In part three… Mike Siefert, an expert Arkansas guide on Lake Millwood, teaches us about colors and patterns, discusses sizes, casting, scent usage, split-rings and speed-clips, line, rods, reels, and rod position. He shows us how to adjust to changing water levels, light conditions, and when to change up. Discussed are the unique challenges of working with pros, when to hire a guide, how success is in the details, and the power of confidence.
COLORS AND PATTERNS
When an observation was given that suggested that different colors, sizes, and external patterns seem to show up as favorites in different regions of the country, Mike wholeheartedly agreed. “Oh, there’s no question that within a specific area or region certain colors will be responded to by the fish better; either because of the shape, or the size, or the color combined with varying water clarities. Possibly because that pattern best represents the main staple of their diet in that particular body of water, or is more able to elicit a reaction bite.”
“Fish like bass, are primarily freshwater sharks. They’re a predator at the top of the fish food chain, and they’re opportunists. When an artificial lure is presented in the right way, these opportunists are going to eat it. And there is no doubt that different patterns and colors will elicit different responses in different bodies of water. This might be based on whether it is a threadfin shad population that’s the primary food source, or whether it’s a crawfish, a gizzard shad, bluegill, or bream - a bait that resembles the primary forage base for that particular water will certainly cause the fish to respond better.”
Having worked with Rat-L-Trap for over 25 years, he knows the company sees a definite pattern of certain colors going to certain regions that are not used in other parts of the country, and vise versa. As an example, the fishermen south of the Mason-Dixon line consume a variety of red and crawfish pattern baits.
“Red is the primary color of crawfish in this part of the country; red, orange, and amber. It’s just a color that is so plentiful down south in the natural forage, so it just makes sense to purchase Rat-L-Traps in those colors.” Fishermen who observe what is spit out in their livewells have only to observe the colors of the crawfish shells and pinchers to see that “Reds, oranges, ambers, and browns are very, very, highly prominent colors on crawfish in this part of the country.”
So what color does the guide tie on to the rod of an inexperienced client? “Well, that depends on where we’re fishing. If we’re fishing in the river and it’s muddy with current, I’ll tend to use a red, chartreuse, a white, or even black; a color that will show up in muddy water very well.”
“If we’re fishing in one of the oxbows that’s 5 or 10 miles off of the river, where there is no major current and you can see 3 or 4 feet deep, I’ll tend to throw a chrome, or a more realistic white or holographic shad pattern – or perhaps a bream or natural craw pattern - especially if there has recently been a crawfish hatch, or about to be one.”
The better the fish can see, the more Mike suggests using natural colors. But… “In more stained or muddier waters you want something they can see real well: Chartreuse, white, and bright red.” Then he quickly adds, “Now, I’ll throw a crawfish pattern in the clear water too – it just has to have a more detailed and natural pattern. I also retrieve it slightly quicker, giving them less time to inspect it.”
When Mike is guiding beginners, he initially sets them up with the ¼ or ½ ounce Rat-L-Trap. “Only because those smaller sizes hang up less, don’t sink quite as fast (as the larger versions), and smaller sizes catch a larger population of all sizes of bass,” he explains. Why would he ever switch to larger baits? “Larger baits catch larger fish. That’s the bottom line. I have found in my years of experience that I have caught, (at least 5 to 1), larger fish on the ¾ and the 1-ounce ‘Trap’ than I have the ¼ or ½ ounce.”
“Not to say that’s always the case; there are exceptions to every rule. But… I believe that a larger Rat-L-Trap will tend to intimidate smaller fish. In other words, there’s a considerable and pronounced size difference between a ½ ounce and a ¾ ounce.”
“And while I have certainly caught my share of small fish on a ¾ ounce Rat-L-Trap,” Mike admits, “I also feel like bigger fish will capitalize on a bigger meal; less work involved. It’s less energy that they have to expend to capitalize on more nourishment. One large meal beats having to chase down 4 or 5 smaller ones.” Still, Mike begins his clients with ½ ounce Rat-L-Traps because “I just want him to catch fish; whether it is big or little.”
