Kim Bain details the use of a lure that is one of the most versatile in the freshwater angler's armoury.
THIS style of lure is more correctly known as the ‘lipless crankbait’ or ‘vibration bait’, but here in Australia they’re often known as the ‘Rattlin’ Spot’ or just ‘spots’.
Rattlin' Spots, Tremblers, lipless or vibrations… whatever you call them, they’ve been very popular with innumerable species throughout our Aussie lurecasting and sportfishing heritage.
American-born angler Tracy Johnson has been a great mate since he ventured onto the Aussie impoundment scene five years ago. In his home waters of Louisiana, the lipless crankbait has a dominant placing in the market – so it’s no wonder Tracy is a lipless crankbait aficionado.
Mum and I fished the waters of Louisiana with Tracy's family, and found the bass habitat to be generally shallow and discoloured. The trembling and rattling of the lure as it’s retrieved is what makes it so attractive to the fish, and this makes these artificials great for discoloured water and low light situations. They also work in clear water.
Additionally, the lipless crankbaits seem to work with even the most basic retrieve. They call active fish in from afar, so the casting may not need to be as accurate (although it helps to be on target), thus making the strike zone bigger. This makes them a great lure for novice anglers and seasoned veterans alike.
I've read that lipless crankbaits have been around since the 1950s, and the Cordell Rattlin’ Spot – which appeared in the 1960s – is the first of the modern versions. In Australia the ‘Spot’ became the name by which this type of lure is known. Other lipless crankbaits include Cordell's Spot Minnow and Suspending Spot, Excalibur Super Spot, Halco's Trembler, Bill Lewis' Rattle Trap, Strike King's Diamond Shad, Berkley Frenzy Rattl'r, and many more.
Years ago when anglers using lipless crankbaits ventured onto the impoundments of south-east Queensland, some ‘experts’ were quick to advise that their horizontal approach (which generally works the top few feet of the water column) wouldn’t work because reservoir bass inhabited a 10ft to 30ft zone.
Well, history has fixed that one. There are many situations when a lipless crankbait will outfish a trolled deep diver. It’s not a case of being anti-trolling; largely the vibration lures have proved very successful in spots which are unsuitable for trolling.
Often respectfully referred to as ‘no brainers’, the lipless crankbait is considered one of the easiest lures for novices to use successfully. The main reasons include:
• the lure can call fish in from afar;
• even when you fish them shallow, they’ll call fish from deeper water – meaning that it’s not always necessary to probe down into snaggy country and risk losing your lure;
• they’re easily cast; and
• no finesse is required to hook the fish. Put simply, the fish smacks the lure and it’s either on or it’s not.
Even better, once you get to know the lure a bit more you can use a whole plethora of tricks that you've learned to entice hard-to-catch fish from a variety of situations.
This can be achieved either with the reel (a change in cadence) or a twitch of the rod tip while keeping the reel handle turning at a steady rate. Harry Watson credited his team’s 2002 Megabucks victory, in part, to using a small reel which gave a low-speed retrieve. At other times a high-speed retrieve can be effective, especially if it’s a pulsing retrieve alternating between fast and slow.
If the fish are near the surface (such as in low light conditions) or in shallow water, suspending lures can be used when you really want to slow the retrieve right down without the lure sinking, even to the point of injecting pauses into a shallow running retrieve.
The very versatile vibration lures are ideally fished between 1ft and 15ft of water. They can be cast further than small minnows, even into a wind, and can often be retrieved at high speed. This enables you to cover more ground and target active fish, which is important both on windy days and when the impoundment natives are scattered. The lure targets feeding fish by drawing them in from a larger area than most artificials do, due to the rattle, which some say can be heard up to 10 metres away.
Because the rattle allows the fish to pinpoint the location of the lure, many anglers like to use ‘spots’ at night. Making consecutive casts to the same area gives the fish an opportunity to locate and grab your lure. Tracy Johnson recommends that, when night fishing, slowing the retrieve a notch and adding some small, rapid jerks of the rod tip gives better results.
Rattlers are often used in muddy waters as well. If the fish can't see their food, they’ll use other senses to find it.
The first time I fished with Tracy we had a great morning. We cast towards the shoreline as the boat made its way around the fog-covered lake. A small creek that had a substantial drop-off at the mouth looked too good to ignore, so we ventured inside on the bow-mount electric. It was a mighty fine spot, with deceptively deep water and plenty of bankside structure like weedbeds and timber. A few fish later, I knew I was hooked and was keen to learn more about the lipless crankbait.
Tracy explained to me that on most impoundments he can confidently catch bass on his beloved Rat-L-Traps all day. His favourite time of day is the first few hours after sun-up when he targets the fish while they’re in transition to deeper water. The same pattern frequently occurs in the afternoon when the transition happens in reverse.
On windy days, working the wind shadows is often the way to go. Additionally, when you are casting across several open wind lanes a heavy lure such as a 14g sinking Rattlin’ Spot will travel straighter than tiny 7g bibbed minnows, which often float on the breeze.
On windy and overcast days, the open water options – such as weed beds in the main body of water – can get blown out. If the fish shut down in these locations, push up into the backs of the coves and gullies where the hills on the bank can provide all-round protection.
Most fish love an influx of running water and know how to feed along a colour change. This is why, when these conditions exist, it's a good strategy to fish along the colour changes and then move into the back of the coves to fish the running or rising water.
When fishing open water with rattlers, your strike may often come on the fourth or fifth cast. The general belief is that it takes the ‘keen to feed’ bass a little while to home in on the rattle of your lure.
“As I fan my casts around over the tops of the submerged weed, I make half a dozen casts to give the fish a chance to find my lure and eat it,” Tracy says.
