Trappin’ Trees

Overcome your fears, and start throwing lipless crankbaits around cypress trees.

Louisiana and the number ranking in a national list, the Saints and the playoffs, boiled crawfish and milk — it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these things just don’t go together.

Yeah, you may come across a dubious list that has Louisiana ranked at the top of some bad-news category. The Saints may even make the playoffs a couple of times every 30 years or so, and you may see a child having to drink milk while eating boiled crawfish. But other than that, never the two shall meet.

That’s the way lots of bass anglers feel about fishing lures with treble hooks around heavy cover — the two just don’t go together. After all, that’s why some enterprising mind invented jigs, soft plastics and spinnerbaits. Fishing these lures in and around heavy cover is usually done under the comforting realization that snagged lures are the exception rather than the rule.

However, most bass anglers know that a crankbait is a great reaction lure that will catch a ton of bass, but how many of them ever risk the occasional snag to see if a fish will eat it in heavy cover?

The one good thing you can say about a regular-billed crankbait is that at least it has a big old lip up front to help deflect potential hazards. And, because of that bill, there are some anglers who don’t mind chunking them around stumps, bushes and trees.

But who’d be fool enough to throw a lipless crankbait around a cypress tree?

Sid Havard of Simsborro and Homer Humphreys of Minden — that’s who.

These two bass anglers live in North Louisiana, which is home to several cypress-tree bejeweled lakes like Bistineau, Caddo, D’Arbonne, Providence, Bruin and Black Lake. They usually wind up fishing cypress trees a large portion of every day they spend on the water, and a lot of that time is spent pitching jigs and Texas-rigged soft plastics.

“As good as those lures are around cypress trees,” said Humphreys, “sometimes the bass just won’t touch them. That’s when you’ve got to dig down in your bag of tricks and throw them a curve ball. Oh, the heck with the curve ball, you really need to throw them a nasty spit ball every now and then, and that’s when you need to pull out a Rat-L-Trap.”

Havard has seen it too. He’s seen the times when a bass on a cypress tree wouldn’t touch his jig.

“I’ve even seen them spook off the tree when I pitch my jig in there,” he said. “When that’s happening I know something odd is going on, so I back off and start throwing that old nasty spit ball Homer’s talking about.”

Both of these guys say they like throwing Rat-L-Traps around cypress trees when times are tough because they know only a handful of other anglers ever even think about doing it.

“The biggest hang up people have about throwing Traps around cypress trees is just that,” said Humphreys, “they know they’re going to hang up.”

If you can deal with the frustration of having to unsnag your lure every so often and can put up with losing some of those Traps, you can find a whole other world of untapped fish that will line up to jump on for the ride.

Even though both Humphreys and Havard say there isn’t really any obvious flashing signs that signal when it’s time to fish a Trap around the trees, both do admit that there are a few signs that at least let them know it might not be such a bad thing to do.

“Most of the time it’s just a gut feeling,” said Humphreys, “coupled with the fact that I’m not getting bit on anything else. But I do look for a few things that let me know it might work.”

Humphreys suggested that seeing fish spooking off the trees as you approach to make a flip or pitch is a good sign that you at least need to back off the trees.

“Anytime you see fish spooking, you know you’ve got your boat too close to them,” he said. “That should tell you to at least back off and start throwing something like a spinnerbait or a crankbait.”

Havard agreed with Humphreys, but added that there are several lures that could work around the trees after you have backed off.

“You can even continue casting your jig or worm up around the trees,” he said. “What I look for to tell me the Trap bite might work is everybody else throwing a spinnerbait. Those guys are going to catch some fish, but if I come behind them with the Trap I’m going to catch the fish that they missed.”

Havard and Humphreys also look for the presence of baitfish.

“I know you’ve seen the balls of shad swimming around the cypress trees,” said Humphreys. “That’s a good indicator that the fish should be looking up and should eat a shad-imitating lure burned next to the tree. I don’t know too many lures that imitate a shad better than a Rat-L-Trap.”

Even though both anglers downplay the decision to fish a Trap around cypress trees as a gut decision, both admitted that the stronger the wind is blowing the better Trappin’ trees is going to work, especially in February.

February is a great time to try Trappin’ trees in your local lake, according to Havard, because many bass will be in some phase of the spawn. And that means they should be hanging out around a tree.

“Those big fish will be the first ones to move up out of the deep water and stage on the deeper trees in about 6 feet of water,” said Havard. “They’ll wait there until the nights get warm enough for them to move out on the flats, then fan out in the pockets to spawn. If you follow professional bass fishing, you already know that many tournaments are won this time of year on lipless crankbaits fished over grass and on the flats. Well, they’re just as productive on the cypress trees.”

