2016 Bassmaster Key – Keep an Open Book!

Gear Tips, Rigging Options, New Tackle, New Tactics 

Bassmaster Classic Pro, Ott DeFoe, took home $10,000 cash while fishing in tough weather conditions at Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees

The 2016 Bassmaster Classic offered anything but stable weather on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees.  When you’re fishing for big bucks and bragging rights, and the angler-field includes proven top-gun anglers such as Kevin Van Dam, Edwin Evers, Mike Iaconelli and a host of other big names, you know to have your gear ready and to be prepared for anything.

When nasty and changing conditions arise, successful anglers know that it helps to keep an open mind and an open tackle box.  A professional Rapala field representative professional shared with me, “With the weather conditions, that’s a lesson all of our pro staff was reminded of in this one.”

Rapala Shadow Rap

“On the first day of competition,” Rapala Pro Ott DeFoe shares, “I caught five keepers on five different baits.”  When a five-time Bassmaster Classic contender does that, the conditions might be asking for a change on every cast.  The five baits that scored for DeFoe were a Terminator(R) Spinnerbait, a #5 and #6 Rapala Shad Rap(R), a Rapala DT(R)-6 and a Terminator(R) Pro Series Jig.  How does he fish these baits?  There are secrets.

One big item that is key is attaching to the lure. Not many anglers talk about it, but weekend fishermen wonder, do you tie directly on the lure or use a swivel for more wobble?  DeFoe does not use snaps on his cranks, he ties direct.

Terminator Pro Jig

With the Shad Rap, DeFoe uses a 6’9″ medium-weight spinning rod, size 30 spinning reel and 8lb test.

With the DT-6, he switches to a medium-heavy crankbait rod, 7’3”, with a 6.4:1 baitcaster reel and 10lb fluorocarbon line.

One of his other favorite baits is the ½ ounce Terminator Pro Jig, where he uses a medium heavy 7’6” casting rod and a high-speed bait caster (7.9:1) set up with 17lb fluorocarbon test.

Because Grand Lake’s lower end traditionally features lots of clear water, Defoe and another Rapala Pro, Brandon Palaniuk, came to fish with high confidence using one of Rapala’s brand new lures, the Shadow Rap(R) Shad.  The new hardbait lure was unveiled for the public right before the Classic, though the Rapala pros had been field-testing and whacking bass on the undulating jerkbait that the lure provides.  The innovative new lure features an action that bass have never seen, it works best when the water is clear enough for bass to actually see the staggering wobble action of the lure.

Similar to the original Shadow Rap, released at last year’s Classic, the Shadow Rap Shad is taller in profile than its predecessor, but not as long.  Rather than slowly sinking on the pause, like the original Shadow Rap, a Shadow Rap Shad slowly rises when stopped, slightly wobbling and perfectly mimicking an injured shad.  It’s deadly.

Six-time Classic contender, Brandon Palaniuk, took home $14,250 for his 13th place finish in the big event.

With the action it’s got, man, I just totally expected this thing to be a big hit there at Grand Lake this year,” DeFoe said in a video recorded before Grand Lake went off limits for pre-fishing.  That was before the record rainfall deposited mud and high water in the highly respected waterway during the Christmas holidays.

“I figured there would be some off-colored water this week, but I was not expecting as much cold, off-color water as we had,” DeFoe said.  Areas with clear water were few and far between, conditions were better suited for vibration-emitting lures like Terminator spinnerbaits and Rapala crankbaits.  Once Grand Lake returns to normal form, DeFoe said, local anglers will be whacking bass on Shadow Rap Shads.

“During the Classic, I had to adjust as I went along,” DeFoe said.  That meant scrapping his initial game plan and keeping both his tackle box and his mind open.  In a tournament that saw numerous top pros fail to catch a five-bass limit, a last-minute color change resulted in one of DeFoe’s hard-to-come-by keepers.

“I had been fishing primarily craw-colored DT-6s when the water temperature was in the 40s, but something just told me on that second day to tie on a Disco Shad color instead, and then caught my first two keepers in 15 minutes.” DeFoe took home $10,000 for his 25th place finish, in the 55 member field of world class anglers.

For six-time Classic contender Brandon Palaniuk, scrapping game plans developed in practice was also necessary, as well as focusing on the current conditions as they changed rapidly. From practice to the last day of the tournament, water temp’s in many places warmed from 43 to 55 degrees.  Quite a swing!

“This week was just all about changing for me,” said Palaniuk, who turned in yet another top-12 finish in the world’s most important fishing tournament. “I changed every day.”

Terminator ½ ounce Super Stainless Spinnerbait

Although known as a crankbait fanatic, Palaniuk fished the conditions and enjoyed his best success with a chartreuse and white half-ounce Terminator Super Stainless Spinnerbait.

“That was my big key this week,” he says.  Palaniuk throws the Terminator with a medium-heavy 7’3” bait casting rod, 7.1:1 ratio reel and 15 lb fluorocarbon.  Palaniuk took home $14,250 for his 13th place finish.

Whether you’re fishing for bragging rights or in the biggest bass tournament in the world, keep an open mind and an open tackle box to adapt to changing conditions in order to catch more fish.

Most pro anglers share the view that a wide assortment of lures will keep you in the hunt for the top prize, or at least the big fish prize, and you never know just how long it will take to find that magic key to the door of a new record weigh-in.  Veteran pro’s will share, “It could happen in 10 minutes of fishing. That fast!”

So go prepared.  Good advice.