Athens Review, Athens, Texas

December 1, 2012

OUTDOORS: Shake, rattle and roll

Lipless cranks a hot commodity when water temperatures begin to dive

Matt Williams
The Athens Review

NACOGDOCHES — It happens every fall, usually about time the leaves start turning and water temperatures begin taking a dive. The Rat-L-Trap bite heats up on bass lakes across eastern Texas.

It is usually not one of those flash-in-the-pan deals, either. The 'Trap is long-distance performer. Once the fish start hammering it, they normally won't back off until the spring warm-up.

To hear Ann Wilson tell it, the rattling, clamoring Rat-L-Trap has been kicking out near magical results on her home lake for decades. The track record has resulted in a faithful following that is almost cult-like.

Wilson is the owner of Ann's Tackle Shop in Jasper. It is among several popular hubs in the area for Sam Rayburn regulars.

"It started sometime back in the late 1980s," she said. "Guys started catching fish on it and it became sort of a fad. Today it is more of a mode the fishermen get in. When the 'Trap bite turns over here the word spreads fast. It's something that the fishermen have learned to anticipate every year. It actually starts in November and peaks in January and February. That's when those big pre-spawn fish start gravitating towards the shallows."

Cold weather isn't only thing that drives the 'Trap bite. Shallow hydrilla also plays a key role. Bass love to gang-up around around the green stuff, even when water temperatures are so icy that textbook logic points to deep water.

"That's a big misconception a lot fishermen have," says Longview bass pro Jim Tutt. "If a lake has grass, the fish won't leave it regardless of how cold it gets. It's not uncommon to catch fish out of two feet of water during the dead of winter so long as there is grass around."

For those who may not be familiar with the Rat-L-Trap, it is a flat-sided hard bait with a hollow body that is adorned by two treble hooks. The body cavity contains several small BBs. This causes the lure to create a high pitched rattling noise as it races through the water column - nose down - with a super tight wiggle.

Not surprisingly, the popularity of the lure sparked a war between bait manufacturers hoping to grab a piece of the proverbial pie. While there is an army of knock offs out there, many anglers will agree with Wilson when she says that "lots of lure makers have tried to duplicate it, but none produce quite like a 'Trap does."

Enjoying success with the Rat-L-Trap and other lipless crank baits is simply a matter of covering water until you find the find the right stuff. It works best in areas where the hydrilla is submerged 2-5 feet beneath the surface.

The trick is to cast the bait over the grass and retrieve it at a pace just fast enough to keep it ticking the top of the moss on the way back. Most "reaction" strikes occur when one of the treble hooks snags in the grass, then rips free.

Most 'Trap masters will agree that tossing lipless crankbaits around grass demands "specialty" tackle to get the best results. To learn more, I invited Dicky Newberry to share some insight on his favorite set-up for going lipless around the grass.

Newberry is a Houston-based tournament pro who has racked up a number of wins throwing a Rat-L-Trap around hydrilla beds. He says line size, line type, rod action and reel gear ratio all play key roles in building the perfect lipless crankbait "system."

"The main key with 'Trap fishing is to keep the bait clipping the top of the grass during the retrieve," Newberry said. "Everything has to be working together as a system to accomplish that. If one of the elements gets out of whack, you can't get everything out of it that you need to."

Newberry likes a heavy-action rod for 'Trap fishing. His personal choice is a 7-foot, 2-inch grass rod by American Rodsmiths. The rod was originally designed for flipping plastics and jigs into heavy cover, but Newberry says it also doubles nicely for 'Trap fishing.

One of the main reasons he prefers the heavy-action is because it enables him to snap or rip the bait free when it connects with the moss.

"I used to throw a lighter action rod, but I have found I can feel my way across the grass a lot better with the heavy action," Newberry said. "Plus, I am able to stick and land more fish that might swat at the bait and not get hooked if I were using a lighter action rod."

Newberry's line of choice varies with the depth of the grass, size of lure and speed of retrieve necessary to keep the bait ticking the moss without burying up.

He prefers using 14-17 pound fluorocarbon line whenever possible, because it does not stretch. In situations where he want the lure to run super shallow he will switch to a 20-pound monofilmant line. Monofilament floats, which in turn makes it easier to keep the bait elevated above the grass on a steady retrieve.

"I like to throw fluorocarbon whenever I can get away with it, mainly because of no-stretch factor," Newberry said. "But sometimes you might have to switch to mono in order tweak the system and keep the bait connecting with the grass. If you are not keeping the bait in the strike zone, you are reducing your chances of getting bit."

Another essential ingredient to a lipless crankbait fishing system is the baitcasting reel. Newberry prefers a reel with a gear ratio slower than 7.0:1. The last number represents one revolution of the reel handle. The first two numbers represent the number of times the spool rotates each time the reel handle turns a full circle.

On a reel with a 7.0:1 gear ratio, the spool will turn seven times for each revolution of the reel handle. That equates to blazing fast line recovery, which at times plays a major role being able to keep the bait on top of the grass instead of burying up in it.

"A 7.0:1 is just about perfect for 'Trap fishing," Newberry said. "If I need to slow down, I can always do it by not reeling as fast. Otherwise, there is plenty of built-in speed there when you need it."

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwilliams@netdot.com.