Cold Water Tactics - Lipless Crankbaits
Published on Bassmaster.com February 12, 2009
In Parts 1 and 2 of Cold Water Tactics, I mentioned the skirted jig and the medium running crankbaits as the top producers in the wintertime. Part 3 is about lipless crankbaits, which happens to be hands-down my favorite bait in the winter. As a guide on perhaps the best big bass lake in the country, I've caught giants on quite a variety of baits. But I get more fish on the lipless crankbait than all other baits combined in the winter. I was very reluctant to get on the lipless crankbait bandwagon. But once I started catching giant fish on them, I was hooked.
I've been fishing the lipless crankbaits year-round since I was a kid and I've caught thousands of small fish on them. So, I always thought of them as a numbers bait. But something about fishing them in the winter brings out the big fish bite. I've boated several fish over 10 pounds on them in the colder months. In fact, we caught a 10-pounder on one just last Friday. See the mouth on this fish below. She was only 23 inches and weighed 10 pounds. What a toad!
The wind was blowing 30+ mph and we caught her right next to the ramp where we put in. She bit a 3/4-ounce Xcalibur crankbait in the Rayburn red color. That color and pattern resembles an orange crawfish. Almost every lipless crankbait I use this time of year has either red or orange in it. Sometimes they like a little chartreuse on them. There are many manufacturers that make good lipless crankbaits. The main thing is to have some red or orange on it and replace the hooks if it doesn't come with quality hooks. If you look at the back of that fish's mouth, you can see a dark red spot. The fish uses that part of her mouth to chew crawfish. Since crawfish are a favorite food source for bass, I believe that's what they think they are eating when they grab an orange/red lipless crankbait.
I believe it is very important to have the right setup for fishing lipless crankbaits. Distance is more important than accuracy this time of the year, so you want a combination that will launch your bait a long way. I use all 7' Kistler Helium rods for these baits. Kistler rods are made here in Texas, but they are available everywhere. The Kistler Helium rods are very light and will load up good to help launch the lures. It's very important to use a rod that isn't too stiff or you will lose a lot of fish after they're hooked. The pros use the terminology "pulling away" when this happens. It's hard to understand how it happens, but you hook a fish with treble hooks on a stiff rod and a few seconds later you're bringing your bait back to the boat without a fish. This rarely happens when you use a rod with some play in it. I use 7' medium rods for the lighter lures and 7' medium heavy for 1/2- to 3/4-ounce lures. Kistler rods aren't as stiff as many other rods that are labeled medium heavy, so keep that in mind in your rod selection.
The rule of thumb is to use stiffer rods when fishing a lure with a single hook and use more limber rods with treble hooks. I've used several medium heavy rods from other manufacturers that are too stiff for using with treble hooks. So your medium action rods may be more like the action of my medium heavy rods. If you're losing fish underwater, try a lighter action rod.
As for reels, I use Citica reels by Shimano and Revo reels by Ambassadeur. Both will throw a mile when they're set right. Lipless crankbaits throw better than almost any other lure, so any reel will throw fine. But you may be missing out on a lot of fish if a better quality reel would get you another 10 to 20 feet. As for line, I've been using Berkley Big Game for about 20 years. It is very strong and inexpensive. This time of the year, you don't get very many break offs, so you can get away with lighter line than any other time of the year. I use 15-pound Big Game almost exclusively this time of the year. I believe I could probably get away with 12-pound test, but I use expensive lures and I get a lot of backlashing amateurs in my boat, so I opt for the 15-pound line. Big Game has a bigger diameter than other lines of the same test, so 15-pound test is probably equivalent to 17-pound test of other brands. A lot of pros and guides like braided line for this type of fishing . I personally don't use braid much unless I'm using a spinning reel. But if you do fish braid, you should be even more careful not to fish with a rod that's too stiff.
So be sure to have a lipless crankbait with some red or orange in it, a good casting reel, a long rod that has some flex, and the right line for long casts. Be sure to read Cold Water Tactics Part 4