Casting the lure towards the vast mat of milfoil, I cranked slowly on the handle of the baitcast reel, tensing instinctively. Somehow I just knew a strike was coming. Seconds later, it did. The mat of milfoil literally exploded as a seven-pound largemouth broke through the vegetation and nailed the soft lure shimmying in a v-wake across the surface.
After a challenging fight, I worked the fish and about a pound of milfoil in close and carefully slipped the hook out of his bony white jaw. None the worse for wear, the fat bass flipped its tail disdainfully and darted back into the lake.
The rat had come through again!
Few lures are more exciting to fish than a topwater rat imitation. Although these small rodents are not common food items, a number of gamefish besides bass also feed on rats, voles, moles and mice whenever they get the opportunity.
I've caught smallmouths, largemouths, peacock bass, pickerel, pike, trout and muskies on these lures and I'm sure there are other species that will also nab them. In some areas redfish even feed on rodents. In fact, it's doubtful that any predatory gamefish would pass up a small rodent when given the chance.
A variety of rat lures are available. Most are made of soft plastic, with either solid or hollow bodies. Various methods are used to make them mostly weedless. And that's a good thing, because the best action with these lures comes near cover such as stickups, brush piles, log jams and especially weed beds. Some have hooks embedded Texas-style inside the body, while others have double hooks barely protruding on top. Both arrangements work fairly well.
But to set the hooks firmly with them you need a rod with some backbone and stout line. Try a variety of retrieves. I usually start out with a slow and steady presentation. Then I try a more erratic motion. Finally, try both fast and steady and fast and jerky movements. The bass will let you know what they want on any given day.
Openings in vegetation and pockets are especially good spots to try. Bass and pike often hole up in these locations waiting for a morsel to swim by. Inch the lure up to these openings and then slowly twitch it across them, as if the mouse or vole is trying to escape. Points are also great spots to try as well as places where logs hang out over the water from shore. A mouse could walk out on the log and then slip in, offering waiting gamefish a tempting meal.
These lures will also catch trout in rivers. Large browns and rainbows are inordinately fond of small rodents. Use a slow, smooth retrieve to tempt these fish. Most of the time they'll be found hovering beside logjams and sweepers along shore waiting for the rodents to stumble in.
It's often tough to connect on strikes with mouse and rat lures. Usually the best bet is to not strike immediately. I know. That's hard to do. But if you strike too fast you'll likely pull the lure away before the fish has it fully in its mouth. Wait until you see the mouse disappear and feel the fish's weight. Then pull back hard!
Tips for Fishing Rat Lures
• If a fish strikes, but misses, don't immediately reel in. Let the lure sit motionless for a minute, and then twitch it a little. The fish will think it wounded the rodent and return to finish it off;
• Insert a glass rattle into the lure to add sound appeal;
• Put a stinger hook on if you are missing strikes;
• Try adding weight to the mouse if topwater action is slow, to make it less buoyant. Rig a slip sinker in front of the body or insert a piece of shot or a ball of cotton to soak up water.
Fish mouse and rat lures early and late and on overcast days for the best results.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.