A basic approach of ‘burning’ (fast retrieve) these lures over the tops of submerged weed beds and through shallow water will catch you a lot of native impoundment species. But ‘stop-go’ presentations, or slow crawling either at a predetermined countdown depth or slow rolling just above the bottom, can also produce action. Again, it’s a case of trying various approaches until you start catching. As a basic guide, increase the lure retrieve speed in clear water and slow it down for dirty water.
The ideal retrieve when fishing slow appears to be one that has the lure just skimming over the tops of the weeds, occasionally licking the tips of the underwater vegetation as it goes along. Other retrieves to consider include twitching or pumping the rod to momentarily speed the lure up and increase the noise to attract the fish. This rod work also breaks small pieces of weed from the trebles, helping to keep the lure clean.
Rattlin’ Spots, for example, come in a variety of sizes and weights, each of which can be used to optimise your weedbed fishing. If water above weeds is approximately 1-2ft deep, try a 1/4oz lure with a high rod tip and fast retrieve. A 1/2oz can be used over weeds underneath 3-4ft of water, and a 3/4oz to 1oz spot for water 5-6ft or greater above the weedbeds.
Burn the bait through these shallows before the sun is on the water. You can generally catch fish on the ‘spot’ type lures when winding faster than with other lure types, and sometimes this speed is the all-important ingredient for success. The slow roll retrieve is especially good when the water is dirty (when it’s harder for fish to find the lure) and the shallow zone has recently flooded timber in it (so the structure gives you a good indication as to where the bass might be hiding). To fish this slow roll, hold your rod tip high and wind the reel just fast enough to make the lure vibrate.
The best advice I can give about when to fish the shallows is to focus on water temperatures. It’s rare to catch a bass in the shallows when the water temperature is 28 degrees or more. It’s best to target them when the shallow water is cooler, such as on an early summer morning or in winter.
Rattlin’ Spots can be more snagless than regular crankbaits when fishing timber, because when the front of the lure hits a submerged branch the lure flips over the branch and the trebles are kept away from the timber.
When fishing around timber you can use any of the vertical or horizontal lure presentations, with one additional option that’s applicable to all sinking lures. That is, when you end up with your line going over a submerged log and your lure hanging beneath it you can ‘yo-yo’ your lure in that spot in order to attract an impoundment fish’s attention. Just make sure you use line heavy enough to withstand the fraying and friction when you hook up.
If the fish are holding deep you can simply count down the lure into the strike zone before starting your retrieve. Count the seconds – the average drop rate of a 14g spot is about one metre every three seconds. Keep a close eye on where your lure is at and you’ll know where to count it down to on future casts.
Heavy versions can be used for deep jigging. After the cast (in deep water you can freespool the lure directly over the side) you can count the lure down either to the bottom or to the depth at which your sounder shows active fish. Then you just yo-yo your lure at that depth as you drift along.
When the fish aren't predictable at any given depth, you can opt to freespool your lure and ‘pump and wind’ it back to the surface. You’ll often get hit on the drop as you let the lure freefall during the pause phase of the retrieve.
Casting the lure out when you’re drifting (say, in 15ft of water) and counting down to the bottom enables you to then work the lure back to you at an angle, either by the pump and wind method or a straight retrieve. In shallow water you can cast the lure out and ‘hop’ it back to the boat using short, sharp arcs of the rod tip from horizontal (9 o’clock) to vertical (12 o’clock).
With some of the lures you’ll find that the rear treble fouls on the line when yo-yoing. You can remove the rear treble and split ring to avoid this problem if you like. Depending on your preference, the lure can be fished with just the remaining belly hook or you can replace the rear treble with a split ring and Colorado blade, just like a tailspinner.
Anglers whose polarising glasses allow them to see those golden perch that follow behind their lure will be glad to know that there are at least a couple of options on how to catch them.
One method is to work the sinking lipless crankbait a little slower, or to switch to the suspending Cordell Rattlin’ Spot that can be worked slower without it sinking. Stop winding, let its body roll and twitch it a little before recommencing your retrieve.
My father’s strategy for targeting golden perch is this: “I twigged to the need to slow down for goldens years ago when I noticed that many of them would hit my lure either right at the bank’s edge or near the boat. Of course, this was the stage of the retrieve when I was winding the slowest, so putting together a string of circumstances helped solve the riddle. Now I pause my lure below the surface before lifting it out of the water. A quick peer into the water behind the lure when wearing polarising glasses will prepare you if anything is about to happen.”
If you see a following fish, drop your rod tip before the golden strikes the lure at the side of the boat to make sure that the lure isn't pulled away from the fish.
“Just like surface strikes on topwater lures,” says Dad, “don't lean back until you feel the weight of the fish. Naturally, having a surface explosion occur at the side of the boat will have even more tendency to make you react too early with a strike. It’s so exciting that sometimes you can’t help it.”
Next month we look deeper into the sonics, and the differences between many of the lipless crankbait models.
1) Many US bass’n strategies work on Aussie natives. This Alabama largemouth bass was caught by the author cranking her Rattlin’ Spot around shallow weedbeds. The general rule is the same everywhere – in dirty water, brightly coloured lipless crankbaits, like this ‘Firetiger’ Rattlin’ Spot, are the go.
2) Anglers whose polarising glasses allow them to see the golden perch that follow their lure will be glad to know that lipless crankbaits or ‘vibration baits’ are a great option for catching them!
3) Correct tackle selection can greatly improve your productivity with lipless crankbaits. Harry Watson credited his team’s 2002 BASS Megabucks victory, in part, to the use of a small reel which gave a low-speed retrieve.
4) Steve Bain with an Aussie bass taken on a deep-jigged Halco Trembler.Reads: 5309