Rich Howes is a Florida bass angler with a reputation for pitching and punching heavy vegetation. It's a money method for him and the technique he used to win the 2013 Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. His big Fitzgerald Mat Flippin' rod also punched his ticket to the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville.
But Howes is no one-trick pony. He may use the pitching and punching techniques to pull bass from the heaviest cover, but he prefers other methods for locating bass and for catching them when they're not in the thick stuff.
"My favorite search bait is the Bill Lewis Lures Rat-L-Trap," Howes says. "It covers water quickly and efficiently, and with different retrieves it's effective all through the water column."
The Rat-L-Trap is probably the most ubiquitous lure in all of bass fishing. Though it wasn't the first lipless, vibrating crankbait on the market, it's certainly the best known ... and perhaps the most inefficiently used.
"Everybody knows you can sometimes catch bass on a Rat-L-Trap by just throwing it out and winding it back in," Howes says, "but there's a lot more to it than that and a lot of different ways to present the bait that are more effective under certain conditions."
As with most things fishing, getting the most out of the bait starts with the right equipment. Howes uses just one reel for his 'Trap fishing, but chooses between two rods (depending upon the cover he's fishing and the line he's using) and the three major types of fishing line (fluorocarbon, braid and monofilament).
"I do all my lipless crankbait fishing with a Lew's BB-1 Pro Series Speed Spool casting reel with a 7.1:1 gear ratio," Howes says. "The high speed lets me move the bait when I need to, but I can still slow down when I have to."
"I like the medium-heavy rod for most of my Rat-L-Trap fishing, especially when the cover's not very heavy and I'm using fluorocarbon or monofilament line. If I'm fishing heavy grass and need to pull the bait off cover for a reaction strike, I'll use the heavy-action model with heavy fluorocarbon or braid."
Howes' line selection is based on several factors, including water clarity, cover density, the depth he wants the bait to run, how far he wants to cast and how well the bass are eating his bait.
Basically, the dirtier the water or the heavier the cover, the heavier the line he'll use. His go-to line is 17-pound-test fluorocarbon, and it handles the bulk of his lipless crankbait fishing. He scales up or down to accomplish different presentation goals.
"If the cover's heavy, I'll use heavier line," he explains, "and if the cover is sparse or I need to make a long cast in clear water I'll go lighter. I'll also go to heavier line if I want to keep the bait higher in the water column. Monofilament is particularly good for this. Heavy mono will really keep your bait up. It's also good when the bass are not taking the bait very well — almost slapping at it. The stretch in mono seems to help in getting those fish hooked."