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.

Giant Bass, Find ‘Em Right Now!

February Bass Bonanza begins with “No Snow” Down South


Spring fishing is something that everyone all around the country simply cannot wait for.  While many enjoy the hard-water action and great success during the winter months up north, not everyone can handle the cold.  Aches and pains seem to migrate to between the ears when the mercury drops and folks all start to think about spring.

Why? Well, almost everyone looks forward to the fish-catching action we find for many freshwater species as those colorful spring flowers start to pop and the birds begin to warble and chant through the morning collection of their annual mating jukebox.

For some lucky folks, springtime and good fishing starts really early in the year, for example, in Florida, where professional fishing guide, Tom Marks, visits his mom to test many freshwater lakes and ponds that he calls, “Friendly waters down south.”  Some of these are on golf courses.

Tom Marks, a Hamburg, New York, resident and professional fishing guide hooked another monster largemouth bass, 10-8, while fishing in Florida. This is the third time Marks caught a bass over 10 pounds in his life, quite a feat!
Tom Marks, a Hamburg, New York, resident and professional fishing guide hooked another monster largemouth bass, 10-8, while fishing in Florida. This is the third time Marks caught a bass over 10 pounds in his life, quite a feat!

Last year, Marks was rewarded with a monster largemouth bass that tipped the official Florida scales at 13 pounds-12 ounces, a healthy bass.

With his home near Buffalo, New York, you might understand why Marks looks forward to a southern trip in winter.  Living on the Great Lakes, Marks is a professional guide, he catches big fish throughout the year.  With this last big fish, he may have achieved a mark that few pro’s anywhere in the country ever achieve, that is, catching three bass in the last three years all over that magic 10-pound mark.  Some folks can fish their entire life with hopes of catching a 10-pound bass someday, but never do.  It is a giant wish on the bass fishermen’s bucket list, for sure.

You have to understand that Marks is a retired engineer that took his scientific mind from the desk to the water and he thinks his way through every fishing situation.  This tends to make the end result a good possibility that good luck fishing will be realized.

Humble as Marks is, he says, “Catching big fish does take a bit of luck, you know, you have to pay attention all the time.”  Those folks that know Marks say he never really talks too much about what he is thinking, he just catches fish and then shares his rod with his friends.  He catches fish every day too, even when other charter captains on the fishable waters that he is either guiding on or competing in, are wondering where the fish went for a vacation day.  That probably tells the rest of us ordinary anglers that he is not just lucky, but that he has a system, a logical approach to find fish and attract fish, then entice them to strike.

Spinnerbaits in various sizes, brands and colors are a big part of the big-fish arsenal that Marks uses to fool the monster bass he shares his secrets about. Visit Tackle Warehouse online for a complete assortment. Be sure to check out the Strike King brand, among the favorites of Marks.
Spinnerbaits in various sizes, brands and colors are a big part of the big-fish arsenal that Marks uses to fool the monster bass he shares his secrets about. Visit Tackle Warehouse online for a complete assortment. Be sure to check out the Strike King brand, among the favorites of Marks.

Asked about his big feat, Marks says, “It’s funny fishing the smaller lakes in Florida, I scoot around in some places, always with permission from local ownership, sometimes on a golf cart loaded up with rods and tackle.  I was telling my wife I feel like I am on a bass boat because I run as fast as the cart will go from “spot” to “spot”, then I race back to the house, not for weigh-in, but for dinner.  It’s so much fun!”  So how does he know which golf course ponds to fish?  He says he depends more on the weather, as it seems many of the ponds have fish, many of them big fish, and yes, he does have a plan that he insists he calls lady luck.

He adds, “Many Florida ponds and lakes have almost no structure in the form of plants or weed lines.  Some are more than 20 feet deep, bowl sharp, with almost no bottom structure.   Sometimes there are flood control culvert pipes here and there, surface dams and drain tube, sometimes that is the structure!  There are some points with drop-offs that fish hang on.  I think I have figured out how to catch the bigger fish.”

In reviewing his notes, Marks shares, “In steady weather, folks casting a line can catch a ton of smaller bass in the one to three pounds range.  Now, when the cold front comes to pass and the weather is windy with cold air and a clear, bluebird sky, the bite is off for the average bass.  Most folks go home, they know that rule, but I have found that the giants are still feeding!  It’s exciting!  It’s the one time I can get my lures to the big fish before the aggressive smaller bass wack the baits.”

"Cold fronts are among the best times to catch big bass," says expert, Tom Marks. The proof is in the photograph!
“Cold fronts are among the best times to catch big bass,” says expert, Tom Marks. The proof is in the photograph!

Marks continues, “During the post-front hours, I catch very few fish, but they tend to be much bigger than average.”  Marks says, “In the two weeks after I caught that big bass, I missed a few other real giants, but maybe we can save those for next year.”   Marks caught the monster trophy (which he released after one picture), on an artificial lure.  He really nailed it hard, stripping 14-pound fluorocarbon right away.  It never jumped or broke the surface, so I had no idea what I hooked was that big.  The fish made several good runs before I got it close to the bank where I could see what it was, this is where I start talking to the fish. “Don’t come off!  Please don’t come off!  At least not until I could get a solid grip on its lip.”

It was an amazing day for Marks, “As I brought this fish in I could see my spinner bait was broken, but I had two hooks on the lure and they were both in its mouth (I use a trailer hook).  I kept just enough pressure on the lure to guide it to my hand, what a relief it was to lift it out of the water.  I ran it over to my golf cart to weigh it on my Berkley “Boka” grip scale. There was no one around to take the picture I was headed back to the bank to let it go when a golfer came up and wanted to see the bass.  I showed him and he took the picture with my iPhone. I got it back in the water real quick.  I came back several times to that golf course “water trap,” no floating bass, so I know it made it.  Actually I have never seen any bass floating, I get them all back in pretty quick.”

So whether or not you may feel Marks is extremely lucky or simply extremely good at fishing, either way, you might want to check his calendar availability for early spring bass in Florida where the air is warm too.  There are not that many open dates (I checked), but what I was extremely surprised at was the low rates that Marks charges his clients for hire.  I asked him about his all-day charter low fees ($225) and Marks said, “Well, you know, I have enjoyed my job and our great fishing all over this great country for all of my life.  In a sense, I’m just trying to give back a little and help other folks learn a little bit about my systems for catching fish, no matter what the conditions.  I charge enough to cover my boat gas, some fishing supplies and to pay my taxes, that’s all I need.  I might raise them a little this year to be fair.”

Marks guides for many species and he also offers photo-trips, sightseeing and “ECO” conservation trips.  Visit his website at http://gr8lakesfishing.com or call him direct at 716-997-6919.  There is nothing like on-the-water-education from someone that knows their way around.