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Friday, December 21, 2007

• Rattle Traps

The Trap
The rattle trap is one of the most fished lures out there. With such a distinguished reputation, the amount of information out there on fishing lipless crankbaits is overwhelming. Hopefully I can give you what you need to know without having to do a lot of extra reading. A lot of articles you come across have extra casual conversation and leave you looking for more information on your own. Time to get spoon fed.

I use the 1/2oz and 1/4oz Bill Lewis Rat-L-Traps most of the time, but I own a couple 1/8oz tiny traps as well. There are so many colors to choose from. Some of my favorite colors (and probably yours too) are chrome, chrome blue, red craw, orange craw, gold, and smokey joe. Considering these colors are used by most of us, it might be time to deviate from the norm. The chrome rattle traps do take a beating and the chrome paint does tend to chip off. I heard they are working on the paint job to remedy this problem, however many bass anglers will tell you the ones with the chips and scratches catch more than a new shiny one. People have tried repainting them using a myriad of chrome paints, but the end result is more of a matte finish without all the flash. Nail polish can add some flash.

The hooks on the Rat-L-Trap have a bad reputation. I can't even begin to count the number of people who have had bass throw this lure because of the hooks. The weight of the lure itself makes it easy for bass to shake free as well. The newer traps are supposed to have better hooks, but I swap out the front hook with a VMC Sure Set Hook and put a Gammy treble on the back. EWG treble hooks are another good alternative.

I've caught plenty of largemouth bass of course, but I've put lots of white bass in the boat with them too. Alligator gar even turn around and attack the chrome traps. If you're looking to catch a big bass, you could go with a jig and pig, or you could hook one with a rattle trap. My 7.5lber bit on a rattle trap practically three or four feet off the bank. Imagine a giant swirl coming at you towards the bank and then feeling a firm thump. I haven't used the 1/8oz tiny traps very often, but sunfish and crappie will bite on them. Not many bass seem to go after these little things. Your experiences may vary. I own one in firetiger and one in chrome.

Action
Lipless crankbaits have a tighter wobble than other crankbaits. Generally speaking, cranks with a tighter wobble are used in cooler water, say 60 and below, or in the weeds. The flutter gives off the appearance of a faster moving bait. Wide wobble cranks are good for warmer water above 60, around wood cover, and give off a slower appearance. Traditionally, wide wobble cranks do pretty well during the spawn. Rattle traps are considered the exception to the rule and can be used year round. I've said in other posts one can discuss crankbaits for hours if not days.

Tackle
All I really have to say is use something that can handle a good thump. The rattle trap is a big bass magnet. Use a medium heavy rod or a medium rod with some gusto and quick reflexes on your part. The length of the rod should be what you're comfortable using, but 6'6" to 7' is ideal. A fast tip helps when ripping free of grass, a technique I will explain in a moment. Use a baitcasting reel with a 6.2:1 ratio or faster. If you plan on burning (a very fast retrieve) rattle traps, use a 7:1 reel. The conditions will dictate what line you use some of the time. Anything 12lb test or more should be fine. Some lines don't like cold water. Some cast better in the wind. Others are more resistant to abrasion when fishing wood cover. Line is a matter of personal preference and I'll leave it up to you to decide what's best. See my edit further down for more on line and knots for rattle traps.

Conditions
As I have already said, rattle traps can be used all year long. When do you want to throw a rattle trap? It's a great search bait. I like using them when I find bass feeding on schools of shad. When I have days where nothing works, I tie on a rattle trap. When the water is muddy or stained and visibility is low, a chrome rattle trap can do the dirty work. It's all about using a noisy bright lure. You can list all of the conditions that can muddy up the water on your own, can't you? A chartreuse rattle trap has also been known to work well in low-vis conditions. While fish can still see rather well in muddy water, the added noise makes this lure ideal in low-vis conditions.

In the spring, I use the rattle trap a lot working shallow banks. The post spawn period is a great time of year to throw a rattle trap. As the year progresses, go from smaller rattle traps in the spring to larger sizes as the water warms and autumn sets in. Summer water is generally warmer. I slow things down and look for fish in deeper water. Again, it's a great search bait. If you can find the baitfish, you can find the bass with a rattle trap. Late summer and fall are times of the year when I feel this lure does the most damage. The bass are out feeding and a rattle trap is definitely on their menu. You can really cover (some might say eliminate) a lot of water with a rattle trap. Windy days are usually nightmares for bass fishermen, but tie on a rattle trap and cast into the wind without worrying too much about backlashing. When it's nice and sunny, throw chrome. When it's cloudy, think about throwing gold.

Techniques
One might say there is no wrong way to fish a rattle trap. Again, many anglers use the rattle trap as a search bait. It's as simple as cast and retrieve. The reaction bite is really where you would like a rattle trap to work its magic. You can burn (fast retrieve) them just under the surface, over weeds, or in shallow water. Be careful burning them. Sometimes I see the body start to tilt flat and lift to the surface instead of running low and straight. If you're fishing over weeds a little bit deeper, make sure to get the rattle trap just above the grass so that it just barely hits the tops. If you ever hang up in weeds, give it a good rip and that might be enough to draw a strike. That's really true for any crankbait. That brief pause after a rip is enough to get some attention from a bass. Remember, you're only trying to tick the tops of the grass, not hang up in it. One trick to avoid hang ups is to downsize the rear treble hook by one size. I've heard of a few anglers also cutting the front hook on each treble to avoid the same kind of hang up.

