Maximizing Lipless Cranks During the Early Season

Written on 05/23/2024
Steven Paul

Rat-L-Traps and a variety of other lures that fall into the class of lipless crank baits have been a post spawn staple for savvy muskie anglers for many decades. It is common knowledge that muskies gravitate to smaller presentations during the post spawn period and rattle baits fit this profile to a tee. While rattle lures are relatively simple in their design, a hollow plastic body jam packed with bb’s, their versatility can’t be denied.

While a simple swiftly turning the handle, burn technique has and will continue to be productive the effectiveness of rattle lures like the Joe Bucher Rattler via other methodologies should not be overlooked. A non-floating rattling lure like the JB Rattler becomes a highly versatile tool in the right hands. With this in mind lets take a look at a few ways that you can use JB Rattlers and other rattle lures to net more muskies during the early season and far beyond.

While this may come as a shock to some, muskies will strike targets that are on the bottom. What was previously a theory was canonized with modern day musky vertical jigging and the propensity of muskies to eat bass anglers swim jigs post spawn.  An overlooked but significant usage of a JB Rattler is to cast out your lure and use it in a hopping manner in the shallow zones of the lakes and rivers you are targeting. Not only does this upward pop and fall retrieve slow your lures advance allowing sluggish post spawn muskies to dial in easier, it also creates kick up and commotion on the bottom. An easy source of calories for post spawn muskies are crayfish which will dart quickly off the bottom in an evasive manner but a short distance compared to pan fish. Using a JB Rattler in a hopping jigging manner in the shallows of your target zones not only will pick up significant by-catch but it will trigger strikes from trophy class muskies that are looking for snacks as the recuperate from the spawn.

While a cast and hop retrieve will work in the shallows, what can a muskie angler do when conditions in the early season force muskies towards the depths? If trolling is not an option jigging quickly comes to mind. But with muskies dialed in on smaller presentations lures like Bondy’s even in the mini version can be a tick too large in the first few weeks of season. When confronted with this scenario the JB Rattler and other sinking rattle lures seem to shine as a vertical jig in the mid depth zones that muskies frequent post spawn when conditions are less than prime.

A great utilization of the JB Rattler as a vertical jig is positioning your boat on the first major break of a lake or river and simply dropping the JB Rattler under line tension until it makes bottom contact followed by a quick lift. While modern muskie jigging is typically done in a lift and drop under tension manner I feel that the jump after bottom contact with a JB Rattler seems to drawl more strikes. If I am confronted with significant lake depths or river current, I will use a rubber core sinker on my leader to keep my JB Rattler working in a vertical manner. This is especially helpful if you are using live imaging during the jigging process. While vertical jigging is done with rubber lures in most cases the JB Rattler seems to excel in this unexpected application. Keep in mind by-catch can and will happen so if you are looking for a bonus walleye or bass during your muskie outing this can be a beneficial tactic regardless of conditions.

Rattle lures might find themselves less than appealing to anglers as we get further and further into the summer however their ability to convert muskies that followed as a cast back lure is undeniable. Joe Bucher and myself have confirmed this countless times from the back waters of the South to the upper edges of the musky’s habitat range in Canada.  If muskies are following bucktails and top water presentations but won’t commit a rattle lures retrieved quickly in the upper part of the water column is deadly effective. After a hot follow that “fizzled” don’t think, just pick up a second rod rigged with a rattle lure like a JB Rattler and throw it in the direction that the following muskies went after disengaging from your previous presentation. In general, you will get a strike during the cast with a rattle lure but a solid figure eight should always be in the back of your mind in case a muskies requires a directional change to commit.


While the possible ways to use a JB Rattler or other rattle presentations are seemingly endless to a creative angler trolling JB Rattlers has been highly productive during tougher conditions.  While rattle lures tend to run high during a cast one must use added weight to hit target depths while trolling rattle lures. An ounce of lead via a clip-on sinker of rubber core is more than enough to get a rattle lure to mid and shallow target depths. Using rattle lures to troll just off the bottom during spring cold fronts or during extreme conditions has put muskies in my net when nothing else would produce. While dialing in a specific target zone might take a little forethought, the actual act of trolling should be kept simple in a mid-speed straight forward manner. If muskies are still reluctant jerk trolling with rattle lures can yield results when conditions seem insurmountable.

While the early season is dominated by shallow casting savvy anglers will keep a keen on conditions and present where the muskies are not where they want them to be. While the trend might be small attacking bigger water with rattle lures can yield explosive results.



Steven Paul