The unique shape of the lipless crankbait makes it relatively easy to cast. It is aerodynamic and cuts through the air well. But while long casts are possible, are they necessary? “I am usually pretty target specific. You don’t have to cast it over the moon, to catch fish with it. If you cast a Rat-L-Trap 30 or 40 yards, that’s plenty of distance to gain the depth you want. Typically 20 to 40 yards is more than enough.”
When it comes to lipless cranks, does Mike use scent? “Not on hard baits. I’ve played around with gels and sprays and I’ll use that on my bass jigs and my plastic worms, (on something that they’re going to sit and slowly inspect for a minute or two). Especially in muddy water, I tend to use more sent than I do in clearwater with slow-moving baits.” But with Rat-L-Traps? “It’s not an issue, I typically do not use scent on hard baits. However, if I am wormin’ a Trap, I may hit it a lick with a quick spray.”
SPLIT RINGS AND SPEED CLIPS
After four decades of fishing, does Siefert use a snap or tie directly to the line? “I use both. A lot of times I’ll tie directly to the split ring, (I always have at least a split ring).”
“One thing veteran Rat-L-Trap slingers will notice about our newest baits is a new oval split ring on the tie-ring hanger on the top of the trap. We have gone to a new, stronger, oval split ring to tie the line to. This new oval split ring is much stronger, will not bend or deform, and adds to the characteristic ‘shaking’ action of the bait. It also prevents your line from slipping into either side of the ‘split’ of the ring. Just one more improvement anglers will notice on the new Traps, that will increase your success of fishing it.”
“If I’m out there by myself, and I want to experiment with different colors, sizes, patterns, setups, or prototypes, then I’ll use what’s called a “Speed-Clip”. And I’ll tie the speed-clip to my line, and then just pinch it and two halves of the o-ring separate. I take one trap off and put the next one on. It’s made by Bill Norman Lures, comes in 2 sizes, and saves you from having to retie every time.”
Mike still suggests checking your line every 30 minutes or so for abrasion. He adds, “But that’s another reason I use 17 to 20-pound test, highly abrasion-resistant line. You don’t have to constantly retie.”
Some anglers not only change a crankbaits' hooks when they are dull, but also change out the split rings. Mike says this is not necessary with Rat-L-Traps. “The rings that they are using now are virtually indestructible. As I mentioned earlier when we were talking about hooks, when it comes to the new Rat-L-Traps they’re putting out now, I don’t replace the hooks or the split-rings like I used. We addressed that concern a few years ago.”
The rods that our Arkansas guide hands his clients are usually spooled with 17 or 20-pound test copolymer, highly abrasion-resistant, monofilament. Occasionally braided line is used because of all the structure and cover encountered.
Mike explains his heavier line choice. “See, on Lake Millwood the fish are not as sensitive to line diameter or size because the water always has some stain. If you’re fishing in North Arkansas in Greers Ferry or Lake Ouachita, (pronounced Washita), where you can see 80 feet deep, you may not be able to get away with 17 or 20-pound test line. You may have to drop down in line size diameter to 12 or 10 or even 8 to get bit. That’s because line diameters are relative to the water quality.”
Convinced that the fish in his home lake cannot see the line as well because the water is stained, Mike is free to use heavier line; more concerned about keeping the fish on after he’s hooked them. Using heavier line is also helpful when his clients are young, because he says, (with a smile), “…they’re going be throwing and hanging up in the trees and everything else.”
When it comes to his own personal rods? Siefert continues to stick to heavier abrasion-resistant, copolymer monofilament line. And unlike some experienced anglers, he doesn’t seem to rely on the stretching characteristic of monofilament to help him play the fish as much as he relies on the parabolic flex of the proper rod. (As mentioned, he occasionally uses a non-stretch braided line.) While fighting a fish, the task of providing flexibility is delegated primarily to his rod and to the reel’s drag.
When Mike hooks a fish on a Rat-L-Trap using 17 or 20 pound mono, he says “I let my rod do the work. I’ll use a medium to a medium-heavy action, and I want a lot of forgiveness in the upper third of the blank. Because when that fish makes a surge right at the boat I want that rod to give, just like any crankbait rod. I’ll throw other crankbaits on a medium action, a 6’ or 6’6” Lamiglas rod. And it’s a fiberglass rod.”
