourself a lipless crank and try it.
Looking for a place to throw that trap? A nice place to start is throwing it near the boat ramp. There are a few good reasons to barely leave the launch. Foremost, you may not even need to fire up that big motor. Nothing keeps gas in the tank like using the electric trolling motor. Another nice thing about fishing the launching area is you have structure that you wouldn’t normally have at another part of the lake: it’s a win-win situation. First, when the construction is underway there is new structure being made at the same time, boat channels are made, man made structure to reinforce the ramp is piled up near and at the ramp, anti-erosion measures are also placed around the ramp and launching area. Not to mention most boat ramps are built near or in deeper water. Lastly, boat ramps are a great place because fish are released in and around boat ramps. Be it a tournament or stocking there is almost always a fish population near ramps. Docks, ramps, and other structure grow algae which attract smaller bait fish and thus attracting bass and other game fish. With all these things combined, the launch ramp and adjacent structures are a great place to fish, all without having to fire up the big motor. So now you have some confidence that fish are there, try running that lipless crank along that structure. Run it parallel and stop it at every change in the structure. If you are fishing the riprap bank, run it along until you bring it past a rock that has fallen, kill the bait and let it flutter for a few seconds or two, then continue fishing it stopping it at every change you see or feel. Change up this retrieve even more by shortening or lengthening pauses. You may want to try slow rolling the bait at a 45 or 90 degree angle from the riprap or whatever structure you have chosen. If you are fishing near the shore try to let the bait land as quietly as possible and let it slide into the water keeping it in contact with the bottom. This is a killer technique with a craw colored bait. You can try this with a shad colored bait as well but occasionally pop the rod. This will mimic a baitfish feeding.
These techniques are not just limited to the launch. Use them near wood or any other structure you come across. Treat a gravel point or any point the same way as the example of the riprap bank. Fish parallel to the point then across it. Try to make as much contact with the structure as you possibly can; doing so will elicit wicked strikes.
Grass is another structure place that attracts bass, especially in lakes like Lake Mead that are mostly barren of grass or weeds. Grass is another key spot for bass and their forage. Actually, grass is more of a home for the forage but when there is bass forage, there are bass lurking to feed. Grass beds provide food for baitfish and crayfish. Plants provide an oxygen rich environment which in turn creates a breeding ground for the baitfish and crayfish and also a fertile area to feed. Bass lurk in the cover that the grass provides. Picture a forest in your mind: visibility is tight and a fast moving bass can easily ambush unsuspecting feeding baitfish. Ripping the bait over and through the grass causes a bass to trigger in on the action and sounds. It’s the commotion that will draw the lurking bass to the ripping bait. Ripping the bait means to cast to the grass, you’ll have a good idea where the grass is by using your electronics to see it. As soon as you find the grass, mark the edge with a marker buoy and quietly back off. Cast out to the grass bed and slowly reel, letting the bait fall until you feel it tick against the grass. As soon as you feel the grass you can let the bait fall a little more into the grass or as soon as you feel it tick, quickly jerk the rod from a 9-10 o’clock position to a 12 o’clock position. As soon as you rip the bait kill your retrieve. This will cause your bait to flutter into the grass driving the bass wild. Another retrieve is to slowly reel until you feel the bait just tick against the grass. Keep a steady retrieve just above the grass. If you can see a hole in the grass you can kill the bait and let it flutter down. If you can’t see a hole keep the retrieve going until you reach the edge of the grass line, then kill the bait. If you can, let the bait fall through the edge into the open water. This will trigger the bass on the inside edge of the grass to strike a bait falling through the edge into the open water area.
Don't forget to run the bait parallel to the grass line. Bass just don't use the grass to feed on the baitfish in the grass, but will often use the edges of the grass to ambush unsuspecting prey moving by.
A nice tip is to lay the front treble flat back and snip off the front pointing hook. This will leave 2 hooks left on the front treble and make your lipless almost weedless.
On those days when you see anglers beating the banks, tie on a lipless crank and head offshore. Often when anglers are intimidated by offshore structure they drop shot, deep crank, or Carolina rig, but a lipless crank works here as well. Lipless cranks from most companies fall at 1 foot per second so it makes it easy to let it flutter to the depth you need to work. Depending on your line, test strength, mono/braid/fluorocarbon, will vary the fall, but running a lipless that does a great job mimicking forage in a place it’s rarely seen has been pretty successful. Most rattling baits fall at about one foot per second on 10lb line; however, if you’re using heavier line or fluorocarbon the rate of fall may be different. Keep in mind that most crankbaits are tested with 10-12 lb mono, which you should take into consideration if you are using a fluorocarbon line that may have a smaller diameter. You can test it yourself by getting in ten feet of water and tossing it out and counting how long it takes to get the bottom. Again, I always use a marker buoy to help me define where the structure is located. Don’t toss the marker right on the structure but in a place where you can cast without tangling the line. There is nothing worse than a perfect cast, counting a bait down and working it faithfully only to find that you are completely off target.
