Vibration baits have been around since the 50s with baits like the Whopper Stopper Bayou Boogie, the Cordel Spot and even the Heddon Sonar and Super Sonics. All these lures had a good following, but it wasn’t until Bill Lewis came on the scene in the early 70s that vibration baits really came to the forefront of the angling world. His invention? Well, he took a standard vibration bait, put a bunch of BBs in it and named it after his Ford station wagon – the RAT-L-TRAP.
What Lewis did was take a good bait style and improved on it tenfold. But it didn’t take hold immediately. The first recollection of his success didn’t even come from his own boat. Rumor has it that Bill Lewis and a friend were fishing Toledo Bend reservoir one day in the late-60s and came upon a group of anglers watching another pair of anglers wax the fish. It was a tough day where Bill and his buddy hadn’t caught a fish when they happened upon the excitement.
Lewis recognized the anglers whacking the fish, called out to them asking what they were using, and their reply was, “That silly lookin’ rattling bait.” Lewis had only used it for a “few minutes” that day without any success.
The history of Bill Lewis Lures, specifically the RAT-L-TRAP, has always been a bit aloof. I’ve talked with several people about its origins, including his grandson, and most of them say the mid- to late-1960s. That may be the case of his tackle making start but the start date of the Rat-L-Trap, the bait that put him on the map, is hidden in the four ads I have presented here.
The lead-off ad is from the Fall 1977 issue of American Angler magazine. In this ad, it states:
“We took a good lure – added 34 BBs and 2 buckshot as rattlers, painted it in our ‘hot flash’ finish’ and then sent it to independent fishermen across the country to field test. After three years testing, we guarantee this lure will catch more bass consistently than any Hot Spot, Balsa B, Little N, or any other lure on the market.”
First off, that is one heck of a claim to make, that it would catch more fish than the baits mentioned as all were at the top of their game in 1977. But the thing that I want to point out here is the year is 1977 and if it had been in field-test mode for three years, that would put the bait as being developed in 1974. This ad also alludes that they had been making a lure like this, sans the rattles, prior to introducing the RAT-L-TRAP.
The other claim they make about the bait is you can “hear it coming in 20-feet of water.” Lastly, you also must dream of going back to 1977 and getting four of them for $5. Oh how I miss those introductory offers.
Next let’s turn to the ad I found in a March/April 1979 issue of Bassmaster Magazine. In this ad they’re still touting the “handful of BBs” and have added that this bait can be heard for 150 yards in the water. But now Bill Lewis has followed suit from the other bait companies, like Lazy Ike, and had come up with some natural colors and patterns.
The next ad, from the July/August issue of Bassmaster Magazine, espouses 35 BBs that make all the noise. No mention of buckshot. The ad also has a typo, the second sentence calling the bait the RAT-TRAP. I also noticed in this ad they’ve stepped back the calling distance of the bait from 150 yards to 100 yards. It makes you wonder where they’re getting the acoustic data from or are they just making it up as they go?
The final ad, taken from the November/December issue of Bassmaster Magazine, gives us a little more information about the genesis of the bait. In the third sentence, Bill Lewis states:
“Our original idea has been available for almost seven years.”
This put the year of first manufacture back to 1972.
The ad continues with their standard sales pitch, again increasing the fish-calling ability back up to 150 yards and that it casts like a bullet and does not wind plane.
There is no doubt that Bill Lewis’ RAT-L-TRAP changed the face and sound of bass lures for a long time. I can’t say for certain that Lewis’ introduction of rattles into the bait started the rattle revolution in crankbaits but he was damn close to it. If you remember, the Cordell Spot One-Knocker was a mistake, where the ballast weight came unglued from the body to produce that signature knock.
Since then, the RAT-L-TRAP has not only become a household name the entire genre of vibration baits has been renamed “Traps.” Even if one is throwing a high-dollar Japanese vibration bait, most anglers say they’re throwing a Trap. He’s even credited with other manufacturers putting rattles in their standard crankbaits.
Every manufacturer of hardbaits today offers a noisy lipless crankbait in their arsenal and we have Bill Lewis to thank for that. In fact, within the last 25 years many manufacturers have been experimenting with different rattle materials such as tungsten, lead, copper, glass and mixes of all in the baits we buy today. Each one giving off a different sound. The different materials also allow for small baits to be heavier or large baits to be lighter.
Although Bill Lewis didn’t invent the vibration bait, he took it to a different level and the fruits of that idea are still seen today.
The first Rattle traps I got my hands on was in the late 70’s or maybe early 80’s ? I do remember I got 3 of them in some kind of offer .
Fishing on the California Delta in January and the water temp was around 51 degrees . It was a slow day of fishing so I decided to try one of my new rattle traps to see what all the fuss was about . To my amazement I could hear the bait rattling as it was approaching the boat coming thru the water but even more amazing was the number of bass that were following the bait back to the boat in the cold winter water . I did not actually hook a bass on the trap that day but the drawing power was akin to fish following a swimbait to the boat like they’ll do now days . On later trip to the Delta under warmer conditions those baits did a lot of damage for me .
Hey Ken, Thanks for the comment! Yeah, that bait became a much-have on the Delta for many years.