Wilton Mays III with a couple of big blues caught out of Cherokee Lake with natural bait enhanced by Amaysing catfish concoctions.
Bill Lewis invented it. Numerous other tackle manufacturers emulated it. Right about now, many Northeast Tennessee bass anglers are starting to reach for it.
The generic term is “lipless crankbaits,” but most area anglers continue to call it a “Rat-L-Trap” whether talking about the original Lewis version or newer takes on the concept. Cotton Cordell, Strike King and Excalibur also produce popular variations on the theme.
“We’re getting a lot of good reports from Cherokee this week. A lot of Rat-L-Traps in use with the fish getting shallower,” said Rex Pendergrass at Watsons Marine in Bluff City.
“The best time to use (lipless crankbaits) is when those shad get in the back ends of of those pockets and creeks. You can fire that Rat-L-Trap in there and fish shallower water than you’d even think you’d find a fish. It’s just a reaction bite.”
You have to be quick on the retrieve. Lipless cranks, which are usually weighted with loose internal ball bearings for the classic “rattle”as the lure wobbles, do not float like most crankbaits. Get distracted and you’ve sunk a treble hook into a log.
Evidently there are other ways to fish a Rat-L-Trap, including fishing them deep. Pendergrass, like most area anglers, isn’t really hip to those methods. But he has heard tell.
“David Fritts used to throw a big Cordell Spot in deep water, kind of yo-yo it and pick up some pretty big fish,” Pendergrass said. “But David Fritts has done a lot of things that other mortal people can’t do.”
Some big catfish continue to be caught on Cherokee Lake. Wilton Mays III sent us some shots of massive catfish recently caught on Cherokee Lake. There were two blue cats, a 33-pounder and a 55-pounder caught on cut carp dipped in XXXBlood fish attractant and goldfish dipped in XXXBlood Garlic Oil. There was also a picture of a 28-pound flathead. Not sure on what was used on that bad boy.
On the fly fishing beat, Ben Walters at Eastern Fly Outfitters in Johnson City did some smallmouth fishing on a small, mountain lake recently. He struggled until he hit upon a solution that he never would have figured.
“I finally caught one on a Turk’s Tarantula,” he said.
“Some people will think I’m nuts to say it, but they were eating lots of midges. There were millions of the flying around and I guess that was what was most available for the smallmouth to eat.”
He speculated the Tarantula appealed to the the bass because it resembled a cluster of midges as opposed to an individual. A single midge tied on elicited no strikes whatsoever.
“It was weird. I’d never seen smallmouth do that before,” Walters said.
Meanwhile, on waters you’d expect to see midges working, they have been. An assortment of natural colored midges have been picking up trout on the South Holston and Watauga tailwater fisheries.
Blue Winged Olives have eclipsed sulphurs as the predominant mayfly hatch on both rivers, he said. On the Watauga, expect larger than usual BWOs — Sizes 16 and 14 — to work better.
Todd Boyer at Mahoney’s Sportsman’s Paradise in Johnson City said September was a really good month to fly fish for smallmouth in the rivers. Lately, things have been slowing down a little bit.
“It’s starting to slow down a little because of the cooler nights. Most of the fish are moving to the warmer water,” said Boyer, who has been fishing the Holston River around Church Hill and Christians Bend.
“The middle of the day isn’t too bad if it gets warm enough.”
He agreed with Walters on the insect trends on the South Holston and Watauga, but he has also experienced some decent streamer action.
“A lot of big fish are transitioning toward the coming spawn. So streamer fishing has been pretty good. It’ll probably stay good until they get on the beds,” Boyer said.