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Rattle Bait Walleyes

As a full time professional angler I am often told I think outside the box. Ironically this large amount of time that we spend fishing also makes us rely on things that we know work and often cuts down on experimentation if we let it. Rattle baits through the ice for walleyes and even pike, crappies and perch has been a very successful tactic for several years. Nearly every manufacture now has a bait that can be used for the hard water.

Last winter myself and several of the Ice Team and Clam National Pro Team huddled around a custom built tank that was designed specifically to test new lures. We looked like a bunch of kids in a candy store. We all wanted a rattle style lure because of their effectiveness at not only catching aggressive fish, but for their ability to draw fish in to your hole. Their effectiveness on large Canadian Shield lakes and lake Winnipeg in particular was known, but most felt that they would work on other bodies of water across the US. After about 20 versions were sorted through you now have what Clam calls the Psycho Shad. This lure, unlike most that were open water lipless cranks, was designed to be used under ice. It has a very unique tail down “shimmy” that falls fairly slow for that style of lure.


Capt. Ross Robertson

Aggressive Tactics with Lipless Crankbaits for the Hard Water

Walleye anglers tend not to invent new tools as much as they use existing tools in different ways. Case in point: Over the last few seasons, a common trend has been to fish lipless rattle baits through the ice. Rattle baits buck conventional ice fishing wisdom; that is, subtle jigs, spoons and live-bait rigs are the best tools for finessing cold-water fish in clear water into biting. But what anglers are finally realizing is that by using more aggressive presentations, they can appeal to the true predatory nature of walleyes.

In the Beginning

It's unclear when the rattle bait trend started. Years ago anglers targeting pike often used Bill Lewis Rat-L-Traps through the ice, and apparently caught enough walleyes by accident to see the potential. Some anglers contend that the technique got its start in the stained trophy water of Lake Winnipeg.

However it started, walleye ice anglers have primarily relied on the rattle baits produced for the bass-fishing market. It used to be there were only a handful of options, but today, new colors and sizes, different pitches of rattles and fancier finishes are available. A few manufacturers such as Lindy and Northland have even developed their own rattle baits specifically for icing walleyes.

Now anglers can find just the right lure to use, whether it be in the clear waters of Lake Ontario all the way to Lake of the Woods, and at inland lakes in between. Few fishermen are as knowledgeable about dunking rattle baits as National Guard FLW Walleye Tour pro Carl Adams Jr. of Blackduck, Minn. He shared some of his best tips.

When To Rattle

Adams relies on rattle baits primarily for drawing walleyes in from great distances.

“Early and late in the season, it’s the best bait to use,” he says. “When fish are aggressive you can catch more of them on a rattle bait because it pulls them in from farther away.”

In some circumstances a spoon or finesse jig will take longer to lure walleyes to the hole and even longer – many times – to get them to commit. In the early and late seasons, walleyes are typically more aggressive, so they’ll often go after the rattle bait itself.

In the middle of the ice season, or any time walleyes are in a neutral or negative mood, rattle baits still play an important, but different, role. They will seldom draw strikes themselves, but serve to draw in fish that ultimately end up biting a dead-stick or other slower presentation rigged on another rod.

The key when fishing any ice presentation is to watch your electronics, which suggest not only the mood of the fish below, but also how they respond to a bait presentation.

The screen is blank - This is when a rattle bait excels. Rip it with short, hard jerks. The goal is to make a real commotion with the rattles. Adams likes to start with the lure about 3 feet off the bottom. Fish even higher if the water is extremely clear or you suspect that fish are suspended.

Fish show up on the screen - Once fish show up on the electronics, slow down the cadence. Keep the lure about 2 feet above the fish. It is very important to keep the lure above the fish and always work the fish up toward the surface. The rattle bait is a power-fishing lure designed to move, so always work it with some action. Often, slow, short upward pulls with only momentary pauses will draw strikes.

Fish show up, but are negative to neutral - When fish are aggressive they will slam a rattle bait like a ton of bricks. When fish show up on the depth finder, but are not aggressive and seem only mildly interested in the lure, switch up the cadence.

“Like most presentations in ice fishing, you often need to do things just slightly different,” Adams says. “A long rip to let the lure flutter down often will draw a strike, but when they won’t hit it, keep pulling it slightly away from them as long as they keep following it.”

If fish are truly in a neutral or negative mood toward the rattle bait, Adams suggests grabbing another rod and lure to seal the deal. Sometimes they’ll bite a dead-stick rod nearby, but a small jig or spoon with a more “finesse” type of action can get a bite out of a reluctant walleye.

Size Matters

Lure size is a major factor in success or failure when ice fishing. Water clarity, forage size and walleye aggressiveness must all be considered. Bodies of water with small forage, such as the emerald shiners that walleyes forage on in Lake of the Woods, require that smaller rattle baits be used. Considering the lake’s clear water, downsizing is made more imperative.

On the other hand, waters such as Lake Winnipeg are known for aggressive walleyes and stained water, which allow an angler to get away with fishing a larger lure. On bodies of water such as the Great Lakes, large rattle baits are often required just to fish in deep water with currents that tend to push them out of the cone of the flasher or sonar.

Equipment for the Job

Adams keeps rattle bait tackle simple by using equipment similar to what he uses when fishing spoons or jigs. He likes a 28-inch medium-action graphite rod with 4- to 6-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon.

The line is small enough that Adams does not bother with a leader. He does add a small snap for a bit more action, and to make switching lures easier. Line type can make a big difference. Adams has sworn off braid and feels he will get more strikes with 4-pound-test mono than he does with 6-pound test. Base line selection on water clarity and the aggressiveness of the walleyes – heavier when you can get away with it; lighter when you can’t.