Idiot Baits

When you need to cover open water, few lures are as efficient or as easy to use as the lipless crankbait.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Jimmy Dale Johnson is a South Texas wrangler who rates big bass right up there with big deer, and it was obvious from the get-go that the opinions of anybody with three names and a cheek full of chewing tobacco would dominate both banks of the small stock tank. He glared across the murky water and spit a stream of brown juice in my direction. l "Well, I see you're getting ready to use an idiot bait."

I glanced at the 1/2-ounce plug dangling from my rod tip. It was a lipless crankbait, a flat-sided, subsurface lure rigged with twin treble hooks and a line-eye on the top of the angled head. Chrome and green, it was a fine choice in reasonably open water for bass accustomed to feeding on 2- to 3-inch baitfish.

"All you do is chunk and wind with that thing," Jimmy Dale continued. "Anybody can do it. Now, here's a bait that takes some real skill to fish."

Jimmy Dale waggled his casting rod, causing the weighted, snagless plastic lizard to shimmy seductively. He began finessing the shoreline, pitching the bottom-bumper tight against each stubble of stickups. I ambled along, slinging casts far across the open water, using a pot-luck approach to reach as many fish as possible. The tank was rumored to hold bass with shoulders, and sometimes what you hear is true. My light casting rod surged as the water heaved with a meaty swirl. For all the bombast and bluster, a big bass never takes long, and as the tiring fish plodded close I reached and clamped the open mouth.

"Six pounds, easy," I gloated. The sow was deep and thick and silvery pale from the murky water. I pressed the small treble free and slipped the bass back into the tank. Several casts later, I trumped the 6 with a splashy 7. LIPLESS WONDER
** That session last fall was a reminder of the effectiveness of the so-called swimming plugs, a.k.a. lipless crankbaits. **Or, yes, idiot baits. The various bottom bumpers such as soft plastics and jigs are great for probing defined targets, butot so great when nobody's home within the tight strike zones. The basic chunk-and-wind is more efficient for covering open water and finding random players, and the most popular lure for this method is the lipless crankbait.

The lipless crankbait answers to various names, but it gained its most dubious title because it does a superior job of fishing itself. Any amateur can sling it out and wind it back; assuming the lure hit the water, the tempting sight and sound eventually will pass a receptive fish. As long as the angler remembers to keep reeling-to keep the plug running forward-the hooks will seldom snag hard cover such as rocks or limbs because the tilted nose of the moving plug tends to bounce over major obstructions.

And, when a fish strikes, the idiot bait almost always sticks it. Presto! Fish on! The momentum of the retrieve and the small, dangling trebles assure a high percentage of tight-line hookups. You don't need the touch of Roland Martin or the savvy of Wernher von Braun to launch the thing with sufficient ability to catch a few bass.

A "FRIENDLY" RETRIEVE
**The simple unlipped swimming plug is ideal for the bank walker because the retrieve is "user friendly" along a sloping shoreline. **The lure climbs as it nears the rod, and the tuned angler can accelerate this tendency by raising the tip and speeding the tempo during the latter stages of the retrieve. This track keeps the lure running above potential snags along the rising contour; conversely, the bank walker grinding a diving crankbait has no choice but to ram the lure toward the bottom. Along a mossy bank, a lipped crankbait can be all but impossible to retrieve more than a few yards as it jives and digs.

And, it is worth noting that thick rims of aquatic vegetation are typical of good small-water bass habitat all across the country.

The lipless crankbait excels for the bank walker on small water. The only place where it might be better is for the boater on big water. The swimming plug is an A-Team choice on virtually all reservoirs stocked with bass, and rare is the day that will not face at least several prime situations. Grass flats, dropoff edges, and shoreline points are classic scenarios for running a swimming plug past ambush-oriented bass.

On water large or small, the lipless crankbait has a reputation for quantity over quality, but it is a mistake to assume that large bass will not intercept a random cast. My first "really big" bass was an 8-pounder caught on a lipless crankbait during the mid-1970s on Toledo Bend Reservoir. Even today, an honest 8-pounder is a trophy fish; back then, before the transfusions of Florida-strain genes across the bass map, it was huge.

FINE TUNING PERFORMANCE
The basic chunk-and-wind is an excellent way to locate fish, but a bit of fine-tuning can make the approach more effective. The specialist can increase potential by using a long (7- to 7 1/2-foot) two-handed casting or spinning rod with a whippy tip. The tight flutter works best against a split ring and a light line, but too light courts breakoffs amid bass-tangled water. A realistic compromise for 1/2-ounce payloads on most lakes would be 10- to 15-pound for casting and 8- to 10-pound for spinning.

Most swimming plugs boast better-than-average ballistiThe only place where it might be better is for the boater on big water. The swimming plug is an A-Team choice on virtually all reservoirs stocked with bass, and rare is the day that will not face at least several prime situations. Grass flats, dropoff edges, and shoreline points are classic scenarios for running a swimming plug past ambush-oriented bass.

On water large or small, the lipless crankbait has a reputation for quantity over quality, but it is a mistake to assume that large bass will not intercept a random cast. My first "really big" bass was an 8-pounder caught on a lipless crankbait during the mid-1970s on Toledo Bend Reservoir. Even today, an honest 8-pounder is a trophy fish; back then, before the transfusions of Florida-strain genes across the bass map, it was huge.

FINE TUNING PERFORMANCE
The basic chunk-and-wind is an excellent way to locate fish, but a bit of fine-tuning can make the approach more effective. The specialist can increase potential by using a long (7- to 7 1/2-foot) two-handed casting or spinning rod with a whippy tip. The tight flutter works best against a split ring and a light line, but too light courts breakoffs amid bass-tangled water. A realistic compromise for 1/2-ounce payloads on most lakes would be 10- to 15-pound for casting and 8- to 10-pound for spinning.

Most swimming plugs boast better-than-average ballisti