It’s no secret that Elite Series angler Randall Tharp loves to flip and pitch, he’s always had a soft spot for a lipless crankbait.
At the 2014 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville, he took 5th and went on a day-2 tear that saw him catch a bass on every cast for the first two hours fishing a lipless crank. Here is Tharp’s take on why the bait is such an important part of his arsenal.
A lipless crank really shines during pre-spawn through the spawn, Tharp says.
“I don’t know if there is a better lure for just covering water and finding a school of big pre-spawn female fish,” he said. “Any lake with vegetation, that’s probably my number one go to lure in that particular situation.”
He’ll target subtle little breaks, but when targeting a large flat, he knows that if he can find a little clump of grass, the fish will relate to it since it’s a key source of heat.
He’ll also look for a higher clump of grass as it makes for an ideal ambush point for hungry bass. The only way to find such spots is by fishing through them, Tharp says, as it’s more important to determine what is down below than rely on his sonar.
His Costa Del Mar sunglasses with sunrise lenses help him to spot such grass clumps, especially under low-light conditions. Finding some gizzard shad only adds to the potential for the spot to hold fish.
“Every place I’ve ever found a big school of fish, those big gizzard shad have been present,” he said.
Setting the Mood
He’ll fish a fairly slow retrieve, especially in colder water, until his bait hits something. He’ll pop it free and let it fall straight to the bottom, which often triggers a reaction bite.
“Lipless crankbaits are way better than they were 10 years ago,” he noted. “The old baits didn’t have that flutter. Now, just about every one of the good ones has that. I’d compare it to a Senko when it’s falling. On a slack line, it will shimmy down – that’s a key ingredient.”
Some baits have multiple BBs inside that create a rattling sound while a one-knocker style makes a distinct solid thumping sound. Each have their place, he says.
“I think the sound is a huge factor,” Tharp said. “In really high bass pressure situations, you don’t want a loud sound. Yet, on some lakes, they want something pretty violent.”
At highly-pressured lakes like Guntersville, Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Tharp is certain bass get conditioned to particular sounds.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a bass track a lure and just follow it to the boat and not eat it,” he said.
Tricks of the Trade
While many fish the bait horizontally, Tharp takes a different tack.
“Like with any kind of crankbait, making it hit stuff, or deflect, or pop free is a way to trigger a fish to bite, but I’ve had a ton of success almost fishing that bait vertically,” he said.
When fishing water temps in the high 30s and low 40s, he’ll make super long casts around the right kind of grass. He’ll slowly reel it back to the boat similar to how a jig or worm would be crawled along bottom – almost vertically.
“It allows you to cover so much more water fishing it like that,” he said.
During the pre-spawn he’s only looking for large groups of fish. While he’s caught fish as deep as 20 feet, he prefers the 3- to 12-foot range.
After getting a school fired up, they tend to shut down. Tharp suggests changing the color of the bait, or changing the sound, to reignite the school. Dragging a jig through the area can work also.
Getting Lined Up
Line size is key for this application, Tharp says.
“You can take a ˝-ounce bait and fish it effectively in 12 feet of water, but you’ve got to downsize in line,” Tharp said.
He’ll spool up a Team Lew’s Magnesium (6.8:1 gear ratio) with 10- to 20-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon with 16-pound being a starting point. The deeper the lure needs to run, the lighter the line he’ll rig up. If the water is warmer and he’s burning baits, he’ll go to a faster reel.
Tharp is emphatic that the 7-foot, 4-inch Ark Rods composite casting model is the ideal tool for throwing lipless cranks. He’s not a big fan of imparting action with his rod’ he prefers subtle movements.
“When the bait hits the grass clump, the rod will load up and the rod will pop it free without me having to jerk it free,” he said. “It’s those subtle little things you can make a bait do with that rod.”
It’s a Reaction Deal
In warm water, his retrieve is brisk and slows it down once the water cools. Tharp insists it’s never too cold for a reaction bite – he’s caught fish on a lipless crank on a lake that had ice on parts of it. He even won a tournament at Guntersville with a 29-pound limit caught in in 2 ˝ feet of water, which was 38 degrees, the coldest he can remember being successful with a lipless crank in.
Tharp is a huge fan of the Storm Arashi Vibe and Rapala Rip’n’Rap. In clear water, he’ll throw yellow perch to mimic bluegill and Helsinki shad when largemouth are feeding on shad. In stained to muddy water, nothing beats a red crawdad color while gold chrome reigns in Florida when copying a golden shiner.
He’ll choose the size of the bait based on the depth of water he’s fishing, not the size of the bait fish are feeding on. After all, it’s all about the fall rate. Most often, it’s a #7 sized bait that he’ll suit up with #4 VMC EWG trebles but he’ll add a #2 or #3 to baits ľ-ounce and larger.