By Thad Rains -
There are many lure choices in today’s market place. Even baits that look identical often have subtle differences hidden deep within their hollow bodies. This article is to shed a little light on the silent versus rattling plastic crankbaits. Hopefully, we can learn something in the process.
I’ve been fishing a lot of crankbaits over the years and for the past 12 years, I’ve fished a lot of silent running crankbaits, (i.e. those that are handmade balsa baits, those that are plastic but without rattles and just silent running crankbaits). Most, and until recently that would have included more than 99% of all plastic crankbaits, had rattles in their hollow bodies. Only a very few plastic crankbaits did not have rattles. The rattles made the bait easier to cast (more weight) and also made noise on the retrieve.
Not until Strike King came out with the KVD 1.5, 2.5 and 1.0 series (and many copies from other companies) with two kinds of sound systems, rattling and no rattling crankbaits, has a brand of bait offered so many silent, no rattling bait. Of course, there was always the Rapala Shad Rap and the Lucky Craft LC and BDS that ran silently in the plastic crankbait world. Also, Bomber came out with a deep diving Fat Free Shad called the Switchback (rattle or not) and Silent series. Seems like a lot of plastic lure manufacturers have been coming out with silent versions, including Bandit, Norman, Lucky Craft, Bomber, Xcalibur, etc…
A little about myself that might qualify me to write this article. I’ve fished lots of crankbaits, including a lot of silent runners, mostly high end custom balsa or cedar baits, such as D-Bait, Stanford Cedar Shad, Suddeth, Lee Sisson and of course, the old fashioned original Poes. I kept detailed records on the fishing trips I took, to see if there was any similarity that I could find. Some patterns proved to be successful (more so than others), so I wrote a series of articles, detailing a lot of the overall ideas and findings on fishing crankbaits. I also have taken the rattles out of (or glued them in place) about 40 plastic baits to judge how they compared with the hand carved baits. The following article will rely on information over all of the silent running crankbaits, other modifications and observations.
It’s been my observation and belief that bass are pretty intelligent animals and get conditioned to seeing all the lures us fishermen are throwing at them. That is why I often try to do something a little different than most anglers. For example, using nail polish, glitter glue or indelible markers on crankbaits to change their appearance in some fashion or another. I also fish a lot of mylar/dressed treble hooks on my back hook. Sometimes feathers, sometimes mylar, deer hair, rabbit fur, pipe stems (colored) etc.. These things allow me to present different profiles to fish and I often get bit on that different profile. Often, the difference can be small, but in other times, it is the only thing that seems to work. Using silent running crankbaits is just part of my arsenal that I can use to elicit a strike, one more bite or one more fish.
I say silent running crankbait, but that is a misnomer. I’m not aware of any crankbait that runs completely silent. The click of the hooks against the body, the vibration that the lure puts off wiggling or waggling through the water, the split ring grinding as the crankbait works its business, all create some sound. The term silent is just to indicate that the lure does not have rattles in the rattling chamber of the bait, thus, considered silent running. Rattling crankbaits mean just that, there is a rattle chamber with some form of metal ball encased in it. When the bait wiggles or wobbles, the bait moves from side to side, forward to backward and creates a rattling sound. This type of crankbait is the predominant type of lure manufactured currently.
Why are there silent and rattling crankbaits?
The answer to this is because there are times when one works better than another. There is no magic formula to tell you which one might work better at that specific time, but a little trial and error can often lead to a more successful trip. When I go out, I normally have several crankbaits tied on, mostly medium or shallow runners and both silent and rattling baits. I often change out during the day to determine if something is working better than another kind of crankbait. This often includes changing brands, colors or even types of crankbaits (rattle/non-rattle). I’m not afraid to dissect a crankbait to see how it works and to see if I can easily change something about the bait to either get a different visual appearance or sound out of the bait.
Some of the modifications that were made to the plastic baits include: drilling holes to take the rattles out, or add rattles or different kinds of rattles (not subject to this article); gluing the rattles in place (keeping the balance of the bait similar); filling the entire cavity with glue; and adding weight (rattles) and gluing the entire chamber full of glue. This last added much weight to the bait and made it silent, but was not too successful, as it killed most of the action of the bait. The most successful trial was by gluing the rattles in place, either towards the front, the back of the middle of the bait. Adding glue to the chamber did affect the balance of the bait, but not too badly and you could normally get it running straight with minor modifications. Taking the rattles out made the bait cast and react erratically, with some success, but the casting distance was severely cut down. So, for this article, I will focus on the handmade baits and the ones that the rattles were glued in place.
By far, the most successful of these baits was the hand crafted D Bait. Running about $15/lure (plus shipping and handling), this bait caught many fish right out of the box. It has a unique wobble, with its flat sides, that fish just seem to be attracted too. The next best lure was the Stanford Cedar Shad, same as the D-bait, but diving a little deeper and heavier. Most of the Suddeth’s I fished had rattles, only three did not have rattles (out of 12), they were the next most successful. Then came the Poe’s, then Lee Sisson. I had adequate access to all baits and fished them all. Sometimes, it made a difference which silent bait you were using. The D-bait out produced the Stanford lure or vice versa.
I asked the esteemed Mr. Ralph Manns for his opinion on the following paragraph. He thought that I needed to take a more generalized approach and not as much of a finite solution. Ralph’s thoughts were also indicating that I might suggest a situation that a non-rattling bait might be more in favor than a rattling bait, not a yes rattle or no rattle. He also mentioned that some kind of measure of bass activity biting a rattling lure vs. a non-rattling lure should be considered. I do not have any way to measure that activity with the exception of catch rates, which is addressed in this article. After carefully considering all feedback to the few bass experts I asked for suggestions, I left the upcoming paragraph alone, but still want to thank Ralph and his suggestions. He was only trying to save me some heartache and more explaining. THANKS RALPH!