But when it comes to throwing Rat-L-Traps, Mike is insistent, “All my lipless crankbaits are thrown on a graphite rod. From the handle and the reel seat to about 50% of the way up the blank, it’s pretty heavy – it’s got a lot of power and strength. This is important in order to pull the fish away from heavy cover. And from the middle of the rod blank to the tip it’s got a lot of bow and parabolic flex and forgiveness.”
Mike concedes that if an angler fishes in open water, where there isn’t a lot of heavy cover, they can get away with a little bit softer rod. He emphasizes “Just like throwing a lipped crankbait, a moving lipless crankbait also needs some flex in the rod. Why? Because you want to feed it to the fish when he comes up behind the lure, rather than pull it away from them like you would using a medium-heavy worm rod. I want a flexible rod, so that when a bass does hit the lure it’s not immediately pulled away. This creates a slower hookset when the bass hits the moving bait, allowing the bass to completely inhale the lure’s hooks. It allows a solid hookup before I can even react to it.”
Mike points out that today's rods are so sensitive, that anglers are quick to feel a hit, and their immediate impulse is to set the hook. But if your rod is too stiff, the angler tends to pull the bait away from the fish before it’s even got a chance to get it firmly inside his mouth, resulting in another missed opportunity.
A lot of professionals continue to stick with fiberglass for that reason. While helpful, (and Siefert does use fiberglass rods on other crankbaits), he doesn’t feel fiberglass is as important for lipless cranks.
“Throwing a Rat-L-Trap, I use a Rat-L-Trap rod, and its graphite. It’s a medium to medium-heavy action with a lot of forgiveness and parabolic flex… I’ve got about a half dozen of these rods with different actions for throwing different weights or sizes of Traps. I’ll tend to throw a little heavier action rod with a ¾ or 1 ounce Rat-L-Trap and I’ll throw a medium action for a ¼ or ½ ounce size Trap.”
As to reel selection, “Every one of my reels are all ‘old school’, Abu Garcia, Ambassadors, Abu Garcia, 4500’s or 4600’s.” High-speed reels with 6.1 to 1 gear ratios are not necessary. Reels geared in the mid ranges, (roughly 4 to 1, or 5 to 1), work well. He explains “I want my clients, especially beginners, to develop a slow speed retrieve. That works just fine.”
“Now the caveat (qualification) to that, is, you want a full spool. That changes your gear ratio considerably. When the spool on your reel is only half full, you’ve only got half of the gear ratio. …or less. So, a full spooled reel is best; that's where you get the intended gear ratios.”
When Mike teaches his beginning clients how to retrieve a Rat-L-Trap, he tells them to hold their rod anywhere from the 10 o’clock to 11 o’clock position. “And that way when the fish hits it,” Mike tells them, “you can immediately lower your rod tip and give it some slack so it doesn’t feel resistance and try to spit it out. Plus when you already have your rod in an 11 o'clock position, you can't set the hook too much further without taking up some additional slack, which gives the bass time to inhale the entire Trap.”
“And it also gives your rod that parabolic flex position, so that you’re feeding that Trap to him. And even if you set that hook immediately, with a flexible rod tip you’re not immediately jerking it out of his mouth. You’re feeding that moving crankbait to him. You’re slower to react and that’s a critical few initial microseconds in landing or losing a bass, especially a trophy bass.”
There are times when Siefert’s clients bring their own rods and are constantly pulling the Trap out of the fish’s mouth or missing the bass when it hits. Mike then explains to them that “Either you’ve got too stiff a rod, or too sensitive. That is, if you’re continually getting bit, and missing bass, by pulling it away from them too fast, you are just going to have to go to a softer rod, or from braid line to monofilament line, slow down, or possibly all the above in order to land the bass.”
When it comes to changing water conditions, Lake Millwood typifies those reservoirs that deal with seasonal flooding. “This past spring, the water came up 15 feet,” Mike reports. What happens to the fish when that happens? “They become so scattered, that fishing will get tough. I’ve learned though, that the fish follow the water. As the water rises, the fish will move back with that rising water.”