As far as rod selection goes, a medium action cranking rod will suffice for lipless cranks less than 1/2 oz. As you go up in lure weight you may want to consider a medium/heavy rod. Use a cranking rod if you possibly can. Granted, you can use a medium/heavy rod for all lipless cranks, but you will find your landing rate will go up with the medium action rod. When the bass hits the lipless crank he is going to get a mouthful of trebles, and if you are fishing with too heavy of an action rod you are going to rip the bait out of his mouth before you get a decent grip on the fish. If you fish too soft of an action you are never going to get the hooks to penetrate, that’s why I prefer a medium action rod for my lipless cranking. In a pinch I'll tie it to my medium/heavy action spinnerbait rod. It’s a little softer than most other medium/heavy action rods so as long as you realize that and let the fish take the bait and try not to horse it, I have a decent landing rate. As with all crankbaits its when, not if you are going to lose fish, the right medium action cranking rod will help you get fish to the boat. Here is something that Scottie helped me with: as you let the fish load up on that bait, keep solid pressure on the fish but do not horse it to the boat. Hook set is more of a sweeping motion rather than a hard pop. There are 6 points on that bait and you may just have the fish on by one of them, so play the fish and don’t try to swing for the fences with the hook set and rush him to the boat. I think if you select the right rod and let the rod do the work, you’ll find your landing ratio will go way up.
For my reel selection I use a 6:1 or about 25 inches per turn for the handle. This is a very versatile ratio; you can burn the bait or slow it way down. You can use a 7:1 or a 5:1 but in each instance you could be limiting yourself. I tend to use my lipless cranks as a search bait and the 6:1 ratio reel gives me the option of changing my retrieve speed to cover water and see what the fish are looking for. If you are on the fish and they are liking a fast or slow retrieve you may be able to get a more consistent retrieve by switch to a higher or lower ratio. So you can still use the high speed or low speed reel to fish the lipless crank and in some cases it can be the best option but this can vary from day to day. I find that the 6:1 is more versatile.
My line choice is fluorocarbon. This type of line sinks getting the bait deeper than mono, has less stretch, and is more sensitive. I use either 10 lb test in water with minimal cover and 12 lb test for most other applications. There are some good quality Fluorocarbons that have a higher test rating but the diameter of a 12 lb test line, usually about .013 in diameter. This means that the bait will run like its on 12 lb mono but you could be fishing with 14lb or more test strength. Sometimes you may really need that extra couple of pounds of test in the line. There is a good trick for fishing shallow that will work with all crankbaits: use a heavy test line, 17lb or 20lb line. This will cause the bait to run much shallower. If you are looking to run over some grass that is close to the surface this could be what you are looking for as the bait runs closer to the surface and you have the added power of the heavy test. The drawback to this is the lack of line capacity on the reel.
Color is another key part of the equation. The usual colors apply here. Use natural colors in clear water and dark or chartreuse in muddy and stained water. There are a host of colors available. I highly recommend that once you find a certain color that works, take for instance, Tennessee Shad, that you buy the chrome version for sunny days and the standard version for the cloudy days. Although, I find that a chrome/blue back, chrome/black back, and a red craw work year round and in just about every condition. Don’t be afraid to throw that chrome bait even in cloudy muddy water, bass use their lateral line for vibrations and sound will draw them to the bait.
I have used lipless cranks from the East to West coast. Fishing is all about confidence; whether you are a weekend angler or a tournament pro, you know that your what your confidence level going into the day is determines how the day ends up. The lipless crank will give you that confidence.
As I previously mentioned, I use the Rat-L-Trap from Bill Lewis lures. The Liv’n Sound mimics baitfish perfectly, and they are also affordable. This is a lure you don’t have to think twice about throwing into cover. I have heard some complaints about the paint chipping off, but I have found those beat up lures actually catch more fish than my brand new ones. However, there are a host of lipless cranks out there that will do a great job. Strike King has the Red Eye Shad which is a great bait, and then there is the Luckycraft LVR which has depth specific lipless baits. So you can basically get a quality lipless crank from your favorite company and go have fun.
On Lake Mead in the US Open I used the Rat-L-Trap extensively to pattern fish in practice. My biggest fish may have not come on a Rat-L-Trap, but there is huge difference running around a tough lake with 5 in the live-well an hour and a half after launch, rather than that hurried, sinking, feeling you get when nothing is working. The same exact trap works as well in the south and east. Again, I had a limit well before noon. That confidence the lipless crank gives is something you can’t buy. It’s the feeling you get on Friday night as you prep the boat for a Saturday morning of fishing. You know you are going to be on the fish. If you are fishing a tournament, that confidence could mean a check, if you are “just goin fishin” you may just tear em’ up before 9 and then the whole family is happy, if you know what I mean Anyway, give your favorite lipless crank a shot on your next trip.