What conditions seemed to favor the silent baits over the rattling baits?
That’s what everyone wants to know. I can give you my observations, but yours may vary. Here is when the best luck seemed to occur for the silent running baits: Overcast skies, wind, slightly stained water (visibility of about 10-12″), after a front or prefrontal conditions (lowering or steady barometric pressure) on a highly pressured lake. Some other observations include: the silent baits had a much larger average than the rattling baits did; more small fish were caught with the rattling baits versus the non-rattling; and the non-rattling baits seemed to elicit a subtle strike, the fish were just there, not a hard strike at all. Of course, the more data we get to analyze the better the conclusions will be. The plastic baits I modified were included, but only three had much success at catching more fish. One odd thing about these, they seemed to catch bigger fish and a little bit harder strike than the non-rattling premium baits. I could bore you with all of the details from the logs, but these points seem to be pretty consistent for fishing non-rattling baits. Besides catching bigger fish, the non-rattling baits did not catch as many fish as the rattling plastic baits. Of course, if you eliminate a lot of the small fish you are catching, that is not a bad thing, unless you are introducing someone to fishing. Another thing comes to mind. The data I collected was computed to fish caught per hour of fishing each type of bait.
A Classic Example:
Once I was helping a friend prefish Lake Lewisville for an upcoming Bass Champs. The wind was howling and the winner of the Century Bass Club (some real good sticks) that day had 10.88. I had shown my boater several areas and we had several fish in the boat, but I was not getting bit on the crankbait. So, at lunch, I sat down, designed a crankbait in the box and used it for a couple of casts. I told my friend that we normally got bit between this point and this point on the dam. He sat down to retie another jig and I tied into my 4th biggest fish, a 9-3 with the crankbait that I had just created. You say you cannot create a bait on the water? I beg to differ. I took the split ring off of a Stanford Cedar Shad middle shad. I put on a mylar trailer and within 10 minutes of tying that bait on I had that fish. She was post spawn and had the head of a 10 lber. 24.25″ long and 18″ around. She was released and I have a replica mount of her on the wall. Later that day I caught a 4.5 lber on a different setup (different lure, but same no split ring setup). So his 3 3lbers on a jig and my 13.8 on a crabkbait really paid off for thinking outside the box. Another time thinking outside the box saved the day, was when I was prefishing Lake Amon Carter with the same gentleman. Nothing was happening that day, a 25 boat T had 6.33 lbs for the days winner. I thought outside the box, modified an existing Stanford Cedar Shad by shaping the bill into a reverse T and adding a feathered trailer and voila, 2 fish w/in 10 minutes that weighed 6.5 lbs. I have many more instances of when the silent crankbait out produced the rattling crankbaits, but I thought this would be enough to illustrate the point.
Let’s consider something else, as well. For the past four years I’ve been fishing an ultra-clear reservoir, Lake Alan Henry. If you follow the old saying that you fish silent baits in clear water, well, so far, that is bunk. I have only caught 3 fish on silent running baits (2 small and a 7 lber), but many, many more on rattling baits. I am still trying to figure this out, but I have put proven performers in the water and no takers, so the old saying is not infallible, as indicated. The same for fishing silent in ultra-muddy water, I have had just as much, if not more success on silent running baits as rattling baits. This is one instance that the fish attacked the bait and clobbered it violently. So, the old sayings aren’t always true.
You see, I’m not afraid to try things that the fish have not seen before. I believe that they get accustomed to seeing the same lures day after day. If I can present something that they have not seen before, I feel that the odds have then changed over into my favor. What does that include? Thinking outside the box? Well, there is no end to the things you can do to change a crankbait to make it seem different. As I’ve mentioned previously, fingernail polish, glitter glue, indelible ink markers, feathered and mylar trailers, extra stick on eyes for the back of the lure, etc… Your imagination is the only thing holding you back from experimenting with different presentations that might be out of the box thinking. Most anglers will not try things that they are not comfortable with. Me, my confidence is in me, not the bait. I can figure them out, just give me a little time and I will get something that they will bite. Does this always work, of course not! But it works enough for me to continue to do the out of the box things because it works often enough to put money in the boat when things are tough and the bite is nonexistent.
Just some thoughts from an old crankbait fart. Hope this helps. Tight lines, keep safe and good luck.
For those wanting to know what equipment was used in these observations, they included the following: Reels: Curado 200B5, Curado 200, Quantum 400, 500 and 600. Rods included mostly custom built St. Croix 8’ MH or M, Shikari custom built P804 and P803, BPS Crankin’ Sticks 7-6″ and 7”. Line, mostly McCoy’s Mean Green between 12 and 20 lb test, tied directly to the split ring or lure. The observations were made in a period consisting of over 712 hours of on the water fishing time. How many casts? I have no idea. These observations were made in conjunction with all my fishing partners during these 12 years.
Thad is well known and long-time vet of the waters. He was a Pro staffer of Triton Mike Bucca’s Doodads (1998-2000)(feathered treble hooks), Lake Video Guide (2001-2003)(flying over lakes with an ultra light and recording them on DVR) and SOB Lures (1999-2003)(Sorry old Bob) with Bill Dee. Thad also was on Jeff Rings Pro staff for JR Rods (1999-2002). Other tidbits about Thad include being a Field Tester for Bill Norman Baits (1998-1999)(caught two lake records on back to back weekends in October 1997.