“They’ll go so far back into the trees and bushes, you can’t even flip a tube in there to where they’re at. Why? Because they realize that rising water is taking on land that’s typically not underwater, and as a result they’ve got access to a whole different and plentiful forage base. The rising water submerges fresh grasses, pastures and fields, budding bushes, trees, even flowers, and… it opens up a whole new ecosystem of fauna.” In other words, it’s like opening up a brand new grocery store for the fish to gorge on.
So what happens to an angler’s desire to throw a crankbait? Do the Rat-L-Trap enthusiasts need put their lipless crankbaits away? Mike sighs, “Yep. You need to go to a lizard or worm; something you can penetrate the jungle with, or vertical jig over limbs, …stuff like that.”
But Siefert reminds his clients that as soon as there is a drop in the water, those bass pull out again. Why? “Because those fish are not going to get trapped up there on the bank.” Smiling, Mike says, “They know they can’t breathe up there in those bushes when there’s no water in it. And the instant that water starts pulling out, they’ll follow that water back out to where the first drop is, and to where they have access to their deepwater sanctuary.”
“And they’ll remain there, unless the water begins to rise again. And then they’ll go back up in there again. But if it continues to fall, they’ll stay within 20 feet, or 30 feet of a quick access to deep water. That way, with three swishes of their tail they can be out there in the deepest part of the river.”
Even in September, some days are going to be overcast, and other days produce bright skies. What changes does Mike make when while throwing Rat-L-Traps in changing light conditions? Does he change color? Or speed?
“My guidelines are similar to those used with water clarity. I’ll tend to throw bright colors in muddy water, and I’ll fish slower. And in clear water I’ll throw a natural-looking chrome, shad, bluegill, crawfish, or bream pattern and I’ll fish it a lot faster. Likewise, with light conditions the same rules apply. If it’s a dark day, use the brighter colors and slow down. And if there’s a lot of light, pick the more natural colors and perhaps fish a little faster.”
Every fisherman has had days when the technique that worked so well yesterday, just isn’t working today. The fish just aren’t hitting the Rat-L-Trap, no matter how hard the angler tries. Mike has some advice for those moments, “If you in the same spot, at the same time and on the same lake your guide took you a week before, and you’re doing everything the same, but you’re not getting bit, then you’ve got to ask yourself ‘What conditions have changed? Is the sky clear or cloudy? Is the water level rising? Current flowing? Is the water level falling? Is the moon phase playing in?’ Because the bass’ prime feeding times will shift during the course of any month as ambient conditions change.”
“And again, like I said before, it’s all about timing. And it’s all about being in the right spot doing the right thing at the right time when they decide to feed. Not all the fish in the lake feed at the same time, just like you and I don’t eat at the same time.” The keys to success? Just remember the ‘3 P’s’, Siefert says, “Persistence. Perseverance. And presentation.”
WORKING WITH PROS
It doesn’t surprise the experienced guides when professional fishermen hire them for a day. It happens all the time. Perhaps the lakes in their own region of the country are quite different from Lake Millwood, so before they fish a tournament there, they hire Mike to educate themselves as to the idiosyncrasies of fishing “the jungle.” With a limited amount of time and resources, (and only when tournament rules allow it), it’s hard for a pro to eliminate 90% of the unproductive water on the visiting lake. Often, it’s a crash course in which we don’t even lift a rod, but concentrate on highly productive areas and water due to time constraints. This can sometimes be a challenge depending on the attitude of the angler.
“Well,” says Mike, “some pro’s are humble, and some pro’s are too proud and know it all. If they are a ‘know-it-all’, he’s wasting his time hiring me. I’m a coach and a mentor, and I’m not going to be able to tell the know-it-all anything he doesn’t already know.”
“On the other hand, if you’ve got somebody that understands that different lakes often have different presentation methods that work better than others, I can take them out and show them the kind of places where we’re catching fish, and how we’re catching fish. I can show them what we’re doing and the lures, colors, and patterns that seem to be working for us at that particular time of the year.”
