Rat-L-Trap Crappie

rat l trap crappie

Rat-L-Trapping Dirty Water Slabs

Bass anglers know when the water gets muddy, in the spring, bass move shallow. The same is true for big crappie. These slab crappie act much like bass. Crappie will move shallow, during dingy or muddy water conditions throughout the season, for the same reasons bass do. Visibility is a big reason crappie move shallow. The suspended sediment restricts light penetration in deeper water and this is a great time to give Rat-L-Trap crappie a try. The lack of light penetration limits one of the senses crappie rely on to survive, visibility, and this makes it more difficult for crappie to see both predator and prey. This sense of vulnerability, as well as the need to see their prey, trigger the crappie to move shallow during dirty water conditions. One way to probe for shallow muddy water crappie is with a lipless crankbait for crappie.

lipless crankbaits for crappie
Rat-l-Trap crappie

I learned how effective the lipless bait was on these crappie while bass fishing. We were catching big crappie in dirty water with a rattle bait. I began targeting dirty water slabs with the Rat-L-Trap and was surprised how well the rattle bait worked. The rattle bait is a very popular bait in the spring for largemouth bass moving up to spawn. The bait allows you to cover lots of water and the noise of the rattles help trigger a reaction from those bass to strike the bait. The same hold true for big crappie that are looking for a place to spawn as well gorge on crayfish and shad to prepare themselves for that spawn.

The rattle bait is commonly referred to as a rattle trap and it was the first lipless crankbait with rattles inside. It was created by Bill Lewis. He sold his new invention out of the back of his station wagon. Often, Bill had to sell his baits below cost just to cover gas costs. He believed in his bait and stuck with it. Long story short Bill was driving that old station wagon, loaded with his baits, through the rain. He had to reach outside his window to work the windshield wiper by hand. During the frustration uttered under his breath, as he had so often, “Rattletrap” and the name of the bait was born that day. Bill’s Rat-L-Trap finally got recognized and became one of the all time best selling baits and the name became a household name.

There are many brands of rattle baits on the market to choose from but I still like the Rat-L-Trap the best. The Rat-L-Trap is fished fast or slow and comes through cover better than any other rattle bait I have found. This is important when targeting shallow slabs which oftentimes will bury themselves in thick cover. Springtime slabs tend to hang out alone and become very territorial as well. You can find big crappie in a school together but from my experience those really big crappie tend to keep to themselves. However keep in mind that when you catch one big crappie there is often more in the area.

Locating big crappie is a little different from locating keeper size crappie. If you fish a brush pile and are catching small crappie then move on. You might catch a slab or two but usually if the majority of the crappie you are catching are small then the majority of the crappie in that brush pile are small. Big crappie act more like bass than their smaller brethren and tend to stick to channel swings and bigger bait. This is why when you catch a crappie while bass fishing it is usually a giant. Big crappie don’t always shack up in thick cover. Sometimes they are found suspended near these areas just offshore. Be sure to present your Rat-L Trap through the top section of the water column to see if they are just hanging out in the open.

locate rat-l-trap crappie
Chunk rock to gravel transition. Ken McBroom

Big crappie really like rock but if you can find big chunk rock that transitions into gravel with some wood thrown into the mix you have a great place to start. Look for these ingredients leading into shallow coves. Big crappie like to be near deep water so they can easily move back and forth. Crappie can be very aggressive feeders during the pre-spawn, but sometimes it can be tough to get a bite. A reaction strike can really help you put more fish in the boat.

The Rat-L-Trap can trigger lethargic slabs into lashing out at the Rat-L-Trap. Oftentimes, crappie are hooked on the outside of the mouth because they are reacting to the noisy bait as it goes by them. This is why the Rat-L-Trap can be so effective. You not only get the crappie that are feeding, but you can also catch those that aren’t because of the noise produced by the rattles inside.


The most important piece of tackle for fishing the Rat-L-Trap is the rod. It’s very important to use a medium light power rod with a limber tip. The limber tip gives with the fighting fish and helps to prevent you from ripping the trebles out. Especially when the bite is a reaction strike. This often means the hooks have barely penetrated the flesh and calls for extreme care to get the fish to the boat. Pointing your rod tip at the water during the retrieve will help keep you from jerking. Pulling too hard will often result in a torn out crappie lip. When you feel a bite just keep reeling and let the limber rod do the work. With good sharp hooks there will be plenty of hook penetration.

The reel is of personal choice. A baitcaster works well with 1/4 oz or larger. but if you go to a small 1/8 oz Rat-L-Trap then you want to use a spinning combo. The line is very important. When using a spinning outfit 2-6 pound test is all you need. If you prefer a baitcaster then 8 pound is better just because of the stress put on the line when casting with a baitcasting reel. The smaller diameter seems to catch more fish at times so I always have a spinning rod rigged and ready. Some anglers believe that the reason for more bites is that the crappie don’t see the line.

The smaller diameter line allows for an improved action of the bait allowing it to “do its thing” much better. I came to this conclusion after watching an old time crappie angler catch 15 crappie over 2 pounds. He was using 4 pound test bright yellow line in clear water. He told me that the bright yellow line was just for him to see the bite better and the crappie didn’t seem to mind it. I had to agree.

With the springtime rains comes muddy water but remember the fish are still going to do their thing. While so many crappie anglers seek out cleaner water be sure to try  for some Rat-L-Trap crappie. Hunt around those creek channels and coves. Try multiple retrieves. Sometimes the crappie like a steady retrieve and other times they prefer a stop and go or a pumping action. Pumping the Rat-L-Trap like a yo-yo will often trigger bites from those lazy bottom dwelling slabs.

Be sure to check out Crankbaits For Crappie

About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.