The Trap Master

By Ken Smith

Many well-known regional fishermen around the country focus on specific techniques. In Texas, when the water is cold and there is grass, Dicky Newberry is in the mix.  If the name isn’t familiar, you haven’t spent much time on Sam Rayburn, or Toledo Bend, and you probably haven’t fished many BFL or Costa level events.

For a guy that gets up every day and goes to work in the heating and air conditioning business in Houston, his accomplishments in the FLW organization are impressive: with over 190 starts he makes the Top 10 in 1 out of every 2.8 events he fishes, he has 12 wins including nine BFL’s (one with five fish that weighted 36-5, a then BFL record catch), a Costa, two BFL Regionals, and oh—by the way— two Rattle Trap Open tournament wins. Pile up a resume like that and you will have something very close to $500,000 in career winnings with FLW, without ever fishing a tour level event.

I met Dicky over 15 years ago, fishing against him in a smaller regional draw circuit, and have been lucky enough to call him my team partner for several years now. Standing next to him on the front deck of a Ranger has taught me a lot about fishing, but the thing that I have learned the most is trap fishing.

Trap fishing, specifically, refers to fishing any number of lipless rattling baits. For most of us, the old standby Bill Lewis trap had been delegated to the tackle box several years ago with the advent of the Yo-Zuri, Red Eye, and 6th Sense Snatch along with many others which, at least to me, have more violent rattling motions and therefore are easier to feel and fish around grass.

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But if you check out Newberry’s deck and rod box prior to any November – April event you’ll find four to ten ½ and ¾ ounce Bill Lewis Rattle Traps in various colors along with one or two rattle baits from other makers. So why does he prefer a Trap over other rattle baits?

“Confidence I guess,” Dicky tells me. “I mean, I’ve caught fish on most rattle baits I’ve thrown and I do believe fish get conditioned and will not bite a certain bait, but for me I just like the feel of the Trap. I can throw a high or low frequency Trap and get the same action, and a ½ or ¾-ounce bait and again, the feel is largely the same. The Yo-Zuri is a great bait, but it is a 5/8th’s ounce bait—the speed you have to work the bait, the depth it wants to run, and how it feels is simply different than a Trap. With the advent of all the newer, high dollar rattling baits out now, I may be an outlier— showing the fish something he hasn’t seen in a while. I like the bigger hooks on a Trap, which produces a lot of the bait’s vibration. You may be choosing fewer bites with the bigger hook, but you’ll put more fish in the boat.”

Needless to say, the guy has confidence in his Rattle Traps, but I questioned him about specifics. “My go to is red,” replies Dicky. [Note here:  what he sees as red, I see as orange.  Check these colors and you be the judge]. I will always start a day with a Red Shad, a Rayburn Red Craw and usually a couple other crawfish pattern baits tied on.”

“Why so many?”  I ask.

“I do believe they will bite a certain color on some days and not others, or at least commit to little else,” he replies, “so when I go through an area that I have confidence holds a school of fish, I am really quick to change colors if the fish don’t show themselves. If I get a lot of fish slapping at a bait that tells me I’m close to the right color, but not dead on it. I want to show them something else immediately, not in two minutes when I tie on another bait.  Over the last few years I find myself reaching more and more for the Knocker series baits. It’s a spinoff of the original Trap, but the beads in it emit a lower frequency than what you get with the traditional trap. It’s more like a drum beat. I always have both tied on, but generally I will pick up the Knocker first and let them tell me they want something else before I switch.”

So how does he decide on the weight of a bait?

“For me trap fishing is about cadence—establishing the speed and action that makes the fish react to the bait. To establish this you have to just stick with it. Keep trying new retrieves, focusing on what that bait is doing. If you’re just chunking and winding and one bites, you didn’t learn much. If you are paying close attention to the retrieve you can learn what they want. A few weeks ago on Rayburn the water had cooled off to the low 60’s and the grass was very shallow. That put me on a ½ ounce bait, and experimenting with the cadence revealed what the fish wanted. Every bite came after I popped it out of the grass, but on the flutter while the bait is on slack line. I like Rattle Trap’s flutter more than most other baits, but again that’s my confidence bait. Some days that’s what they want: the snap and flutter. Some days just a steady retrieve over the top of the grass—just ticking it on occasion—and then sometimes absolutely burning the bait. “

