One of the great evolutions in ice-fishing the past few years is the cross-over of certain categories of “open water” lures into the realm of hard-water fishing applications. One of these examples involves rattling lipless crankbaits, typically thought of only as open water casting options, now being used in vertical jigging applications through the ice and for good reason – they flat out produce fish.
When fishing after dark or in stained water, rattling baits help draw fish to you. Rapala’s Rippin’ Rap and VMC’s Rattle Spoon are among your best options. “Rattling baits are hard to miss, so they’ll bring fish in from a long ways,” In-Depth Outdoors TV host James Holst explains. Such lures are always the first type ICE FORCE pro Joel Nelson ties on. Fishing aggressively with them “Pays dividends,” he says, “Because you can cover more area under the ice.”
Rattle baits often yield bigger fish as well – especially Rippin’ Raps. “They tend to sort out some of the smaller fish,” Holst says. “You don’t get a lot of four, five, six-inchers when you’re fishing a bait like this. You put a minnow down there under a bobber; those little ones just drive you nuts!”
When there’s not one fish visible on your sonar screen, “Drop a Rippin’ Rap, give a few rips and watch what happens,” Holst says. “You’ll often start seeing fish show up from all over the place.” Nelson compares the tactic to how a trout angler will use a dry fly to get a fish to rise and reveal its location. “A lot of times, we’ll just try to move fish, get them on the screen, show up on the flasher,” Nelson says. “From there, we know the fish are active and present, we can go back and fish them a little bit more methodically, slow it down a little bit and then put it right in their face.”
Loud, aggressive baits like Rippin’ Raps often produce “As well or better” at early-ice than a minnow under a bobber, Holst says. Fish them much higher in the water column than you other baits. “Although people assume that walleyes will only hit a bait right off the bottom – six inches or so,” Nelson says, rattle baits are more effective two to five feet off the bottom. “What that does is allow the bigger walleyes to literally come up and ambush these baits from below – which they love to do,” he explains.
The Rattle Spoon’s multiple-bead resonance chamber makes a racket with just a subtle jig stroke, while still imparting action to the lure. “With that noise factor, you can be bouncing it off the bottom on sand, rocks, mud and you can agitate the fish into hitting,” ICE FORCE pro Brad Hawthorne says.
The Rattle Spoon “Has more rattle than any other rattling spoon available,” says ICE FORCE pro Tom Neustrom, who fishes it in 20-plus feet of water. “That’s what’s going to make them bite.” He drops it to about two to four inches off the bottom and then alternates between jiggling it and letting it rest, never moving it more than about three inches. From time to time, he will bang it into the bottom then lift it back up and resume shaking and pausing. Nelson, Neustrom and Holst all tip Rattle Spoons with minnow heads, but fish Rippin’ Raps “nekkid,” as Nelson says.
Tackle for pursuing walleyes with lipless crankbaits and rattle spoons begins with a quality rod. I prefer a medium or medium heavy action Frabill Bro or Ice Hunter series rod balanced with a Frabill Straight Line 261 reel. Not only is the 261 easy to use when wearing gloves, but features an incredibly smooth drag, instant anti-reverse and free spool capability. For line I recommend Sufix 832 Advanced Ice Braid due to its superior strength, sensitivity and water repellant protection to reduce freezing; to the end of the Ice Braid I attach a Sufix 100% Fluorocarbon Invisiline Leader.
One of the tricks to utilizing Rippin’ Raps and Rattle Spoons is to use a swivel when attaching the fluorocarbon leader to the main line. I generally use a leader of approximately 18 inches as not only does the swivel make it easy to change leaders if necessary, but more importantly it prevents line twist as the bait darts and spins. Instead of tying the lure directly to the leader use a tiny quick clip or snap. In the case of a jigging spoon, the clip or snap should be attached directly to the split ring; when using a Rippin’ Rap or similar lure, attach the clip to the line tie that the split ring is attached to rather than the split ring itself; this will help prevent the year hook from swinging upward and fouling on the line.
Shake, rattle and rollin’ Rippin’ Raps and Rattle Spoons is not only an exciting method to target hard-water walleyes, but a down-right effective one as well. The next time you find yourself in pursuit of marble-eyes on your favorite body of water and the bite just isn’t living up to expectations, try changing things up with rattle baits – it may just be the game changer you’ve been looking for. I’ll see you on the water …
Read more from Joel DeBoer.
Joel DeBoer is owner of Wisconsin Angling Adventures Guide Service, www.wisconsinanglingadventures.com.