Pretend you’re fishing a jig or a plastic worm,” Cliff Prince coached me, seeing that I was battling a deeply engrained habit of swimming a lipless crankbait. I was yo-yoing it a little, but never without reeling, and I wasn’t contacting the bottom.
On the very next cast I got intentional about letting the bait fall all the way to bottom and working it tight to the structure with lifts and subsequent drops. As if scripted, a chunky St. Johns River largemouth pummeled my lure on the third or fourth drop. Prince grinned, but not to say “I told you so.” Instead, he smiled because his One Knocker had also drawn a bass’ interest, and we were engaged in a double duel.
An Elite Series pro from Palatka, Florida, Prince makes heavy use of lipless crankbaits during early spring, when baitfish are winter chilled and crawfish are just coming out of hiding. Like many pros, he sometimes swims lipless cranks over flats, rips them over the tops of grassbeds or adds yo-yo motions to a steady retrieve.
Often, though, he turns his attention to hidden structures, such as the shellbeds we were casting to in the St. Johns River, and when he does, he converts his horizontal lipless crank into a vertical lift-and-drop bait, working bottom contours with a repeated up-and-down motion.
“It works really well when fish are somewhat inactive—often after a front or when fishing pressure has been heavy—and when they are close to bottom structure,” he says.
The structure doesn’t have to be extensive. In fact, during spring, it’s normally a subtle drop, hump or shell mound that’s located just out from a spawning cove, and he will normally hit quite a few of spots. Where swimming a lipless covers territory, the lift-and-drop approach is precise.
Prince positions the boat a little less than as cast’s distance from the structure and works across it thoroughly. Once he’s off the break or away from the shells, he often reels back and makes another cast. His preferred lipless bait for the lift and- drop presentation is an XCalibur One Knocker, which has a single large ball in the chamber and makes a knocking sound instead of a rattle.
Occasionally he’ll cast a rattling version, however, he normally reserves them for swimming presentations.
Prince attributes the added appeal of the knocking bait both to its unique sound and to the way the knocker causes the lure to move. The single heavy ball makes the lure’s action slightly more erratic with each lift of the rodtip.
“It’s a subtle distinction,” he says, “but I think it can make a big difference.” His No. 1 color for a range of conditions is Foxy Shad. For bright days and clear water, he’ll often throw Blue Shiner. For lower visibility situations he chooses Gold Black.
He fishes the lipless crank on a 7-foot, 3-inch Duckett White Ice Rod, spooling his reel with 30-pound braid and adding a 15-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Most bass hit the lure on the drop, but he believes the lifts draw their attention. He normally casts across the structure, lets the lure fall to bottom and tightens the line before beginning the retrieve. He lifts the bait with fairly sharp 1- to 2-foot pumps, always lifting the lure with the rod, not the reel, and then allows it to fall on a semi-tight line. He always lets the lure find bottom, but quickly lifts it again.
Directional Preference “I prefer to work up a slope, so that’s what I’ll do first if it’s an option” he explains, acknowledging that at times current, wind or the proximity of a bank relative to the structure make that impossible. In river situations, he also likes to work the lure at least somewhat downcurrent because the fish position themselves facing into the flow. After working a structure over, he repositions the boat and works it from the opposite direction.
An added appeal of the lift-and-drop presentation is that bass tend to take the baits extremely well and Prince enjoys an unusually high hook-up rate for a moving hardbait that has fairly small trebles. He sets the hook with a quick, modest snap as soon as he feels the fish and typically finds that it’s completely engulfed the lure.
Bonus Video: Sightfishing Smallmouths