Sound & Rattle Baits
For many anglers, anything that helps catch a few more fish is worth having. Plus, rattles require nothing special from the angler, no special skills or techniques. Add a rattle to a jig, grub, spinnerbait, plastic worm, or whatever and fish it normally. The action of the lure, or the action you give the lure, makes the rattle work. But to make rattles really work, it is most important to understand just what's happening under water, in the bass' world. And it is helpful to understand just how a bass reacts to sound. Rattles can be a boon, but they also can be a bust. First, some facts about water, according to experts on the properties of water and sound:
A remarkable characteristic of water is that it's almost a noncompressible medium. Energy you put in at one point transmits through to another point. This is most easily observed as waves. Once set up, they seem to roll forever.
Noise is a vibration that applies energy to water and creates a wave. This wave travels efficiently through water.
Sound travels 1,087 feet per second through air and 4,717 feet per second through water. This is almost a mile per second.
Scientists believe that whales once could communicate with one another over thousands of miles. Today they can only do so for a couple hundred miles, due to shipping noise.
It is difficult for divers to tell from what direction an underwater noise is coming. Because noise transmits so easily, the sound of an outboard engine seems to come from everywhere. A boat half a mile away seems a loud as a boat 100 yards away.
Obviously, a bass lives in a noisy world. It contends with sounds made by other creatures, plus noises from such man made devices as propellers and sonar. Some experts believe bass can learn to be wary of the sound of sonar signals and trolling motors. The fish has to sift constantly through the din and make what amounts to judgment: Is this noise a threat or an opportunity? Unlike humans, bass have two methods for making this decision. Bass have two modes of operation, the lateral line system and ears like a human. Bass have an inner ear with an ear bone, a structure similar to that of humans. The lateral line system is also an ear of sorts in that it detects vibrations. The inner ear detects sound by registering vibrations in the high frequency range of 500 to 3,000 hertz a normal, useful range similar to that of humans (500 to 4,000 hertz). Just like the diver who can't tell where the outboard noise is coming from, the bass' inner ear suffers the same problem. The lateral line, however, detects low frequency noise (or vibrations) as low as 50 hertz. Noise in this low range is beyond "normal" human detection (the human ear can register 20 to 20,000 hertz, but we don't necessarily "hear" it) and hard for anglers to understand. The "noises" the lateral line "hears" are pressure waves. With this lateral line, bass detect the low frequency waves given off by swimming prey. Several experiments were conducted to determine to what extent bass use this lateral line system for feeding. Bass and bluegills were placed in a tank in a dark room. Then clay was pumped through the water in concentrations far beyond what would be found in the muddiest of water. Thus robbed of sight and, for the most part, smell, the bass continued to feed normally. It is believed that they could detect, locate and strike at a bluegill based solely on information from the lateral line system. The lateral line system is very accurate. Any time an angler throws a bait in the water, it sets off a vibration bass can feel with the lateral line. Rattles are unnecessary to trigger a response in this system. However, rattles spark a bass' interest by appealing to its inner ear. And this happens in two ways. Rattles can imitate noises prey species make, or they can get the bass' attention and trigger a reaction. Rattles in jigs imitate the clickity click of crawfish and bass expect crawfish to make these noises. Subtle rattles can also imitate the swish swish of a school of baitfish. Rattles in crankbaits, such as in the lipless Rat-L-Trap, play a different role. These rattles function as an attention getter. It works like this: As you work the bait through the water, it rattles loudly. Being a creature of some intelligence, a hiding bass peers from its grotto to see what the commotion is and to determine whether it is a danger or an opportunity. The bass sees the bait and triggered to strike based on its aggressive reaction to the action of the lure. The bass does not necessarily know the bait is making the sound. The sound of rattling crankbaits is outlandish, yet they continue to be top producers. To be most effective, such a crankbait should emit a wide frequency range by using various sizes of BBs and lead. While manufacturers jump on the rattling bandwagon anglers should be cautious when using rattling crankbaits. Rattles are sometimes overplayed by manufacturers. There are times when you may get a negative response to rattles. Anglers should learn how to make lures appeal to all the senses bass use to detect prey. In order of importance are sight, vibration, sound and smell. And no special appeal beats the simple axiom of accurate presentation: You'll catch more fish with the wrong lure in the right spot than the right lure in the wrong spot. First, find the right spot. Then make sure the bait acts as it should (action appeals to sight). This action will also set up a vibration. Then worry about sound. Sound can be made by rattles or by bumping the lure on the bottom or the cover. These are natural noises a bass expects to hear from prey, especially wounded ones. Combine these qualities and it's easy to see why the rattling jig is such an excellent bass catcher. When pitched into fishy cover, it looks similar to crawfish, sets up an appealing vibration, bumps along the bottom and the brush like prey, and, to top it off, makes a clickity click bass expect to hear. Anglers should be careful how and when they apply the rattle. A good rule of thumb is to use rattles on windy days or in murky water. Further, anglers should be careful just which lures they make rattle. While the sound or rattling crankbaits irritates (or interests) bass, and rattling jigs imitate crawfish, what does a rattle in a worm do? The best approach to rattles is to play the mood of the fish. Let them tell you what they want. This means experiment. When choosing baits that rattle, anglers should follow these guidelines:
Pick baits based on the fishing conditions and the season. Is it time for crankbaits? Are plastic worms working well now ? Are the fish biting on spinnerbaits?
Appeal to the primary sense first, sight. Cast the lure to where a bass lives, where it can see the bait.
Have a good reason for employing a rattle. Know why you want to appeal to the bass' sense of hearing. To get its attention? To help it locate a bait? To imitate something it's eating? Maybe a similar bait without a rattle will draw more strikes.
Fish rattling jigs, worms, tube lures and spinnerbaits whenever bass need help in locating your lure, on windy days or in murky water. Don't overpower bass with rattles on calm days and in clear water (this can mean either choosing not to use a rattle, or using a more subtle rattle).
Rattling crankbaits come with few hard and fast rules. They are especially productive around heavy, weedy cover over a wide range of water clarity.
Rattle baits are not panacea. They are, simply, another tool for catching fish. Like all tools, it's best to apply the right one to the right job.