There’s no questioning the effectiveness of crankbaits, and the best crankbait I’ve ever used is, hands-down, the Rat-L-Trap. They work in freshwater for everything from bass to brown trout, and they work in saltwater for everything from stripers to speckled sea trout. They don’t require tuning like a lipped crankbait, the nose-down attitude they maintain underwater prevents them from snagging bottom most of the time, and their depth can be varied with boat or retrieve speed.


The Rat-L-Trap is one of the best known crankbaits around.

There—now that we’ve settled that (except that half the fishermen and all the manufacturers of other crankbaits will disagree with me), let me explain why I rarely use them, and why you might want to put them on the back-burner, too. First off, those sticky gang hooks—found on virtually every crankbait in existence—are deadly. They make it very difficult to release undersized fish without injuring them, and if a fish sucks one down into its throat, it’s almost surely a goner. Second, those sticky gang hooks are a hazard to you, too, if the fish thrashes while you’re de-hooking it. Third, those sticky gang hooks are a hazard to everyone else onboard, when an inexperienced angler starts casting. Have we detected a theme, here?

Yes, you can remove those treble hooks and replace them with a swinging single. And yes, your bite-to-hookup ratio will plummet.

Another down-side to the Rat-L-Trap is that it can, in gin-clear water with skittish fish, become a hindrance rather than a help. Those rattles are loud—really loud—under water. And in some circumstances they’ll spook the fish instead of tempting them. On the other hand, in turbid water fish will often strike a Rat-L-Trap much better than other lures, thanks to those very same vibrations. And when trolling, this doesn’t ever seem to be a problem; for some reason, it only seems to happen with structure-oriented fish. The rattles also seem to aggravate fish into striking sometimes (particularly when they’re in spawning mode protecting a nest), and if you repeatedly drag one past the same fish three or four times, often it’ll eventually attack.

So: taking all of the positives and negatives into consideration is the Rat-L-Trap really the best crankbait ever? I still say yes, simply because I have yet to encounter one that caught more fish under more varied circumstances. You may feel differently, and under certain specific conditions, other crankbaits will certainly do a better job. But for all-around use I just don’t see how it can be beat, and I always carry a full complement of Rat-L-Traps on my boat. Sticky gang hooks, and all.

Got a different opinion? (I know you do.) Share it in the comments below.

For more info on fishing lures, read Fishing Friday: The Best Way to Choose Lure Color, and Fishing Friday: Do Scented Fishing Lures like GULP Really Work Better?