Almy: Lipless crank baits remain effective

By Gerald Almy

Sometimes it’s in your favorite local pond or a nearby creek that you discover how productive and versatile a particular fishing lure is. Other times it’s on an exotic trip to some far-off destination.

That’s how it was for me with the lipless crankbait. I had always known this was a valuable artificial. But I really found out just how incredible this lure was on a fly in trip to a remote jungle lodge along the coast of Costa Rica where it borders Nicaragua.

I had actually fished there before and enjoyed fabulous tarpon fishing with flies. Normally I would have grabbed my 12 weight Fenwick fly rod, a box of bead-eyed streamers and climbed into the wooden boat to battle high-jumping tarpon again when I arrived this time.

But the camp owner was noticeably grim-faced when he greeted me. I sensed something was wrong.

Past trips battling tarpon wouldn’t be duplicated this time. A major flood had descended on northern Costa Rica just before I arrived. The river was churning milky brown and fishing for the silver king was impossible.

Fortunately, my guide Armando Brown knew of a few spots we could try for other fish to avoid a total washout. Steering the boat through debris clogging the river, he found a side channel, then a clear green creek pouring into the muddy flowage.

Sifting through my tackle box, the guide picked out a Cordell Spot and tied it to the line. Virtually every cast for the next three hours until dinner time yielded a feisty snook or variety of local panfish.

That wasn’t the only exotic trip where the tried-and-proven lipless crankbait, or “vibrator,” had come through for me. In the jungles of Venezuela they’ve nailed double-digit peacock bass and in the Northwest Territories huge lake trout and Arctic char gobbled them greedily.

But you don’t have to go to a distant 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, walleyes and panfish.

Bass tournament fishermen love them because they can cover lots of water quickly with long casts and zipping retrieves. And that’s how they produce for most fishermen. Simply reel out and crank them back. A long rod, 6 ½-7 feet is best, with a somewhat limber action and 10-20 pound line.

But flinging the lure out and cranking it back isn’t the only way to fish this unique artificial.
The lipless crankbait is a more versatile lure than many people realize. Before going into some of the different presentations you can use with vibrators, a closer look at the lure may be helpful.

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 1940s. The Bayou Boogie and Heddon Sonic were two other popular early models. Today most major lure companies have their versions, with the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap and Cordell Spot two of the most popular.

Vibrators are flat lures that look almost like they were stamped out with a cookie cutter in the shape of a shad. They lack a lip, but instead count on three things for their immense fish-appeal. Those include 1. A realistic shad silhouette; 2. A tight, side-to-side shimmying action; 3. Noise created by 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. The lures are also great in clear water and calm wind conditions, however, because they simply look so realistic.

Some lipless crankbaits have different sizes of shot in separate internal chambers. They Rat-L-Trap and Rattl’n Rap have several large rattles in the front section and about a dozen smaller pellets in a rear chamber. This creates a multi-frequency sound — a high-pitched clatter that the fish hears with its inner ear and a low frequency sound that’s picked up by the lateral line.

A wide range of sizes are available, typically from ¼ to 1 ounce. Most serious 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 effective.

Next Week: Seven tactics for fishing crankbaits.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.