How To Fish: Rattle Baits Year Round

There is no denying the fact that rattle baits catch a lot of bass of all sizes. On my boat we even have a saying, “when in doubt trap them out”. The reason we like this bait is for the shear amount of water that you can cover effectively. In case you don’t know when I say rattle bait I am talking about the vast number of baits, mostly made famous by Bill Lewis with the iconic Rattle Trap. Some of my favorite rattle baits include Strike King’s Red Eye, Cotton Cordell’s Super Spot, Xcalibur’s XR50 and Jackall’s TN70. Though there are many others that work great also in the right place and time.

Cotton Cordell Royal Shad
Cotton Cordell Royal Shad strikes on a good ol' largie!

On many fishing trips we start with a rattle bait just to get an idea of what the fish might be up to. There are many days we are getting so much action we never change to a catch bait, I don’t mind fishing a search bait all day if that’s what’s working. There are few baits that you can throw that will catch fish faster than a “trap”, if the fish will hit one. I have heard many people give advice on the right way to fish a rattle bait, in my opinion if you are using the bait in any one right way you could do better by fishing it in many ways on the same day or even on the same cast. By this I mean with the rattle baits ability to cast a long way you can, in one cast cover multiple zones with multiple techniques all in one cast to help find the hot zone and or technique for the day. When fish are scattered this may be a great way to be on fish all day when people fishing slow or in one type of zone will have few opportunities.

For many anglers the rattle bait has been their go to technique when the water is cold, mostly in the winter or pre-spawn and it does work at these times better than most baits. The main reason for this is the fact that you are able to put the bait in front of more fish per hour so you are more likely to find some willing to bite. For the same reason I have found on some days when the fish don’t want to bite in the summer I catch more by fishing a very fast rattle bait to get in front of more biters. There are times in the hot weather that we catch 10 fish per hour scattered on flats when we could not buy a worm bite. We do make some changes in our rattle bait for the seasons with color being the most noticeable of these. In the winter and pre-spawn months we tend to go with a red or brown color, as the spawn finishes we tend to go to more lime and chartreuse tones, sometime as summer approaches we get into the white and chrome finishes. That being said that is just were we start with colors we will soon change if we don’t get action, after all quick bites are the reason we fish a rattle bait in the first place. The only water I don’t bother to try to throw a rattle bait in is frozen water.

The depths that a rattle bait can be effective in are as wide as the temps it’s good in. With a little practice you can catch fish from the shore to the middle of the lake 1 foot down to 100 feet. Yep that’s right I said 100 feet one day on Gull Lake here in Michigan I was in 110 feet of water trying to clear a bad backlash and when I started reeling in my line I felt a smack and I caught an Atlantic Salmon, it was awesome to say the least. I know we weren’t really talking about salmon but that does give you an idea of how effective a rattle bait can be when dropped vertical over deep fish. With suspended fish it can be hard to find just the right depth but a rattle bait can cover many depths on one cast or counted down to the exact depth you want. When it is time for most to get out a jigging spoon I will more often be found jigging a rattle bait instead with good results. Shallow and fast or dropped deep on a controlled slack line some of the newer models will rattle and shake up bass at any speed.

If you are in an area that you know still has fish but they stop biting before you abandon the rattle bait try a different look or sound. The choices to change the sound include several options; a different brand will always give a different sound or you can change to a one knocker or even totally silent one. Of course a change of color or size might also be the ticket. With so many models on the market the options are endless. There are probably many new rattle baits in your box but don’t forget the original for it still can catch them just like it did back in the day with its tight wiggle and raspy rattles it’s no wonder it has been copied to such an extent. Normally I don’t buy a lure unless it’s something I know for sure I need but, when it comes to rattle baits I will not shy away from bargain bins, off brands or odd colors if the price is right I will try it. My son has a dollar store rattle bait that I would give him $20 dollars for if he would sell it but I know he never will.

Cotton Cordell Firetiger
Used and abused, like a good confidence bait should be.

For the most part if I’m on the water I will have a rattle bait tied on no matter what time of year it is. Not only is this my confidence bait it is my panic bait, when things are not going as planned I will often fall back to this quick search bait to find a school of fish to work on. Using a rattle bait over grass ticking the tops or ripping it out is a very common technique what’s not so common is using the rattler in emergent vegetation. We have several lakes with rice bed that I love to throw a rattle bait in. You would be surprised how well they come through with little trouble with snags. As long as the retrieve is smooth the bait slides right over the stems. When fishing in vegetation that has tops on the plants it will take more finesse, avoid sliding the bait to the top as it will always get hung if you do. Instead let the lure fall and shake it past to have the best chance of continuing your retrieve. If you are fishing deep weeds you might be surprised how effective you can work a rattle bait with a vertical presentation getting more bites than snags. When in deep weeds fishing vertical you will have a very high level of control of the speed and action of the lure to give them what they want on that particular day. In shallow weeds on a windy day make sure you cast into the wind otherwise you will snag on every cast.

Speaking of wind this is where the rattle bait really can outperform any other presentation. Being better casting in the wind and good for catching active fish it’s a natural choice on windy days. On windy tournament days many anglers will hide from the wind even though the fish may be on the windiest of the points. Most avoid the wind because they can’t feel the bites, with a rattle bait feeling a bite is not a problem as they usually will smack the bait very hard.

The rattle bait has often been referred to as an idiot bait because anyone can toss it out and reel it in with a fish on it, is this a bad thing? If you can catch them easy with a lure doesn’t that make it a good lure? With the number and size of fish they catch it just could be the idiots are the ones not using one.

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One comment

  1. I totally agree! I have caught the biggest fish on these without having to blow out my arm throwing some big lure all day! And the design is good for bouncing off structure without A bill that will probably break off rendering the lure useless. I also don’t have to have A heavy action/ heavier rod to get it where I want it. I think just about every pro fisher I have seen show their Tackle box has A case of different rattles in them.
    I’m not A pro, but I have fished as long as I can remember, and always loved learning everything I can to catch more, and bigger fish!
    In my opinion you just can’t go wrong with A rattle, but to be honest, my “go to” lure, the one I used to see what’s out there biting has always been A rooster tail! It appeals to all kinds of fish. Although I admit they are smaller, it is A great indicator for action, color, and “attitude” of the water I’m fishing!

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