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Bill Lewis Rat-L-Traps

By Russ Bassdozer

Basic Anatomy. The Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap is the original flat-sided, lipless crankbait. It comes with its own built-in action right out of the box. An angler only has to reel it in straight and quick, and the lure will do the rest all on its own. It will automatically RATTLE, VIBRATE and FLASH all by itself, which is what makes the lure so effective and such a "no brainier", even for novices. All anyone needs to do is to retrieve it straight, quick and in close contact to weed tops or flat bottom, and start getting hits! You also get a great SHAPE right out of the box. Pick up a shad or bluegill about 3 inches long. Now pick up every single lure in your tackle box and rank them as to which lure comes closest to the shape of the natural bait. I will bet you that your Rat-L-Trap more closely approximates the bait shape better than anything else you own!

Toss the Salad. The best application for the Rat-L-Trap is to retrieve it quickly in close contact with the tops of thick underwater grass beds. As an angler, you really won't be able to predict where the bass will be in such thick weed beds. From above the surface, it just looks like a broad expanse of green down there. But you will know you are in the right places when YOU SPEND THE ENTIRE DAY REMOVING SALAD FROM THE TREBLE HOOKS.

Underneath it all, however, bass will be positioned along the unseen bottom contours and they will be using open cavernous spaces beneath the weed mats to hunt for prey. From down below, the bass will clearly hear the loud rattling sound of your Rat-L-Trap overhead, and they will come barreling out of the grass beds rather unpredictably to bust the Rat-L-Trap. It is pretty exciting stuff!

Different Weights and Sizes. Rat-L-Traps come in six sizes ranging from 1/8 oz. to 1 1/2 oz. You need to use the right weight Rat-L-Trap to match the depth of water you have above the weed tops, and retrieve it back quickly at a speed you feel causes the loudest rattle and the heaviest vibration in your rod tip. Here are the recommended weights to use over underwater grass beds. If there is 1-2 feet of water over the grass, use the 1/4 oz. Mini-Trap, keep the rod tip up, and burn the lure back. If there is 3-4 feet of water over the grass, use the 1/2 oz Original Rat-L-Trap to keep it down just over the grass. If there is 5-6 feet of water over the grass, use the weighty 3/4 oz. Mag-Trap to keep it down that deep. To go a few feet deeper, there is now a new, larger 1 oz. Magnum Force Rat-L-Trap.

Shallow Flats. Another great application for a Trap is on wind-blown flats. You want the wind coming right in directly at the shoreline. Ten to fifteen knots with extra gusts is about right. The windier the better. Pick the right weight of Trap to keep it just above the flats bottom (weights and depths were mentioned above for keeping it over the weed tops) Trust me, you want to keep the Trap just above the flats bottom for best results. You don't want to be retrieving it high up in the water column. However, if you start actually bumping bottom, instantly raise your rod tip higher and reel faster. Bass and bait can be found anywhere on the broad expanses of these wind-swept flats. As an angler, you really won't be able to predict where the bass will be on such broad flats. And once again, the loud rattling noise will call them in to you from a distance like no other lure can, and once sighted, the quick retrieve, heavy vibration, flash and shape of the bottom-hugging lure will trigger aggressive strikes from active bass.  

Bare Banks. Traps are also good to use on bare banks that break, either quickly or gradually, into deeper water. It is important to keep the boat far back from the first break to deep water. Do not bring the boat over that first break. Respect that natural boundary and you will keep shallow bank fish unalarmed. They will feel protected as long as you do not try to occupy the shallow space with them. They will take flight if your boat crosses over the berm into the shallows. It is a natural safety barrier that you shouldn't cross. So keep back and toss that Trap up a few feet onto the bank, rattling it all around but good while still on the land, then hop it into the water with a splash, flap it around where it lays on the bottom for a few seconds, and then burn it back away from shore as fast as you can. The important part here is to give it enough time (10-20 seconds) scratching and kicking around on shore to attract the fish over to it.

