The trap rig is a presentation that I like to use for live or dead fin bait when I’m trying to target lingcod or halibut. It’s used to target bottom-dwelling fish and you fish it the same way you’d fish a dropper loop.
The trap rig allows you to fish a bigger bait (like a mackerel, sardine, sanddab, or small rockfish) to target a bigger fish while increasing your hookup ratio with the trailer or “stinger” treble hook connecting on some of those short bites you might otherwise miss. If a really aggressive fish bites your bait, it’s also comforting to know that you have that stinger buried deep in its throat.
Under the right conditions, the trap rig is deadly. At other times, you’re better off with other presentations.
In this article, I’ll show you what you need to tie the trap rig, how to tie it, and the right time to deploy it.
What You Need To Tie The Trap Rig
LINE: First of all, because I’m fishing along the bottom, I like to use braided line on the spool of the reel that I’m using. In this application, that’s going to be 65# or 50# braid. The sensitivity to feel a bite is better, and because of the lack of stretch, you get a more responsive reaction on the money end when you go to set. I tie off a swivel to the braid, and then use a monofilament leader from there.
If I’m tying this setup to target lingcod, I’m using no less than 40# mono…50# if I’m in Northern California or north of there (especially on Pacific halibut). I used to tie a long surgeon’s loop on my leader line, cut the loop, and use that line to tie this rig, but lately I’ve been using a 3-way swivel tied to the main line instead. Doing it this way, I’m able to use lighter line (I use 25#) from the swivel to the weight. If I get stuck, it’s easier to break off, and you save most of your setup. And although I’m a proponent of “less tackle is better,” using a 3-way swivel tends to tangle up less.
HOOKS: For the hooks, I like to use the Gamakatsu Octopus hooks. I don’t have a preference if they’re red or another finish, other than I don’t like to use chrome. You’re going to vary the size of the hook based on the size of bait that you use. A 5/0 or 6/0 hook is what I use most often for a sanddab (pictured top), large mackerel, or small rockfish that I like using to fish this rig. I like this hook because the bend of the eye lends itself well to snelling the hook. Also, it doesn’t have an exaggerated offset, which I feel keeps the bait from spinning too much.
For the treble, I like the Gamakatsu Treble EWG. The size #2 (pictured) sounds small, but fishes bigger. I feel like the wider gap on this hook strikes the right balance between being discreet, and sticking out enough to find a perch inside the fish’s mouth.
How To Rig It
Another thing I like about using a 3-way swivel is it allows me to tie up leaders before the trip so that I can quickly rig up on the boat. I like to tie my leaders about 18-20″ long because when it’s working correctly, it looks really natural and gets bit. I use a snell knot to attach the octopus hook to the line and leave a long tag end to tie on the treble. It’s going to take some trial and error tying up the tag end to get the proper length for your bait. It’s shorter than you think it is when tying up. I use a simple uni knot to attach the treble hook. When you tie these leaders onto the 3-way swivel, you should end up with your tied leader being 14-16″ away from the mainline. The little bag ties from your grocery store produce section are perfect to keep your pre-tied leaders.
When To Use It
This rig is best used during a semi-fast, to fast drift. If you’re anchored up, or the water is glass and there’s no wind and/or current to push the boat; you’re better off throwing a jig or swimbait in order to cover more ground. Once you are all rigged and baited up, drop it straight down and let the boat movement create your bait movement.
Keep in mind, you are fishing this rig to target a bigger fish. So if the conditions are right, and you don’t get bit, it’s because the right fish isn’t there to bite it. It’s a trade-off of quantity vs. quality. The other thing to remember is you are using a big bait. Don’t go for the big swing when you first start getting attention. You need to give them time to eat it.
I used this rig both times that I caught my two biggest lingcod. The biggest of those two fish was 22+lbs (right), caught off Westport, WA last year (2020), on a boat called the Angler. You can read the full trip report HERE. It’s worth bringing the extra rod on the boat in order to have this setup tied up and ready to deploy when you get the right bait and under the right conditions.
Good luck if you get out there.