By Gerald Almy
One of the first decisions you'll face when choosing any lure is what color to select. I use two factors for deciding this. One is what the most dominant local forage fish look like. The second is simply what has worked best in other similar fishing situations with that particular lure.
With these guiding principles in mind, for lipless crankbaits, also known as "vibrators," I generally go with chrome with a blue or black back for the local waters that most of us in the Shenandoah Valley fish. Red, "fire tiger" and gold are also good. (Fire tiger is a flashy combination of yellow, chartreuse and bright orange).
Both sinking and floating vibrators are sold, but sinkers are by far the most popular and versatile. They are the type you'll want for fishing waters such as Lake Anna, Smith Mountain and the Potomac River. 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 productive either in open water cast towards 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.
Stock a selection of lipless crankbaits from ¼-1 ounce in a variety of colors and try one of the retrieves listed below and chances are you'll draw a willing response whether you're going after largemouths, walleyes or stripers.
Rip it: Simply cast out as far as you can towards potential fish-holding water, let the lure sink three to 12 seconds, then crank it back steady and fast. This is a great method for aggressive fish in warm water.
Crawl it: Same retrieve, only slow it down. Let the lure sink until it is just off 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. Good 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.
Vertical jig: Joe Hughes, former Public Relations Director for Rebel Lures, showed me this tactic. Fish it like you would a slab spoon. Locate bait or good structure with fish on it, and then lower the vibrator straight down to the fish's level or just slightly above.
Raise the rod straight up 12 to 48 inches, then lower it back down. Keep excessive slack out, but let it fall freely. This is similar to the sweep-and-drop, but instead of casting the lure you're fishing it directly beneath the boat. It's great for mid-winter and the heat of summer when fish are deep and in a sluggish mood. Works well over river channel edges, deep points and next to bridge pilings.
Twitch it: A steady retrieve usually works best, but sometimes a bit of extra action will entice more strikes. As you retrieve, twitch the rod upwards a foot or so every few seconds to add a different motion to the lure. This often works on hard-pressed waters where fish have seen dozens of steadily-retrieved Spots and Rat-L-Traps pulled past them.
Trolling: Not many people fish vibrators this way, but it's an excellent tactic for exploring new water and keeping 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. Stripers, hybrids, walleyes and bass will all take vibrators presented this way.
Sudden stop: If a cold front has pushed through, I like this presentation. 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.
There's something about this free-falling shad imitation that even lethargic cold-front bass and wary stripers find hard to resist. If 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 where fish might be hovering waiting for an easy meal. It must look like the shad swimming past them ran out of gas and is wounded and fluttering downward.
That's too much for a hungry gamefish to resist!
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.