The fall is almost here. Cool days and cold nights are right around the corner and with that a reawakening of the shallow waters that have been boiling here in the south these last few months. As the water temperatures drop, the shad will rise to the surface and make their way back into the creeks and pockets all along our southern waterways. One of the best fall bass fishing baits for targeting fish around all this bait… the lipless crankbait.
For me personally, a ¼-ounce lipless crankbait is pretty hard to beat when the shad flood the shallows. Both the gold standard Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap and the new age workhorse, the Stike King Red Eye Shad, have put hundreds of pounds of bass in mine and my dad’s boat this time of year. One of the fisheries we use these baits the most is Wheeler Lake on the Tennessee River.
Each year since 1974, our bass club, the Kowaliga Bassmasters, has made the pilgrimage to Wheeler in October for our first taste of fall. That’s probably the lake where I first threw a Rat-L-Trap and certainly the one where I’ve thrown one the most in the fall. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of shad flood the shallows there each year followed by swarms of aggressive bass feeling good from the cooling waters and looking to bulk up for the winter ahead.
There are variations of the lipless crankbait and techniques with it that I have learned work the best in the fall through fishing Wheeler over the years, a lot of which will translate to other fisheries across the southern states and beyond. Let’s dive into some of those now.
Lipless Crankbait: Yo-Yoing
When the shad first start to move back into the creeks and pockets, I’ll often encounter them on bluff walls or in the middle of pockets where the water is still 10 to 15-feet deep. Yo-Yoing a lipless crankbait works really well in these situations.
Basically you just want to cast your bait out past the ball of shad and let it sink down below them. Then rip the bait up into the ball of shad and let it sink again. This mimics a struggling shad and is exactly what the bass sitting beneath the ball of bait are looking for.
I’ll typically use a 1/2-ounce lipless crankbait here. You can use a 1/4-ounce but it’s rarely necessary.
Lipless Crankbait: Busting Shallow Bait
As the bass push the bait shallower and shallower, they start to bust them or school on them. That’s when you just want to throw your lipless crankbait past where they’re busting and bring the bait through with a nice steady retrieve. Typically this is happening on a hump, flat or in the back of a pocket so the water is only 1 to 3 feet deep. Because of this, you’ll often need to hold your rod tip up while you reel your bait in and you want to be able to pause the bait or jerk it to give it more action.
However, if you’re doing this across a flat with a pretty good drop on the side, definitely pause your retrieve or ‘kill the bait’ as you reach the deeper water and you’ll often draw a strike there.
Lipless Crankbait: 1/4-Ounce vs 1/2-Ounce
Depending on how shallow you are fishing, a 1/4-ounce lipless crankbait can be much easier to work and more effective than a 1/2-ounce. In addition, there are times when fish will just react better to one or the other so it’s a good idea to have both rigged up.
Sometimes in the fall, matching the hatch is important, so you want to use a 1/4-ounce of 1/2-ounce based on the size of the bait present.
However I’ve also experienced the opposite where there is so much bait present that using a bait that differs slightly in size from the surrounding forage is more effective. Don’t be afraid to try different things if you’re not getting bit. Likewise with color, though typically you want to match the hatch there.
Lipless Crankbait: Lipless with a Blade
Bill Lewis made a 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap with a willow leaf blade where the back hook would typically be and I’ve had a lot of luck with this bait in the fall. It’s not really a bait I fish at all the rest of the year, but when there’s an overabundance of shad I have found that the added flash of the little willow leaf seems to stand out in the crowd well enough to draw a few more strikes.
I believe this bait may have been discontinued but is easy to duplicate by simply replacing the back treble with a swivel and small willow leaf blade.
Lipless Crankbait Gear
For fishing a lipless crankbait, I prefer a Vursa 7’0” medium heavy paired Lew’s LFS Speed Spool in 7.5:1 and 15-pound fluorocarbon. I might step down to 12-pound test when Yo-Yoing the bait if the fish are a little deeper, but 15-pound is definitely what I go with 95% of the time.
This article was contributed by an ANGLR Expert
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