During the first half of the Bassmaster Elite season, many competitors could've stepped out of their boats at any given moment and walked back to shore without getting their collars wet. Not to say we haven't seen any deep-water catches, but with six events (plus the Bassmaster Classic) occurring well below the Mason Dixon Line, the spawning cycle has taken center stage.
Given this seasonal focus, it's no surprise that the dominant bait mix has reflected the shallow range. A true workhorse this season, the soft plastic stick bait has fooled a lot of fish in the wacky- and unweighted Texas-rigged configurations. With a modest simplicity belying its undeniable versatility, this bait has historically proven itself a tempting, taunting form for bed fishing, as well as a glaring irritant to post-spawn fry guarders.
Florida's John Cox, who currently holds second place in the Angler of the Year race has done much of his work with The General, a scented stick worm from Berkley's PowerBait MaxScent line. Other commonly used stick worms include the venerable Yamamoto Senko, the Big Bite Baits Trick Stick, Lunkerhunt Lunker Stick, XZone True Center Stick, and YUM Dinger.
Other Popular Choices
Jigs: From flipping shallow cover, to skipping docks, jigs with the standard natural and bream color patterns have produced. Swim jigs saw a lot of action, particularly at the season opener on the St. Johns River and the following event at the Harris Chain.
Texas Rigs: Rigged with traditional bullet weights, beavers, various creature baits, lizards, and craws have done most of the work. At the St. Johns, Elite rookie Masayuki Matsushita broke from the trend and caught fish on a free rig—a Texas-rigged Zoom Magnum Finesse worm with a teardrop weight hanging from his line.
Bladed Jigs: One of the most popular reaction baits on tour, this flashy, vibrating presentation entices pre and posts-pawn bass staging on prominent structure outside the bedding zone. When searching likely areas for unseen spawners, the bladed jig gets bit and makes others reveal their position through boils and chases. Anglers varied their bait's buoyancy and overall profile with different trailer options. Traditional swimbaits seemed to be a popular option, but bulky creature baits, swimming craws and slender fork tail minnow style trailers also contributed.
Spinnerbaits: This old-school favorite continues to prove it can keep up with modern techniques, especially during spring events.
Shallow crankbaits: With a mix of lipless baits, shallow runners and squarebills, a lot of grass ripping, rock hopping and stump thumping has put fish in the boat—right on track for late-winter through spring events. One particular crankbait—the Strike King Hybrid Hunter—has garnered attention, as much for its backstory as its unique design. Built with a unique L-shaped bill, this rattling crankbait navigates vegetation well, with a loud rattle and an aggressive wobble. During the second Elite event on the Harris Chain, Texan Ray Hanselman finished third after spending a lot of time with this bait. Notably, Hanselman had thrown the Hybrid Hunter's predecessor for several years before Strike King acquired the design and released the bait in 2020.
Here's a rundown of the winning baits from each of the first six Elites and the Classic.
St. Johns River: Veteran Elite John Crews earned his second Elite trophy (also California Delta, 2010) devoted much of his event to Rodman Reservoir, the Ocklawaha River impoundment linked to the St. Johns by a canal and lock. Here, he caught fish on a suspending jerkbait, a dropshot rigged with a prototype of his new Missile Baits Magic Worm (a hand-poured finesse worm), a Texas-rigged Missile Baits Quiver Worm and a Zoom Fluke. In the river and the Rodman Canal, Crews caught fish on a 1/2-ounce white spinnerbait and a 3/8- and 1/2-ounce Z-Man Chatterbait Jackhammer with a Missile Baits D-Bomb and a 3.5-inch Missile Baits Shockwave.
Harris Chain: Also claiming his second Elite title (Lake Eufaula, 2020), Tennessee's Buddy Gross Fished Lake Harris' Banana Cove area and targeted a shore break with vacant shellcracker beds near deeper water. He caught his winning fish on a 5-inch Scottsboro Tackle swimbait on a 3/4-ounce swimbait head and a Junebug Zoom Z-Craw Worm in Texas- and Carolina-rigged presentations.
Bassmaster Classic: On Lake Hartwell, Jason Christie earned his first Classic trophy by fishing drains with a 3/16-ounce jig head with minnow bodies, including a prototype YUM FF Sonar Minnow and skipping docks with a 5/8-ounce War Eagle Jiu-Jigsu skipping jig with a 2.75 YUM Craw Chunk.
Santee-Cooper Lakes: Drew Cook, the 2019 Elite Rookie of the Year sight fished his way to a wire-to-wire win. Fishing Lake Marion's Potato Creek, Cook caught his fish on a Texas-rigged Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog and a wacky-rigged Big Bite Baits Scentsation stick bait. Cook's winning total of 105-5 earned the season's first Century Club Belt, awarded to an angler who catches 100 pounds of fish in a four-day event.
Lake Chickamauga: Just over a month after raising the Classic trophy, Christie camped in the Hiawassee River arm, targeted shallow wood, docks and rocks and caught the winning total of 73-7 on a 1/2-ounce chartreuse/white/blue Booyah Covert spinnerbait with a white YUM Swimming Dinger trailer, a 1/2-ounce bladed jig with a Swimming Dinger and a 5/8-ounce War Eagle Jiu-Jigsu skipping jig with a 2.75-inch YUM Craw Chunk.
Lake Fork: Winner Lee Livesay caught his fish on a 3/4-ounce 6th Sense Divine Hybrid Jig with a Netbait Paca Craw, a Hog Farmer Magnum Shaky Head with a Netbait C-Mac worm and a 6th Sense Crush 300DD crankbait. On Day 4, he caught his biggest fish—an 8-3—on a 5-inch 6th Sense Flutter Spoon. Second place Brandon Palaniuk employed a Rapala DT-16 and a flutter spoon, while third place Gerald Swindle used a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm on a 3/4-ounce shakey head, deep diving crankbaits, and a 1/2-ounce Boss jig with a Zoom Z-Craw trailer.
Pickwick Lake: Winner Brandon Lester caught his fish on a Strike King 4.0 squarebill, a Strike King 6XD crankbait, a Berkley MaxScent Magnum Hit Worm that he Neko rigged with a 1/8-ounce Mustad nail weight and a No. 2 Mustad Wacky/Neko hook and a 3/4-ounce S crounger with a Castaic Jerky J swimbait. Second place Cody Huff threw a Dixie Jet Talon Spoon, a Texas-rigged worm, and a 3-inch Storm Largo Shad swimbait. Third place Chris Zaldain used an 8-inch Bass Mafia swimbait that he designed.
The rest of the season promises plenty of entertaining weigh-ins, starting with Elite stop No. 5 at Lake For (May 19-22). This one's gonna be a power-fishing slugfest that's likely to yield multiple Century Club entries.
Enjoy the outdoors?
Sign up for daily stories delivered straight to your inbox.