Feb 2, 2012
Xr to the Rxcue: Try these ‘no-lips’ winter remedies for the bass fishing blues
True, lipless crankbaits are bass killers in spring and fall. But more and more anglers are catching on every year to the fact that those rattling baits work effectively in all four seasons – a point I emphasized in my feature “Unspoken Words on Lipless Crankbaits” in Bassmaster magazine last year. And, believe me, I don’t mean that it’s possible to catch fish on them winter, spring, summer and fall. I mean you should have one “at the ready” on most outings — even in winter!
“But isn’t it too cold to use “no-lips” in winter?” you ask. I fished XCalibur Xr series Rattle Baits with Mark Davis, host of the award-winning “Big Water Adventures” television series, at Great Southern Outdoors Wildlife Plantation fishing and hunting resort in Union Springs, Alabama, two winters ago. Snowflakes flew off our baitcasters following a severe cold front that found us in sub-freezing temperatures and 20 to 30 mph winds for most of the day. Yet we caught 35 bass – about 25 of them by slowly retrieving these Xr lipless crankbaits just off bottom on the plantation’s largest lake.
Most were excellent fish, too, with several topping four pounds and few under three. (Our biggest fish – nearly seven pounds – came on a modified one-ounce spinnerbait, a technique we will also cover in Small Waters Fishing.)
Small Waters Tip: Davis’s approach with the lipless baits was simple but deadly effective. We located a seven-foot ditch that offered the deepest water in that section of the lake. Following the cold front, bass had funneled into the ditch off the adjacent flat.
We positioned ourselves on the lip end and cast lengthwise up the ditch. Our offering was a one-ounce XCalibur Xr100 Rattle Bait that we cast as far up the ditch as we could on 8-pound line and spinning tackle.
The odd mix of light tackle and big bait was intentional – to keep the bait riding just off bottom with a slow retrieve suited to the conditions.
“We’re trying to maximize our strike zone using a one-ounce Xr100 in 46-degree water with a real slow retrieve,” explained Davis, who built much of his reputation hunting down freshwater fish before launching his saltwater television series, a Golden Moose Award winner. “We wouldn’t use the same tackle in the summer time. You wouldn’t get the hooks in some of those fish. Many would be spitting the bait. But they are pretty subdued this time of year with this cold water. When they hit the bait, they don’t move a lot.”
The ‘Knocker’ story
Lipless baits with a low-vibration knocking sound had a cult following well before the release of the XCalibur XRk series, the Rapala Clackin’ Rap
and other “knockers” of recent vintage. Cotton Cordell, which may well lay deeper historical claim to the “pioneer” designation in the lipless category than the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, introduced a Cotton Cordell One Knocker Hot Spot decades ago that “in-the-know” anglers hoarded, particularly after the company discontinued production. (One version of the story has it that a manufacturing defect in an early production run actually tipped the company off to the effectiveness of the “knocker.”)
Tim Horton and David Fritts were two prominent tournament pros who clamored for “one knocker” baits.
PRADCO brought the concept back, but through its premium XCalibur brand as part of its Rattle Bait XR line.
Fritts, meanwhile, had begun discussing his low-vibe lipless concept with Mark Fisher and the Rapala organization.
Is the “knocker” concept just an angler preference? Is it a mere fad? Low frequency sounds carry further under water. So perhaps bass really do prefer a knock to the higher pitch of traditional “rattles” of multiple steel, lead or glass ball on at least some occasions, even if, for no other reason, they are able to find the bait from afar.