Ted Peck: Pull in walleye with Rat-L-Trap lures
Trapping several species of furbearers begins in Wisconsin on Oct. 18, with muskrat season opening on Oct. 25.
Some anti-hunters are quite vociferous about harvesting fur. May raccoons forever haunt their garbage cans until they realize the beneficial role conscientious trappers play in wildlife management.
This column isn’t about trapping fur. It’s about a lure called the Rat-L-Trap, which has been made in America since 1964. These lures put a hurt on walleyes wherever they swim for the next 10 days or so.
The technical classification of this lure is “lipless vibrating crankbait.” There are several varieties of this genre available, each with a unique fish-attracting capability. Every bass angler on the water has at least a couple lipless vibrating crankbaits in his or her tackle box. Walleye anglers? Not so much.
Rat-L-Traps are a great search bait. Search baits enable an angler to cover potential fishin’ holes quickly, looking for active fish.
With passage of autumn’s second major cold front a couple days ago, walleyes are active.
In lakes and flowages, this means moving up on shallow points, humps and flats near steep breaklines when they feel the need to feed.
Walleye movement in rivers presents an entirely different dynamic. Riverine walleyes are always on the move. Most of the time this travel is a study in casually herding their forage base to a point where food can be quickly and easily ambushed.
With water temperatures now tickling the 50s and dropping into the low 40s by month’s end, the movement and purpose of these fish is considerably more frenetic.
Key on areas where slack water meets fast water over a rock-rubble bottom with substantial obstructions nearby. I can think of 10 microstructures that precisely fit these habitat parameters between the Highway 14 bridge west of Janesville and the Indianford Dam tailwaters—and another 10 within a quarter mile of this dam.
One of the biggest and most obvious is around the pilings of the Highway 14 bridge. There are backeddies on the downstream side of the pilings and a small buffer zone of quiet water on the upstream side that can hold aggressive fish.
If fish are there, you can catch them on a big-lipped crankbait now, but you’re also likely to find a snag with the hooks. A jig is also an effective weapon and will remain so until the river freezes over.
If you hold the rod tip high, a Rat-L-Trap will run 2 to 3 feet down in the water column. The floating model will run 6 to 18 inches under the surface depending on rod tip orientation to the water and how fast you turn the crank.
I’m a big fan of a burning retrieve when looking for aggressive fish. With a crankbait, you’re offering fish a striking rather than a feeding presentation. Rocketing the bait through the strike zone might provoke a spontaneous swat from a fish—with the same outcome you might experience when swatting at a fly that announces it is really a hornet.
There are at least 20 microstructure ambush points on the Wisconsin River between the Dells dam and Pine Island, and probably 100 more over on the Mississippi.
Trapping for riverine walleyes is a run-and-gun operation. The angler is on the move looking for active fish. The fish are on the move looking for an easy lunch. Two spinning wheels in the great machine of river life.
When a Rat-L-Trap shows up at the precise instant a walleye feels like nudging a little closer to a rocky barrier looking for lunch, fish on!
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.