I was fishing a tournament on Toledo in the spring several years ago and the weather turned off slick and blue bird. We had been on a good trap bite but soon those bites vanished—until we picked up a chrome ½ ounce trap and absolutely started burning it. Something about that flash and the high speed flight of the bait just tripped an instinct in what were otherwise dormant, non-feeding fish, to hammer that fast moving bait. Specific to the cadence, when I rig my rods the night before, I only use my Lew’s reels with 6.4:1 ratios and all the reels will have exactly the same amount of Seaguar 15# Invizx on them. That way no matter which rod and bait I pick up, once I dial in the cadence I don’t have to think about changing the rate I am turning the handle due to a different retrieve speed.

Interestingly, when I’ve  seen Dicky backlash a reel or break off a bait, that rod and reel are done for the day. He will not use that set-up again even when we are not catching fish. His reason: “If I find a cadence that works on that rod with less line, I can’t replicate it as easily on another rod I pick up. Trap fishing is daily trial and error. I try to limit the variables as much as possible so that when it works I can make it work over and over without too much thought.”

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Dicky’s choice of rod (which is very similar to the set up another Texas Trap aficionado, and FLW Tour Pro, Chris McCall) differs from what most others fishing a rattle bait use:

He reveals, “I like a very heavy-action rod. My go-to is a Lew’s 7’4” LMPS, which is actually a Magnum Pitchin’ Rod. Lew’s makes a Magnum Trap rod that I will use around sparse grass, but in heavy grass, or less than perfectly healthy grass, that heavier rod allows me to pop or rip that bait out of the grass cleaner than a softer tip rod will. That’s a huge benefit. You have to have a clean bait free of grass to get bit, and a heavy action rod allows me to have a much higher percentage of my casts pop cleanly out of the grass than a rod with a slower tip. So, I get the advantage of a higher percent of casts with a clean bait, and I am also able to put more hook into fish that are sometimes 40-50 yards away when they bite. After thousands of those bites over the years I know I put a much higher percentage of my bites in the boat with that stiff rod.

“The last advantage to the heavier rod is that for some reason I seem to catch way more fish that slap the bait with that heavier rod. I’m not sure why. Maybe on a lighter rod the bait moves more from the play in the rod. I recently caught a 5-pounder in the side of the face that slapped rather than really committed to eating my Trap.”

From fishing with Dicky I also knew he had thoughts on ripping vs snapping a Trap in the grass:

“I think most of the time those fish are either sitting looking at, or trailing that bait when it hangs in the grass. I don’t want to rip that bait 5 feet away from them when I pull it out of the grass. That heavy rod lets me “pop” it. I really only want to move the bait a foot or two and then have it stall or flutter right there in her face, that’s what makes her eat it even whether she is in the mood or not.”

The next obvious question I asked Dicky is where he throws his Trap.

“Anyplace that is different. It helps to know the topography and the grass lines, but anything that is different than the surroundings; a point, a drain, a corner, a creek bend. Sometimes it’s a high spot, but once you establish which it is that day, you can really focus on those places. When I won the Rattle Trap tournament on Rayburn a couple of years ago (he had just over 27 pounds by himself), I established early in the day that the fish were on sandy spots on grass corners, actually on the inside grass line. Once I figured that out, I ran similar spots until I ran into that school of fish. All but one of those 5-pounders came off that one spot on a ½ ounce Red Shad Trap, and a couple of them I snagged on the outside of the mouth.”

My last question for the Rattle Trap master was to ask him when he picks up a Trap in Texas in the fall.

“As soon as the water gets into the low 60’s I want to see if they’ll eat it. Then I keep throwing it, no matter the weather. I’ve caught fish all the way down into the low 40’s really well on a Trap. Actually, David Truax (another well-known Texas Trap slinger) told me he once caught them one day throwing his Trap up onto shallow water ice and dragging the bait off the edge, into the water, and fishing the bait back to the boat. The fish will bite it on fall and all the way through, or at least right up to them committing to go on the bed.”   

*For great tips and techniques from Ken, you can follow him on his youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/KenSmithFishing