Walleye and Lipless Crankbaits
By: Mark Romanack
Weight forward lipless crankbait designs like the Rippin’ Rap and the new Bill Lewis HammerTrap enhance the flutter of these baits as they are worked along bottom and allowed to flutter on a slack or taunt line.
It’s funny how certain fishing lures get pigeon-holed as baits that only work for select species. The lipless crankbait is one of those lures anglers associate with bass fishing and little else. Maybe that is become iconic lures like the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap were designed for bass fishing and have caught countless bass over the decades.
I’m happy to report that in recent years, walleye anglers have started to discover the fish catching powers of the lipless crankbait. The Rapala Rippin’ Rap has led the charge at least in terms of walleye anglers opening their mindset and using lipless crankbaits in certain situations.
It makes sense that a southern company would create a lipless bait for bass fishing and a northern company would figure out ways to put lipless cranks to work catching walleye. Bass anglers typically use lipless crankbaits as search tools, not unlike a spinnerbait or a square billed crankbait. Because a lipless crank can be casted a long distance, they are often used to cast ahead of the boat while tooling down the bank with an electric motor.
Lipless baits pull through submerged grass and wood amazingly well further adding to their popularity as a “chunk and wind” style lure.
Walleye anglers use lipless crankbaits in a much different way. Instead of making long casts followed by slow steady retrieves, walleye anglers typically cast a lipless bait, allow it to sink to bottom and then retrieve the bait in a “lift and drop” style retrieve similar to how a jig is fished. This “lift and drop” retrieve is amazingly effective. Most of the strikes occur when the bait is fluttering back to bottom on a slack or taunt line.
Somewhere in the back of this giant walleye’s throat is a lipless crankbait it completely inhaled. For those anglers who have not discovered them, lipless cranks are very effective at triggering savage strikes from cold water walleye.
The trick is to lift the bait aggressively enough that the signature “buzz” or “high pitched” rattle of the lipless bait is felt in the rod tip. This style of fishing is best achieved with a low stretch super line. The ideal set up is a 10 pound test, high visibility low stretch super line, that features a three or four foot leader of 12 to 15 pound test fluorocarbon line.
The fluorocarbon leader is important and provides a couple of critical functions. For one, the fluorocarbon provides an invisible connection between line and lure. Secondly, because fluorocarbon is fairly stiff and holds it shape, it helps to eliminate the problem of the hooks on the bait fouling on the line.
Among the anglers who throw lipless baits often for walleye, many have come to the conclusion that the reason the Rippin’ Rap is so effective on walleye is because the bait flutters back to bottom in a more enticing manner than other lipless baits. Since the vast majority of the bites occur while the bait is falling, this is a logical conclusion.
At the annual ICAST sport fishing convention held in Orlando, Florida every summer Jake and I are always on the look out for new baits we feel will enhance our fishing success. The Bill Lewis HammerTrap immediately caught our eye. The weight-forward design of the HammerTrap means it will cast like a bullet and also flutter nicely on the drop. While we had some samples to play with this summer, this new lure is only now becoming widely available to consumers. It takes months and in most cases years to create new lures and get them to market.
Jake Romanack poses with a nice walleye that smacked a Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap lipless bait. Lipless baits are gaining in popularity among walleye anglers who cast them early in the year when walleye are in the pre-spawn, spawn or post-spawning periods.
For us at Fishing 411 TV there will be several places we are anxious to compare the new HammerTrap against both the fish catching powers of the Rat-L-Trap and the Rapala Rippin’ Rap. The spawning reefs in the Western Basin of Lake Erie will be a good proving ground for this lure. Lipless baits produce especially well on pre-spawn, spawning and post-spawn walleye.
The other place we can’t wait to throw the HammerTrap is at the Wisconsin waters of Green Bay. Beginning literally as soon as the boat launches are ice free, lipless crankbaits account for a significant percentage of the walleye caught day in and day out. Lipless baits also tend to produce some of the biggest fish and Green Bay has some literal monsters to offer.
Thirdly, our crew will be traveling north to Ontario for a return visit to Flint Wilderness Resort. This fishery is shallow and features some of the most beautiful rock outcroppings and gravel structure a walleye angler could hope for. Lipless cranks should literally light these fish up.
So the jury is still out, but based on what we have seen so far, the HammerTrap is going to be taking it’s place right along side the Rat-L-Trap and Rippin’ Rap as one of those lipless crankbaits every walleye angler needs in their tackle box.