There are no magic bullets in fishing. No single lure is guaranteed to work every time, under all circumstances. Having said that, a very limited collection of lures with broad, multi-species, season-long appeal does exist: these are lures that you can tie on, no matter when or where you’re fishing, with the reasonable expectation of success. Lipless rattlebaits are members of this exclusive club, and can catch nearly everything that swims in your favorite lake, river or reservoir. My guess is that you own some, so let’s learn how to fish them.
Anatomy of the lipless rattlebait
Lipless rattlebaits are effective because their profiles, action, sound and vibration provide a dazzling array of strike-triggering stimuli that appeals to nearly everything with fins. Lipless rattlebaits are generally hard plastic, featuring a baitfish profile and molded with a hollow interior to accommodate metal beads that provide their namesake rattling sound. Unlike other hard plastic lures, lipless rattlebaits lack a diving lip at the head, giving anglers complete depth control: these lures can be fished in ultra-shallow water or over weeds by cranking them fast, or in very deep water by simply allowing them to fall on a free spool to the desired depth. Lipless rattlebaits were some of the first examples of flat-sided hard baits – they were designed with highly effective flat sides before flat became “cool”. This general profile yields an active, vibrating bait with a tight shimmy on the lift or when the bait is retrieved, and then a wider, swimming wobble on the fall.
Bass love lipless rattlebaits
Lipless rattlebaits are outstanding search tools. One of most productive times to chase largemouth with lipless rattlebaits is when the fish are scattered over large areas, like the cold- and cool-water periods of spring and fall when water temperatures are in the 50s and 60s oF. A long cast followed by a steady retrieve that allows the lure to make occasional contact with cover, like weeds or submerged wood or stumps, is the key. These are generally shallow-water areas, so leave the speed-demon reels on the workbench, instead selecting reels with a lower gear ratio in the 5.5:1 to 6.5:1 range. Spool up with a strong, castable 100% fluorocarbon main like, like Seaguar InvizX in 12 lb test, and tie directly to the lure’s split ring on the line tie. Use a moderate action rod that will be forgiving on the hookset and provide some necessary shock-absorbing qualities when a big fish is boatside; indeed, the Legend Glass series from St. Croix Rod is an excellent choice for crankin’ lipless rattlebaits. When the water is cool and clear, choose lures with natural or muted finishes; muddy water in the spring or fall calls for bright, flashy, or high-conrast patterns to help bass locate the bait.
Summer smallmouth bass in lakes and rivers are prime targets for lipless rattlebaits. In lakes and reservoirs, look to reefs and similar midlake structures that top out in the 12 to 16 foot range, especially when rocks and boulders are abundant – the bigger, the better. Rock is also a key smallmouth attractant on rivers, whether it’s a rip-rap shoreline, a mid-river rockpile, or a wingdam on a larger river. One key difference on rivers when compared to lakes, however, is that river smallmouth associated with rock will typically be found shallower than in lakes – sometimes right along the shore – as long as the current speed is right. When chucking lipless rattlebaits for smallmouth, retrieve at a speed that provides frequent contact with the rock; those unpredictable deflections off cover are tremendous strike triggers. In rivers, a jigging retrieve can also be very effective, with the rattlebait hopping off the bottom as soon as contact is made. Since chasing bronzebacks involves regular contact with hard cover, upgrade your line to an exceptionally abrasion resistant fluorocarbon, like Seaguar AbrazX in 15 lb test, which will help make fishing around rocks more worry-free.
Walleyes love ‘em too!
At certain times of the year, lipless rattlebaits can be exceptional choices for eliciting strikes from walleyes. Post-spawn Great Lakes walleyes, migrating from tributaries back to their big water homes, respond favorably to lipless rattlebaits fished with a fast jigging retrieve. Repeated lift-drop cycles, with two-foot lifts and slack-line drops back to the bottom, can be very effective as walleyes cruise shallow flats and breaklines in search of easy meals. In the summer, when large numbers of walleyes patrol deep weedlines and forage within expansive weedbeds, lipless rattlebaits can trigger aggressive strikes by fishing them right through the weedy forest. Retrieve lipless rattlebaits in the heart of the weeds and along the deep edges, and aggressively rip them free of the vegetation when one of the lure’s treble hooks finds some greenery. A braided main line, like Seaguar Smackdown in 30 lb test, with a 12 lb test fluorocarbon leader will make it easier to liberate lipless rattlebaits from weedy snags.
No matter where you’re fishing or what species you’re fishing for, lipless rattlebaits have earned a regular place in your lure rotation. Fish one frequently this year, and you’ll quickly appreciate that lipless rattlebaits are truly all-season wonder lures.