You can also troll deeper water, especially with a 1oz chrome rattle trap. A neighbor that recently passed away suggested that technique for stripers and white bass. You can do what I call the hop and drop where you hop it back to the boat without really letting the lure hit bottom. Some people call it a yo-yo technique. Just hesitate for a moment and retrieve, hesitate for a few seconds, retrieve, and so on. You can even let it drop to the bottom, sit still, and move it again. You want it to resemble a wounded baitfish. I have had a lot of luck catching fish feeding on shad using a very erratic technique. I let it drop on the initial cast and with irregular yanks of the rod, work it back to the boat all while taking up the slack or reeling it steadily. It really gets the bite going. People do the same thing with spoons and other cranks. I've heard of vertically jigging these lures, but I'm not really thrilled with that notion. And yes, you want to cast into the wind. I don't prefer casting into wind, but casting with the wind and retrieving it against the wind doesn't set you up for an ambush by a lurking bass as good as casting into the wind does. I actually like casting rattle traps at an angle into the wind or perpendicular to the wind, especially on wind blown banks.

If you miss a strike, try it again a couple more times. Otherwise, have a plastic worm ready to go. It's a good follow up lure for missed strikes. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. At least be prepared. Also having another rattle trap in a different color or size is a good option. Sometimes I even follow with a wide wobble crank.

Alternatives
It's always tough beating the original in this sport. I own a Strike King Diamond Shad and a Heddon Bayou Boogie, but don't use either one religiously and have never caught anything on them. Strike King also makes a Red Eye Shad. Cotton Cordell probably makes the next best alternative in their Super Spot with a few strikingly similar colors. BPS has the XPS Rattle Shad and the Homer's Tri-Vibe. Uncle Buck's makes the Rattle Shad and the Micro Vibe. Lew's makes the Vibrator, but I'm not all that impressed with the design. Xcaliber's Xr50 Rattle Bait is impressive in bright red, but I won't fork over $7 just yet. The Rattlin' Rapala is yet another alternative to choose from. I would be very tempted to pay top dollar for a Lucky Craft LVR. Yeah, we're talking around $15-$18. The Yo Zuri Rattl'n Vibe lipless crank is another not-so-cheap alternative, but the colors are pretty neat. Each alternative has a unique sound and vibration. Pay attention to whether or not one noise pattern makes a difference. I cannot find any solid data supporting the notion that bass learn to associate the specific rattle with being hooked, but when your go to brand stops drawing strikes, think about trying another.
Have a favorite alternative or do you feel nothing beats the original?

Some Other Tips I Came Across
Bleeding bait appearance with red hooks, red marker, red yarn on the hooks
(that wonderful red theory sweeping the nation)

A few coats of hot pink nail polish head to toe covering the rattle trap
(possibly related to the notion of bubble gum colored plastics and reaction strikes)

If you want a little more flash, here's an interesting little tip. Remove the rear treble. In its place, attach a small barrel swivel to the split ring. Then add another split ring with a spinnerbait blade attached to that. Colorado or Tennessee blades work pretty well, but I suppose small willow blades aren't out of the question. It will resemble a lure called a tailspinner.

EDIT 1/19/2008
I noticed two searches for the type of line to use and the knot to tie. I did some more reading.

Line depends on what you're dragging that rattle trap through, so there's no one best answer really. Let me cover what I've read. Monofilament at or around 20lb test is good for working over the tops of grass and I would assume copolymers and similar lines work just as well, if not better. I still prefer 12-15lb test copolymer. Braid helps in thicker stuff where you need the no-stretch quality for getting out of a snag when working a trap through thicker grass and then horsing the fish out of it all. Fluorocarbon sinks better, so consider using it if you want to get that rattle trap down a few feet deeper than with mono. It can get your trap down deeper into the strike zone than other lines. The down side to using fluorocarbon is that they say a good knot is essential and that any kinks from a backlash could mean a break off. A good knot with fluorocarbon essentially requires two things. First, you usually have to wet the knot for it to cinch down tight (apparently not true of P-Line Halo). Second, you have to tie the knot correctly. Otherwise, one loop that improperly crosses over another might cut into it, weakening the knot. If you're trying to toss a rattle trap a good distance, a line that could get damaged in a backlash like fluorocarbon may not be ideal. Of course, you might also consider that smaller diameter line is generally easier to cast if you want to get some distance.

The knot is another story. I would actually recommend using a snap or snap swivel with a rattle trap. Here's my reasoning. Sometimes bass won't bite on a chrome and I'll swap it out with a red craw and something will bite. If you've got multiple rods and reels, you can afford to have a couple of rattle traps tied on. I usually don't set up that way. After some reading, I've found most people tie a palomar knot simply because it's like an all purpose fishing knot for bass anglers. The knot I've seen recommended for crankbaits is the king sling knot. I'm not sure how good it really is. If you have a knot you're comfortable with and confident tying, use it and let us know how it fares with the rattle trap. I cannot find a definitive answer to this question.

Related Posts:
Rigging Crankbaits
VMC Sure Set Hooks

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