Lipless Rattle Baits for Brookies
Over the past 40-odd years, I’ve tossed just about every lure in the book at brook trout. From rubber worms to dry flies to spinners and nearly all things in between. Yet, until recently, the lipless rattle bait had made very few appearances. In fact, my only recollection of trying a lipless bait took place two decades ago. That time the lure caught lake trout, but it was super effective for those guys.
Then a couple of years ago, I was with my long-time friend and colleague James Smedley, on a gorgeous inland brook trout lake. It was just after ice-out and the water was cold and clear. We popped his handmade cedar strip canoe into the lake and proceeded to paddle. The wind was gusting out of the north, and that meant hugging the north shore.
"The best spots are on the other side of the lake, of course," said Smedley. The good news was a mid-day sun was beating down on the calm water, warming up the shallows. The trout would like that.
My mission this day was simple: catch a brook trout on a lipless crankbait. Normally, in this cold water, I’d have turned to a suspending crank like an X-Rap, a Mepps Aglia spinner over even a wet fly. But today, a fire tiger Rippin’ Rap, fresh out of the box, was clipped to my line.
"New toy, Gord?" asked James, with a smile. "This thing looks good, Smeds," I said. "It’s gotta get wet."
We worked our way down the shore, casting to the rocks and trees that would provide cover for foraging brook trout. The Rippin’ Rap threw like a dream, and I was able to cover an incredible amount of water. I used a steady retrieve, but would occasionally pause, letting the lure fall, before I resumed reeling. The lure also proved to be remarkably snag-proof. When it bumped into wood or rock, snapping the rod tip forward would usually pull the lure free. The rattle of the lure as it shimmied back to the canoe was just barely audible. The ingredients for trout were all there.
There was a little cove along the shore where a large tree had fallen in the water.
"It’s time to catch a fish, Smeds," I said, sending the compact crank sailing towards the wood. The lure hit the water and fell for a moment on a tight line before being retrieved. The lipless bait banged into a tree limb, broke free, and was immediately intercepted by a trout.
"There’s one," I said sweeping, the rod forward. The trout immediately came to the surface and rolled, showing the yellow belly, white-tipped fins, and blue halos of a brook trout.
"Nice," said Smedley, who was reaching for his camera. This was a solid trout. After a couple of minutes, the scrappy spec was netted and deposited in the bottom of the canoe.
"That’s a good start," I said admiring, the glistening fish. "Unusual lure," said Smedley.
The rest of the day proved to be good fishing, with several nice brookies being landed, most of them on the Rippin’ Rap. It was a heartening result, especially since the water was quite cold. Yet the big test would be on the wild trophy brook trout of the larger systems I like to fish. Wild fish are a bit more complicated than your average stocked brook trout. Many potential brookie lures have failed to pass the big water, wild brookie test.
For the record, I did experiment with some other lipless crankbaits, with varying degrees of success. Over the years, I’ve collected a large number of them including the Luhr Jensen Sugar Shad, Koppers Live Target Vibration Trap, Strike King Red Eye Shad, Lewis Rattle Trap, and Rapala Clackin’ Rap, to name a few. I’ve had success with all of them, especially on smallmouth bass, walleye, and lake trout. However, during my season of lipless crank fishing for brook trout last year, it was the Rippin’ Rap that proved to be the most consistent bait. I also switched up colour patterns a few times and had some good success with a natural silver and crawfish-coloured lure as well. It never hurts to match the hatch. However, it was the fire tiger lure that was the top performer.
One more quick story about lipless rattle baits for brook trout. A couple of springs back, my buddy Sandro Fragale and I went out for some brookies and lakers. To make a long story short, yours truly smoked ’em, mostly with the Rippin Rap. Sandro, God bless him, tried everything, but was just having one of those days. After a few hours of this -- and some good-natured ribbing -- I said "Buddy, you have to put this lure on."
"Ok, I’ll try it," he said, somewhat grudgingly. A light wind was blowing waves up on a rock point. "Cast it up there," I said. Sandro tossed the well-worn Rippin’ Rap to shore and started his retrieve. You know what happened next. First cast. Ding. It was a 23-inch brookie. The big fish of the day. True story.