There is an old saying among Sam Rayburn bass tournament junkies that goes something like this:
"Come January, you had better be throwing a lipless crankbait like a Rat-L-Trap. Otherwise, you run the high risk of being made to look like a fool at the weigh-in by someone who did."
I dont ante up for many tournaments, but I do keep close tabs on the final scores at this storied bass lake in eastern Texas. Judging from past results dating back nearly two decades, the lipless crankbait is the wintertime rule rather than the cold weather exception in these parts.
True. Other baits will fool Rayburn bass this time of year. But day-in and day-out, none of them produce the consistently good results that this one does.
Perhaps no one knows that better than Ann Wilson of Jasper. Wilson has owned a popular tackle shop since 1986. She has sold truck loads of the rattling baits.
To hear her tell it, the interest in fishing lipless crankbaits began as somewhat of craze on Sam Rayburn. Before long, many anglers began to view as more of a necessity than a fad.
"Around the late 1980s is when it all got started over here," Wilson said. "Guys started catching fish on it and started to become 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. Its something that the fishermen have learned to anticipate every year. It actually starts in November and peaks in January and February. Thats when those big pre-spawn fish start gravitating towards the shallows."
As good as the wintertime Trap bite on Sam Rayburn, it is hardly the only lake across region where it shines. Several other lakes witness the phenomenon when water temperatures start taking a downward turn.
Toledo Bend is one. Lake Nacogdoches is another. Lake O Pines lunkers also have an affinity for rattling baits.
Photo Wikimedia Commons
While those lakes are entirely different in shape and size, one thing they share in common with Rayburn is they have plenty of hydrilla in skinny water.
Pre-spawn bass love the green stuff. So much that they will rarely leave it, even when water temperatures plummet into the upper 40s.
Learning to fish a Trap around shallow grass isnt rocket science. In fact, it is really pretty easy once you understand the basics. Here are some proven tips to get you started:
• The Right Stuff: Hydrilla goes dormant during the winter months. It typically gets "knocked back" in cold weather, creating window of open water between the top of the grass and the surface. Wintering coots and rising water levels also can contribute to the process.
Submerged grassbeds with a 2-5 foot window are typically best. Clumps of grass found in close proximity to a channel drain or ditch are ideal.
• The Right Rod/Reel: A good outfit for Trap fishing will include a medium/heavy or heavy action rod equipped with a high speed ratio (7.0:1 or faster) baitcaster spooled with no-stretch fluorocarbon line. The stiff rod enables you to snap or rip the bait free if it connects with the grass. Meanwhile, the fast reel keeps the lure moving quickly enough to keep it "clipping" the grass without much effort.
• Size Matters: Lipless cranks come in assorted weights. The most popular for fishing around grass are 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 ounce. The best lure size can vary with size of the open water window. The narrower the window, the lighter the lure and vice versa.
• Color Codes: Red gets a lot of attention during the pre-spawn, but isnt the only one that will work. Some of my favorites are bone, gold/black back, bleeding shiner and brown eye.
• Choices, Choices: As the Rat-L-Trap gained popularity, other lure manufacturers joined in the party in hopes of grabbing a piece of the consumer pie. Some good ones to check out are the Strike King Red Eye, Yozuri Rattlin Vibe, Seblie Flat Shad, XCalibur One Knocker and Livingston Pro Ripper.
Each makes its own distinctive sound, which at times can make big difference in how many bites you will get over the course of the day.