Brandon Palaniuk covered Sam Rayburn Reservoir from “three foot to 30 foot” with three baits to win his third Bassmaster Elite Series tournament, weighing four 5-fish limits for a combined weight of 93 pounds, 12 ounces. Edging out the runner-up by 2 pounds, the Idaho pro caught all his fish on a Storm® Arashi™ Top Walker lure and two bait rigs armed and anchored with VMC® hooks and weights.
And although he conceded it “sounds crazy,” Palaniuk caught all his biggest fish on the smallest thing he offered them – a Neko Rig comprising a 1/0 VMC Weedless Neko Hook, a 3/16th oz. Half Moon Wacky Weight and a 5-inch finesse worm.
“It’s what I caught all my big fish on this week,” said Palaniuk, a VMC pro and seven-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier. “Every fish I caught over 8 pounds this week came on a Neko Rig.”
VMC’s Half Moon Wacky Weight is mushroom-shaped and features a long, ribbed shank designed to embed in – and stay put in – one end of a soft-plastic worm. The Weedless Neko Hook is a new VMC finesse offering that won’t be for sale until after July, when it will be officially unveiled at ICAST, the sport-fishing industry’s largest tradeshow.
Weedless Neko Hooks feature a black-nickel finish, a wide gap, 3-degree offset point, a resin-closed eye and a forged, long shank. They’re available in four sizes: 2, 1, 1/0 and 2/0. What makes them weedless is a unique snag-guard made from two heavy-duty fluorocarbon bristles.
Unlike wire, the 50-pound-test fluorocarbon bristles guarding a Weedless Neko Hook are practically invisible to fish. They also protect the hook from the kind of submerged trees and brush that Palaniuk was fishing on Sam Rayburn.
Palaniuk’s confidence in his Weedless Neko Hook’s ability to avoid snags paid off early, when he caught an 8-pound, 4-ounce largemouth out of a submerged tree on the first of the tournament’s four days of competition. Without that confidence, he might not have tried a finesse offering around sunken trees as a follow-up to his Texas Rig (5/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hook, ½ oz. VMC Tungsten Flippin’ Weight and 10-inch plum-colored worm).
Palaniuk’s third “key” bait was a Storm Arashi Top Walker, a topwater lure that walks-the-dog with ease. “Every single day I caught a big one on it,” he said.
When the Top Walker was first released last year, Palaniuk predicted he’d enjoy great success with it. “It’s the best walk-the-dog bait by far now,” he said then. “It’s going to up my odds of putting more fish in the boat.”
Top Walker Calls ‘Em In
Storm’s Arashi Top Walker strides true even when retrieved fast, having been purpose-built to eliminate the missed opportunities all too common with lesser topwater options. A long-glide walk-the-dog action, a powerful wake and a multi-ball cadence rattle combine to make the Top Walker a seductive little siren sure to call in the biggest bass from the farthest distance. It’s available in both a 4 ½-inch and 5 1/8-inch size.
Top Walkers feature four bearings that broadcast a variable pitch frequency, mimicking the sound of schooling baitfish that predators can’t ignore. Rotated hook hangers, a feature of all baits in the Arashi lineup, ensure that all of the Top Walker’s three sticky-sharp trebles will grab fish and not let go.
Neko Rigs a Hot Trend
“The Neko Rig is one of the hottest new finesse trends going around right now,” VMC Pro Michael Iaconelli said recently. “If you use traditional finesse techniques, like soft stick baits and wacky rigs, give this Neko Rig a try. You’re going to catch fish you never thought you’d catch before.”
Bass usually hit Neko Rigs on the initial fall. A semi-slack line is key. “When you let the Neko Rig fall on a semi-slack line, it falls almost backwards at an angle,” Iaconelli explained. “It’s this natural, erratic glide that drives fish nuts.”
Although Neko Rigs are productive year-round, most anglers favor them in the post-spawn and summer. “It really shines once the fish get offshore a little bit and grouped up,” says fellow VMC pro Seth Feider, who used Neko Hooks to win a Bassmaster tournament last year.
In his Sam Rayburn win, Palaniuk threw Neko Rigs on a 7-foot, medium-action spinning rod spooled with 10-pound-test line. Light line is key to allowing the rig the best fish-attracting action.
VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hook Pegs Winning Fish
Built tough for worry-free use around heavy cover, VMC’s Heavy Duty Wide Gap hook features an offset behind the eye that arches away from – and then back toward – the hook bend, making it ideal for larger softbaits. A three-degree twist in the hook body provides instant and hassle-free hooksets.
The last hook Palaniuk set on Sam Rayburn was indeed a VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap, with which he stuck a 5-pound, 15-ounce largemouth with only 24 minutes remaining before the tournament ended at 3 p.m. Keeping that fish buttoned up and into the boat won him the tournament.
“Without that fish at 2:36, there’d be a different dude standing up here right now,” he said.
And that wasn’t just hyperbole – the tournament runner-up caught a 6-pound bass at 2:30 p.m. to take an unofficial lead. Palaniuk’s 2:36 p.m. catch gave him a 2-pound margin of victory.