Even as a guide and mentor, Mike understands the need to be open-minded. “I certainly don’t claim to be a know-it-all. I learn something new every day of my life. And I’ve been hired by different clients and different levels of expertise, that I have learned a lot from too.”
So, Mike enjoys working with open-minded pros that are knowledgeable but eager to refine their skills towards fishing his home lake. For example, if a pro is used to fishing all grass lakes, but has had little exposure to timber, Siefert is eager to demonstrate the finer points of fishing a stand-up tree and how to dissect it rather than running the bait just once over the surface.
“And I’ll tell him, ‘we were here two days ago and caught good size bass between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. We were in here the next day, and I didn’t catch our first fish until 10 o’clock. So, he understands that things change over the course of a week, here and on most every lake in the country. And that the bass’ prime feeding times may be affected by a number of different ambient conditions.”
Many visiting pros will hire a local guide to help them discover the special characteristics that are often unique to a particular lake, looking for a crash course in order to refine the special presentations that bring the greatest success. Even the pros can benefit from a knowledgeable guide.
HIRE A GUIDE
What does Mike suggest to those beginners who have tried lipless crankbaits and struggled to make them work? How does Siefert encourage them to go back and try it again? “I tell them to hire me!” he says laughing. “I tell them to go find someone who has the confidence level they hope to duplicate and learn from them. If they come and fish with me, I’ll be thrilled to show them what I’ve learned about fishing Rat-L-Traps for the last 25 years!”
Learning from the best – it’s the way to grow and gain confidence in any crankbait presentation. Mike says, “Makes all the difference in the world; going with an accomplished angler and seeing how, where, and when they’re fishing a particular lure.”
SUCCESS IS IN THE DETAILS
Successful crankbait fishing comes from finding experienced anglers and imitating everything they’re doing. Success is in the details. “It is attention to details that makes a difference on rod selection and action, reels and reel speed, and line size…”
“For example, you and I may be fishing the exact same rod and the exact same reel and the exact same Rat-L-Trap, but I’ve got 17-pound test on while you’ve got 30-pound test on. Fact is, you’re not going to get the same reaction out of that bait with 30-pound test that you’re going get with 17 or 20-pound test.”
And that one item can make all the difference? “It sure will, I’ve seen it proven over and over again,” says Mike. “No matter what some people think, paying attention to the smallest of details will make a huge difference in your fishing success!”
Someone once said, “Confidence is often like the common flu, it can be caught from someone who’s got it.” After chatting with Mike Siefert, you get the sense that if you sent this guide to the swamps of Florida, or to the grassy lakes of Texas, he’d catch fish. Likewise, if Mike was sent out west to deep clear lakes, or up north to Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, his rock-solid confidence in catching fish with a Rat-L-Trap would be unshaken.
Right Mike? “No question in my mind about it,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’ve done it too many times in too many places.” Catching that kind of confidence, just might encourage an angler to be bold and daring enough to go out and throw Rat-L-Traps in the jungle.
To be continued…
In PART I, our Arkansas guide introduced us to Lake Millwood, the proper locations there for throwing lipless crankbaits, and how summer conditions position the fish. He shared basic Rat-L-Trap techniques for beginners, and helped us focus on presentation, including the importance of deflection. We then learned about the territorial habits of bigger fish, and the importance of stealth in catching them.
In PART II, our Arkansas guide continued to share with us the knowledge that is essential to fishing lipless crankbaits successfully. Including… the proper hookset, the fight, big bass and their territorial behavior, treble hooks and a way to test sharpness, what happens when hungry bass strike, the proper speed of the retrieve, and a mind blowing Rat-L-Trap presentation that was hard to believe.
In PART IV, we’ll get a close up look at Mike’s pro-staffer connect to Bill Lewis Lures’ manufacturing company and some of the developments going on at Rat-L-Trap, including “Liv-N-Sound®” and the “Vibra-Trap™”.
For more information about Lake Millwood and guide Mike Siefert, contact:
Millwood Lake Guide Service
P.O. Box 4957 Texarkana, TX