Humphreys has been at all those B.A.S.S. tournaments that were won on lipless crankbaits during late winter and early spring, so he knows just how effective they can be.

“There’s probably not a better bait at triggering those big old females to eat than a red Rat-L-Trap,” said Humphreys. “Red is the color in East Texas, and it is just as productive in North Louisiana. I guess common sense tells us that a red Trap probably looks like a crawfish to the bass.”

Humphreys recommended starting on the deeper trees that are close to some kind of drop-off and to work your Trap progressively deeper until you find the magic zone.

“Start off burning it just below the surface,” he suggested. “Then keep going deeper and deeper with it until you figure out exactly how deep the fish are.”

Havard uses this same approach, but he added that he likes to work around the circumference of the tree to make sure he isn’t missing anything.

“I usually make a pass all the way around a tree and cover all the angles,” he said. “The root ball on a cypress tree grows out a ways from the base of the tree, and that’s what I’m trying to hit, especially on the shallower trees.”

When Havard senses that he has hit a cypress knee with his lure, he often kills the action and lets it fall unchecked to the bottom.

“I usually don’t have to worry about it hanging up when it hits bottom,” he said, “because it very rarely gets all the way to the bottom before a bass eats it.”

Any vegetation growing around these trees is just an added bonus, according to Humphreys.

“You know how good a Trap is over the grass,” he said, “so imagine how good it can be with a grass and cypress tree combination.”

Humphreys said that the bass would hold just under the grass around the base of the tree.

“That makes them a little tough to get to,” he admitted, “but if you’re patient and are willing to work you’ll get them.”

The key to this added grass feature, according to Humphreys, is to let your Trap get bogged down in the grass a little bit then snap your rod to clear your lure.

“If you can time it so that you snap it right by the base of the tree, you’ll trigger that bass down there to come up and eat it just as you are finished snapping it.”

If all this sounds like Havard and Humphreys are inviting trouble, just relax and see what Havard has to say about modifying your Traps to make them a little less snag-prone and a lot more productive around the trees.

“The first thing anybody does with a lipless crankbait is to replace the hooks,” he said. “I’ve been using the Excalibur rotating treble hooks, and their offset design seems to help me land some fish that would have gotten off otherwise. A Rat-L-Trap runs in kind of a nose-down position, and that will help you fend off most snags as long as you are careful, but if you stay hung up, you ought to think about cutting off the leading hook on each treble hook.”

Havard said that by cutting off the leading treble hook the other two hooks lay back up against the body of the Trap where they are less likely to encounter anything except the lip of a bass.

“That’s where I especially like the rotating treble hooks,” said Havard. “With one less hook, I like the fact that the two hooks that remain are going to typically wind up burying due to their rotating action.”

Another of Havard’s tricks for fishing a Trap around the trees is to drill a hole in the bottom of the lure so that he can remove the BBs and make a silent lure.

“I usually have one with rattles and one without rattles rigged up and ready to go,” said Havard. “The silent version usually works best when it’s dead calm and the entire world seems to be on pause.”

And if he is seeing lots of shad flicking around the bases of the trees, Havard said he doesn’t hesitate to take out his pocket knife to scrape the paint away from the sides of a chrome/blue or a chrome/black Trap.

“What you wind up with is a lure that has a reflective top and bottom with bone-colored sides,” he said. “That’s probably my No. 1 trick for fishing Rat-L-Traps around the trees.”

If you decide that you want to try Trappin’ trees, Havard said a little common sense when it comes to tackle would pay off in more landed bass.

“Everybody knows that hooking a bass on a lipless crankbait doesn’t mean that you’re going to land him,” he said.

Since he’s fishing open hooks around heavy cover, Havard spools up with heavy line.

“Twenty-pound-test minimum,” he says. “That heavy line is going to help you avoid some snags because it helps you keep the bait up higher in the water. If I’m fishing around trees with grass, I often spool up with braided line because it makes it easier to clean your lure with a flick of your wrists due to the braid’s lack of stretch.”

Havard also says it is important to use a soft-action rod.

“Bass hooked on any treble-hook lure are usually lost when they make a hard run right by the boat,” he said. “A soft rod will act as a shock absorber, and it will give a little as the fish pulls against it. That’s going to mean your hooks stay buried a larger majority of the time.”

You may also want to keep a little looser drag setting than normal when Trappin’ trees.

“Learn to use your thumb to control the fish,” said Havard. “If you can learn to fish a loose drag with a soft rod, you will catch more of the fish that bite your lure.”

So see, these two, Traps and trees that is, aren’t so bad together. In fact, the more you combine the two the better life is going to get for you.

Now, as far as combining those other three? Maybe we’ll wind up at the top of a good list one day. You’ll probably take a beer with your boiled crawfish. And as far as the Saints go — well, there’s always next year.

About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at