Rocks, Wood. I can't recommend that you use Rat-L-Traps in stickups, stumps or other rock or wood cover. They will get snagged pretty easily in wood or rocks, so I wouldn't try to use them directly in this kind of cover. Of course, the Rat-L-Trap is a flexible lure, and you can cast them NEXT TO wood or rock cover if you believe fish are taking feeding stations right on the outer edges of the cover and will come out of it to locate the source of the rattling sound. But there are equivalent lures such as spinnerbaits that are better lures to use in and around cover than Traps. Let's face it, when bass are on point on the outer fringes of cover, you know where they are, and you really don't need something that they can hear rattling from 100 feet away. Now if they are stalking prey in dark tunnels and walled-in narrow trails along the very bottom under thick weed beds, rattles will draw them to you! But alongside cover, a loud rattling bait is usually not necessary, and prone to snag. I would rather opt for spinnerbaits which exhibit some of the same attracting qualities as Traps - quickness, vibration, and flash - but spinnerbaits are more natural and unalarming, and you can purposely bounce one into a stump or thick limb, kill it, and have a good chance not to get snagged. And you can't do that with a Rat-L-Trap!

Colors. Traps come in an incredible array of about 150 different color patterns. Why? Because color does matter to the fish at times. Certain unique colors of Rat-L-Traps have even become wildly successful on certain bodies of water. Day in and day out though, I am a strong proponent of metallic flash in Traps. That's what you get out of the box with a Trap - shape, rattle, vibration and FLASH. To me, flash is a big factor with Traps just as flash is a factor with spinnerbaits. Obviously, you have two primary choices, gold and chrome flash. For starters, try a black back on the gold flash (143) and a blue back on the chrome flash (25B). In clear water, try a non-flash color such as Smokin' Joe (05) which has a blackened face and back with a smokey kind of neutral-colored body. There are also many panfish, baitfish and crayfish patterns to choose from, plus a bunch of gaudy chartreuse and fire tiger patterns. However, if you are just starting out with Traps, please get experience with the basic chrome, gold and Smokin' Joe first. 

Sunfish Imitation. Because of its body shape and tight wiggle, a Rat-L-Trap imitates a sunfish well. The illusion is heightened by using color patterns to match sunfish. Where legal, drag Rat-L-Traps through bass beds to imitate marauding sunfish. You WILL get smashed! A few weeks later, find a very shallow sunfish spawning flat, and burn this bait right along the outside lip where the flat drops off a foot or two. Bounce it into any wood or rock along the way. If you crank it hard, the hard head will hit the cover, not the hooks. Throughout the remainder of the summer, this color is best used in clear water on sunny days. Throw it anywhere there are bug hatches and bluegills feeding on them...bass will always be near to feeding sunnies...lurking in the grass edges or just beyond the drop-off edges. In fact, bass are members of the sunfish family, and they desire the exact same environmental conditions as other sunfish. So, even if you see schools of sunfish just sitting idly in certain areas, you can rest assured that bass are in the same areas doing the same things. If you spot these sunnies, throw a sunfish-colored Rat-L-Trap to the closest nearby cover. Bang the Trap off the spot to get a reaction strike. I always use them a bit further out away from the heavy cover. On the fringe edge of emergent cover or over the top of submerged cover. Remember, you can bump the outside of hard cover and bounce over it, but if you go all INTO cover with a Rat-L-Trap, it's most likely to get snagged.

Rods. Ideally, you need a soft-tipped rod both to allow you to feel the lure working properly and to allow you to set the hook more slowly and to fight the fish more gently. The soft rod tip will give you feedback so you can feel the throbbing vibration of the bait in the tip, and therefore calibrate the reel retrieve speed to get the heaviest vibration and loudest rattle possible.  Again, the qualities of a good Rat-L-Trap rod also apply to a good spinnerbait rod. In both cases, you use feel of the lure's vibration in the rod tip to hone in on the best reel retrieve speed.

Line. Over open flats, I always keep a Trap moving or else it will sink and get snagged. A mono line floats better, keeping the Rat-L-Trap up off bottom. Mono should range from 10-12 for the 1/4 oz Trap, 12-15 for the 1/2 oz., and up to 20 for the 3/4 and 1 oz. Traps. Whenever in weeds, a braided line cuts grass like a weed-whacker filament! You can use micro-braids to cut through grass and viciously rip the Rat-L-Trap off weed stalks as you burn through weed beds. Hesitate after you rip it - and get slammed!

Hooks. The body shape and rattles inside a lipless crankbait makes it one of the easiest lures for a jumping fish to throw loose. So fight fish gingerly on a loose drag and do whatever else you need to avoid jumping. Many people replace the hooks on lipless crankbaits with the turned-in Mustad Triple Grip trebles, making it harder for bass to shake them loose.

Other Lipless Crankbaits. Everything that we've said about Rat-L-Traps applies equally to other lipless crankbaits. Both the Excalibur Super Spot and the Rapala Rattlin' Rap (shown at right) are popular alternative choices.

Good luck to you. Trap a few for me!

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