It usually starts for me in December as I am shopping for others. I inevitably end up in a sporting goods store, and of course, within fifteen minutes I am shopping for myself. I swing by and look with longing and lust that only an angler knows, at the clear rectangle boxes that have been the trademark container for the Rat-L-Traps since their inception.
Bill Lewis lures were established in Alexandria Louisiana 1964 and has been a staple in anglers tackle boxes ever since. There are numerous stores around Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, etc. that routinely show photographs of 10lb + fish on the walls caught on the infamous Rat-L-Trap.
Any angler that has fished a lipless crankbait knows the Rat-L-Trap just plain catches fish. There are other lipless baits out there, some with more rattles, some with less, some with none at all. Some of the competition has changed where they put the line tie, increased the thickness of the bait, made it skinnier, longer, shorter, and on and on…They haven’t been able to improve on the success of the original.
It seems every year, around December, is when the fever starts to hit me. The larger fish usually back off to some deeper water and become somewhat lethargic. In the South though, backing off to deeper water can mean just backing off to secondary grass lines. The bass may be in 6 – 20 feet of water and a person can usually find a grass edge around the 12 foot mark.
The fish at this time of the year are fattening up, eggs are growing, weight is being put on, all in anticipation for the spawn. Chances for hooking the heaviest fish of your life are best (in the South) from December through March. One of my favorite ways for boating these behemoth bass is Fishing the original Bill Lewis Lures Rat-L-Trap.
These lures have been described as a beginning anglers best friend. Fish can be caught by cast / retrieve method with little thought to presentation or location and still catch fish. There are, as with any lure, many ways to increase the effectiveness of this bait. Here are a few Ideas I would like to share with you.
Colors: Wow, there are so many different colors to choose from that it can be overwhelming. I basically have a three color selection, and then you can branch out from there. I start off in the spring with a Crawfish patterned red/orange trap. If the day is cloudy, I may fish with a Gold/black back. If the day is clear, a Chrome/Blue black. There are many different variations of colors available and many different situations to fish. You can experiment and see what works best for you.
1. Ripping. Probably the best known tactic when fishing a Rat-L-Trap. Basically you throw the bait out and want it to tick across the grass. When it starts to ‘hang’ just a bit, “Rip” the bait out of the grass. Be prepared as some of the most bone jarring strikes you’ve ever experienced will come this way. Lets talk about equipment here. Line, I like to use a 65lb braid for ripping my traps. The braid has zero stretch and will cut through the vegetation, it also transmits the vibrations up the line and to the rod very well, so you can better feel the trap ticking the grass. I use a 7’MH M Denali 843 Crankbait rod, paired with a Lews Tournament Pro Speed Spool with a 6.4:1 retrieve. The rod will allow the braid to be ripped effectively, and the mid range speed of the reel allows you to get the fish coming to the boat quickly but still will allow you to fish slow enough without making a conscious effort. Strength and reliability are important when you could pull 50+ fish to the boat at one time. Something that is very important when you are fishing with braided line and a crankbait, is drag. You want it set firmly, so you can rip the grass but do not want to rip the bass’ lip. I set it tight, but where I can pull it by hand without the braid ‘cutting’ into my hand.
2. Digging, this method is used when grass is sparse on a flat or a point. Fish the bait slow enough to allow the nose to ‘dig’ into the bottom and stir up sediment. With the action of the bait being altered, the sediment being stirred up and encountering some sparse grass on a spawning flat, you are making an irresistible offering for any bass in the area. In this type of environment, I will use a 14lb fluorocarbon line and a 7’Med Denali 842 crankbait rod.
3. Yo-Yo…ing, as the name implies you are basically using your Rat-L-Trap as a Yo-Yo. Cast it out across a point, along a ledge, down a creek channel. Let it flutter to the bottom, then with your rod pointed at the water, rip your rod to the 10 o’clock position bringing the bait up off the bottom. Allow it to settle once again and repeat. It is important to maintain some contact with the bait as it falls although if you maintain a tight line you will impede the action of the wobble when it falls. The equipment used for this would be the same as for either ripping or digging depending on the amount and type of grass that is present.
4. Slow Rolling, Sometimes the grass is a bit deeper or a front has come through, and the fish will be on the edge of the grass line buried up in the thick stuff. I am a diver and have seen fish at that edge sitting in a little cubby hole just looking out, waiting for something to swim on by. To slow roll, you may need to tie on a 3/4oz trap to get deeper, and as the technique name implies…Slow down. Feel the bait, listen to the vibration and rattle transmited up the line. Instead of the rapid chattering “bddddt” that the bait usually makes you will be able to discern a rapid ‘thump, thump, thump’ and slowing down can be very productive. Remember a crankbait fishes like a check mark so slower fishing in deeper water keeps the bait in the strike zone longer.
Areas to fish:
These fish are in a prespawn mode, and I look for staging areas, places where schools of fish are staging and will be actively feeding in anticipation of the spawn. Areas leading to spawning flats, or headed to the back of creeks, like big channel swings can indicate deeper water nearby or submerged cover that will hold prespawn fish. If you can find the grass, you can find the bass. Sometimes something as simple as an old road bed or a ditch can hold fish getting ready to move up. Time in the boat, checking topo maps and looking at your electronics will help you identify the areas you need to fish. There is nothing more valuable than time on the water and becoming intimate with the areas you want to fish. Water temps as cold as 45* and up to 65* is prime time for trap fishing. Actually anytime you can throw one is a prime time to fish them. As the days move closer to March, and the tournament circuits start to heat up, my arms go to twitching and my thumb and forefingers start to reflexively grab for a reel handle. I begin to get tunnel vision and notice that I look around at the surrounding areas, thinking, man if that were underwater I bet there would be some hawgs here! That is the beginning of Trap Fever! It never feels so good to get a fever!
Garry McCollum, AKA iClass