Fishing Lipless Crankbaits in the Colder Months
The weather is cooling, the grass has started to die off and the bass are feeding heavily on baitfish. These are the perfect conditions to throw a lipless crankbait, especially when it’s tough getting the fish to bite anything else. Lipless cranks provide the right action and sound to draw more strikes in colder water, and most of the time the fish are bigger as well. It’s time to throw on some extra clothes to keep toasty and pick up a lipless crankbait for your next trip. We’ll teach you everything you need to know about fishing lipless crankbaits in the Fall and Winter seasons.
Locating Bass: Find Bait First
If you are fishing anytime during the fall season, it’s important to follow the schools of bait. Baitfish such as shad and other species will migrate towards the back ends of creeks, closely followed by hungry bass. If the water is murky, this transition may occur at a quicker rate.
In the colder winter months, schools of baitfish will be a bit more tricky to locate. Unlike the warmer seasons where bait can be abundant anywhere in the water, wintertime makes the bait school in very specific locations. Bait such as shad will migrate out of the shallow creek areas and into suspended areas anywhere from 40-60 feet deep, remaining in these locations until the water temperatures rise again.
The Right Gear
A Moderate to Fast Action Rod
When it comes to length, I usually don’t go any shorter than a 7’ rod. Any rod that is 7’ or longer allows me to cast my bait farther and pick up more line when getting bit at the end of a long cast. A 7’ or longer rod will usually have better taper to it as well, allowing me to feel the vibrations of the bait accurately and detect any bites or structure.
I have found the most success with a moderate or fast action rod. Both of these options make for a softer rod tip resulting in a more sensitive feel. The slower loading action will provide enough lifting power to drive the hooks in while keeping you from ripping the hooks out of the fish’s mouth.
A Fast Gear Ratio Reel
I use a fast gear ratio reel when fishing lipless cranks. However, I would avoid any 8.1:1 or higher gear ratio reels and stick to the standard 7.3:1 gear ratio or anything close. The quick speed allows me to pick up slack line faster on a yo-yo retrieve (explained later) or if I’m simply ripping the bait out of grass, timber, rocks and other structure.
When it comes to line selection one of my primary choices is pure fluorocarbon. The stiffness, abrasion resistance and invisibile properties make it perfect for throwing lipless crankbaits. I found that 15lb works the best as it is light enough to cast far and strong enough to rip out of structure and handle hard hooksets.
My other line choice would be a braid-to-fluoro setup. When I’m doing this I usually run 30lb braid as my main line and tie a connection knot to 15lb fluorocarbon. My knot of choice is usually a Blood Knot or Albright Knot as both will go through the line guides without causing any damage or extra friction.
Size, Color & Sound: Match The Hatch
Color choice is fairly easy for the fall and winter months. The key is to keep it simple and match the bait as closely as possible. If the water is fairly clear try to use more natural baitfish colors such as Ghost Minnow, Chartreuse Shad or anything close to those patterns. In murkier water you want your lipless crankbait to show up as much as possible so use any Chartreuse, Gold, or even bright red crawfish patterns for the best results.
Size may not seem like it matters much but it can make a big difference if done correctly. When I say “size” I am referring to both weight and overall size of the bait. My go-to weight choices are usually ½-¾ ounce. I seldom use 1oz. because I try keeping my bait as small as possible, which brings me to my next point.
Make sure that the overall size of your lipless crankbait closely matches the size of the baitfish in your lake. The shad, shiners, minnows and other bait are usually fairly small (with a few exceptions, of course) so choose your baits accordingly. When you find the perfect combination of weight and size you give yourself the best chances of enticing finicky bass.
Sound is crucial to success as well. In the colder months I find that a deeper knocking sound often outperforms a higher-pitched rattling noise. The deeper knocking sounds are made by larger bearings in the bait and are actually much louder as well, helping you draw picky fish from a greater distance. When you are choosing your lure make sure to look at the size of the bearings inside (if possible), and this can be easily done by looking at lighter-colored baits.
Here are a few brand and color recommendations that I have found to be effective:
Lucky Craft LV 500 – Vibrates hard and gives off a very loud knocking sound. Heavy enough (¾ oz.) for extremely long casts yet the body size is very compact and bite-sized.
- Ghost Minnow
- Chartreuse Shad
- Pearl Shad
Duo Realis G-Fix 68 – Super compact profile and very tight wobble. Doesn’t lose it’s balance at high speeds and offers awesome colors.Ghost Minnow
- American Shad
- Red Tiger
- Blue Back Chart Tiger
6th Sense Snatch 70X – Great action on the fall making it perfect for yo-yo retrieves and weighted for perfect long distance casts.
- Ghost Threadfin Shad
- Gizzard Shad
- Chrome Shiner
Reminder: Swap Out Your Hooks!
There is nothing wrong with using black nickel hooks but I like the added attraction of a red hook in front. It gives the bait a bit more flash and gives bass something to key in on.
Here are a few hook recommendations:
Owner ST-41 Trebles – These ridiculously sharp hooks feature a curved hook point that reduces the chance of dulling when constantly hitting rocks and other structure.
Mustad KVD Elite Triple Grip Trebles – These ultra-sharp hooks offer a wider gap to further increase hookup ratio.
The most important part of fishing a lipless crankbait. There are a number of different retrieves you can do to work a lipless crank, it’s up to you to decide how you want to fish. Here are a few basic retrieves along with some specific ones that we’ve learned over the years.
The Standard Cast & Reel Retrieve
Exactly what it sounds like, except you need to play with the depth of your retrieve according to where the baitfish or bass are located. If there are rocks, timber and other structure make sure to contact it with your bait – the sudden erratic action can draw a finicky bass to strike. If the bottom is littered with rocky structure try retrieving just off the bottom, ticking the rocks as the bait comes in.
The Yo-Yo Retrieve
This is an extremely popular technique adopted by many anglers who fish lipless crankbaits. Make a long cast and let your lure hit bottom. After contacting bottom reel up any slack and lift your rod tip just quick enough to feel the bait vibrate, then drop your tip and let the bait fall back to bottom. Do this all the way back to you and you will feel one of two bites: The fish will either hit the bait on the lift giving you a solid “thump” or they’ll pick it up as it’s falling on slack line and you won’t notice until you lift your rod tip again.
Fish It Like A Jig
This technique was actually learned from Matt Allen. Let your bait hit bottom and give it subtle twitches all the way back to the boat. What this is essentially doing is flipping your bait over and over again, creating more noise and flash than a standard jig would. Once every so often rip your bait up and let it fall down again – the sudden movement will entice any fish that had been following it for a while to fully commit to biting.
I hope this has helped you step up your lipless crankbait fishing. If you have any comments or questions please leave them below in the comments and I will reply as soon as possible. Thanks everyone, tight lines!