There's probably no "wrong" way to fish a lipless crankbait. Over the decades, bass have fallen to every cadence conceived by man, from a blistering troll to deadsticking. Usually, though, something in between will be most effective.
"I have three basic retrieves that I like to use with the Rat-L-Trap," Howes says. "The first two — "steady" and "yo-yo" — are pretty standard and self-explanatory, but the third has helped me a catch a lot of bass others miss and won me a lot of money."
The steady retrieve is what made the Rat-L-Trap famous. You throw it out. You wind it in. The lure does the rest. The side-to-side shimmy and rattles inside the bait are just too much for some bass to resist. The trick is finding the right speed, and it can vary from fast-as-you-can speed cranking with a high-speed reel and your rod tip held high, to a virtual crawl. Experiment until you find what works.
Yo-yoing is particularly effective for those bass that want a bait that's falling. You cast the lipless crankbait out, crank it a few quick turns or sharply lift your rod tip fast enough to feel the bait vibrate, then allow it to fall back down on a semi-slack line. You can expect most strikes to come as the bait falls. Again, cadence can be everything.
Howes' most lucrative retrieve is one he calls "worming the 'Trap," and for a bait sporting a pair of Mustad Triple Grip treble hooks, it seems almost counter-intuitive.
"I cast the bait out and let it fall to the bottom, just like I'm fishing a Texas-rigged worm," Howes says. "If I don't get a strike on the fall, I'll lift the bait sharply (you want to feel the vibration of the lure) about three feet off the bottom and let it flutter back down. Most strikes come on the fall."
For Howes, this retrieve is best from late winter through the pre-spawn, when water temperatures run from 40 to 55 degrees. "After that, a faster retrieve is usually more effective."
When choosing a bait for "worming the 'Trap," Howes likes a 1/2-ounce model for depths 10 feet or less and a 3/4-ounce model for deeper water. He'll even use this retrieve in vegetation, but likes a lighter Rat-L-Trap then (1/4-ounce) so it doesn't get mired in the grass.
"The Rat-L-Trap is a great bait, and it's a mistake to rely on just one retrieve when fishing it," Howes adds. "It's a lot more versatile than that. I always have one tied on in my boat, and I'm always trying and learning new ways to fish it."
Editor's Note: Rich Howes is using his Bassmaster Classic appearance as an opportunity to support Fishing for the Kids and The Paley Foundation, organizations dedicated to helping children born with limb deficiencies. If you'd like to support the cause, you can make a donation or pledge an amount based on how many bass Rich weighs in at the Classic.