Tiny teardrops and pint-sized jigging spoons are traditional favorites for catching winter crappies, but savvy anglers looking for super-size crappies are quietly adding larger options from a completely different lure family to the mix.
Their secret? Lipless rattling crankbaits best known for targeting bass in open water.
“Big crappies on big baits, it doesn’t get any better than that,” says lifelong ice angler and well-traveled crappie hunter Scott Glorvigen. “This lure category draws fish in and gets bit.”
To be sure, the “lipless” part of the lure’s name is a bit of a misnomer, since the head serves as the lip, through both weighting and design. Also called vibration baits and traps, in honor of Bill Lewis’ iconic Rat-L-Trap, these lipless wonders have been a staple of the soft-water bass trade for decades.
“In open water, cast-and-retrieve tactics dominate lipless crankbaits’ use,” says Glorvigen. “But many of these lures also work well in vertical presentations, making them deadly weapons under the ice.”
Lipless rattlebaits come in a wide variety of profiles, sizes and colors, with variations in action, pitch and volume to choose from. Glorvigen’s favorite crappie killers include the Rapala Slab Rap, Northland Fishing Tackle Rippin’ Shad and Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap.
“Baits in the 1/8-ounce, 1½-inch class are perfect,” he offers, noting that shades of pink, green, orange and purple are hard to beat. “I’ve had success with fluorescent, glow and optically brightened UV finishes under different conditions,” he adds. “So it pays to have a variety of choices in your color palette.”
That being said, Glorvigen points out that the ability to make a scene is a lipless bait’s real strong suit. “The noise factor, in terms of sound, vibration and water displacement, is key to creating interest and calling aggressive crappies to the lure,” he explains.
To maximize a rattlebait’s powers of attraction, he fishes the lure with flair. “Start out by working the bait with an aggressive lift-fall cadence to make noise and attract the fish,” he says. “When a crappie approaches, pause the lure in place to trigger a strike. That’s when the bite typically occurs.”
He cautions that rattlebait fishing isn’t a sit-and-wait or finesse affair. “It’s primarily an aggressive approach for quickly covering water and picking off big fish,” he says.
Glorvigen’s quest for rattlebait crappies starts by selecting lakes known for producing large crappies. From there, he focuses on prime lies including classic crappie holes with easy access to open water. Bars and large inside turns are also worth checking. Depths of 25 to 35 feet are typically best.
“The fish are usually on the move, and often filter into these types of feeding areas late in the day, especially in clear water,” he says. “The trick is hole-hopping to pick off the most active fish as they pass through the area.”
Tackle-wise, Glorvigen favors a 27-inch ice rod such as 13 Fishing’s Tickle Stick, spooled with Sufix Ice Braid mainline tipped with a nylon mono or fluorocarbon leader. “A small, round-nosed snap makes it easy to change baits without retying,” he adds.
Glorvigen also recommends using a high-quality LCD sonar/GPS combo like one of Lowrance’s Elite and HOOK Ice Machine platforms. “The LCD sonar display gives you a great real-time view of the fish, plus history of how they react to different lure actions, so you can fine-tune and repeat productive presentations,” he says. “Use GPS mapping to locate fish-holding areas fast, and then waypoint your hottest holes to stay on the school and stack them up.”
It’s worth noting that lipless crankbaits are also helpful when you’re hunkered in a house. “A tiny rattlebait can help call crappies to your position,” Glorvigen says.
“In such circumstances, deadsticking a second line with a minnow on it is key, since most fish hit the live bait instead of the crankbait,” he continues. “But that’s a story for another day. For now, put these lipless wonders to work by running and gunning for the biggest crappies your favorite lakes have to offer.”