DECATUR, Ala. — The 12 Bassmaster Elite Series pros advancing to the final round of the Southern Challenge on Wheeler Lake were quizzed on Sunday morning about the lures and techniques that they have used — and plan to use today — to catch bass on this improving Alabama fishery.
First, Kevin VanDam, 58-12
He continues to "bring Sexy back" to bass fishing, relying primarily on a Strike King Series 5 crankbait in the Sexy Shad color pattern and a Strike King Sexy Spoon. "I've probably weighed every bass on those two lures," said the Kalamazoo, Mich., native. He's also caught fish on a Strike King football jig, a Strike King Shadalicious swimbait, a 3/4-ounce Strike King Sexy Shad spinnerbait and a new Strike King 10-inch plastic worm named the Anaconda. Rather than focusing on the limited amount of grass in Wheeler, which VanDam knew would get pounded by the rest of the field, he's focused on mussel shell beds, particularly one located just off the river channel in the Decatur Flats area.
Second, Jeremy Starks, 56-11
The West Virginia pro has done more guarding his fishing hole than actually fishing during the first three days of the tournament. He found this special shell bed, less than a mile from where VanDam is concentrating, during practice when his Rat-L-Trap came back with shells on it. But he's caught the fish there on a 10-inch Berkley Power Worm, either in blue fleck or plum color patterns. Starks planned to throw a couple of other baits Sunday, when quit conserving the hole, using a Hit Man jig that he designed, a Lucky Craft RC 2.5 crankbait and the Berkley Power Worm.
Third, Terry Scroggins, 53-11
A 3/4 oz. Booyah Pigskin football jig with a Yum 3.75 chunk and 10" Yum Ribbontail plum worm are the two main baits that "Big Show" has been tossing this week. Scroggins did pick up a chrome spoon on Saturday and caught a good number of fish using it. The angler said that a slow presentation is a key to allow the worm to "soak down there." He will occasionally burn his reel about 10-15 cranks to rip the worm past suspended fish hanging out 4 or 5 feet off the bottom.
Fourth, Todd Faircloth, 51-13
The 7-pound, 13-ounce Berkley Big Bass of the tournament through the first three days came on a green pumpkin 5-inch Yamamoto Hula Grub. Faircloth was Carolina-rigging it with a 3/4 oz. weight. He's also used a jig with a Yamamoto twin tail trailer, an 8-inch Yamamoto worm and a Sebile Crankster crankbait. "What dictates what I throw is whether I'm fishing shell beds or grass," Faircloth said. He's using the Carolina rig and the crankbait on shell beds and the others in the grass.
Fifth, John Murray, 50-13
He has been primarily sticking to a 1/2 oz. Yamamoto jig in green pumpkin along with a 10" Berkley Power Worm in plum. Murray is also mixing in a "little bit of crankbait" as well with a Rapala DT 16. The angler is using these baits around mussel beds and is finding success with a variety of presentations.
Sixth, Matt Reed, 49-5
He is covering a lot of water, looking for key spots that have shell beds or little openings in the grass, including spots that are holding bream. Reed is using a Yum Ribbontail 10" worm with as light a weight as possible and an XCalibur XR 75 Rattle Bait.
Seventh, Morizo Shimizu, 48-1
Shimizu says that a prototype yellow/green Evergreen 4 crankbait and a Strike King 4 crankbait are his go-to confidence lures this week when fished around ledges near grass. He is also fishing a Evergreen spinnerbait and a big plastic worm in junebug.
Eighth, Corey Waldrop, 45-12
The Texas Elite Series rookie making his first appearance in an "Elite 12" final round is fishing overlooked shell beds — some with little to any contour change — and points on Decatur Flats this week. Once in a less pressured spot, he will first try a Lucky Craft RC 1.5 crankbait to look for a reactionary strike. If he doesn't get any reactionary bites, Waldrop will then throw a 10" plum-colored Berkley worm in there.
Ninth, Kotaro Kiriyama, 45-7
Like most other anglers, Kiriyama says that grass and shell beds have been a key for him this week. He has been starting his days using a vibration style jerkbait by Jackal, making a hard jerk and then stopping the bait in an effort to coax an easy fish primed for a reactionary bite. After catching the easy fish — and later in the day as conditions toughen up — he is switching to either a green pumpkin or watermelon soft plastic or worm in the six to 11-inch range. The key for him there has been to fish the plastics real slowly.
10th, Matthew Sphar, 43-13
Sphar is using a Carolina rig on the flats near a partial shell bed that is coupled with a 1/2 oz. worm weight and a couple of different types of Berkley worms. He is varying the size of the worms depending on the size of fish that he is catching. Sphar said that during today's championship round he will rely on bigger worms to look for "five big bites." He is also throwing a 1/2 oz. football head jig in green pumpkin and tipped with Berkley Power chunks on some of Wheeler's channel ledges.
11th, Shaw Grigsby, 43-0
While he is occasionally throwing the original 1/2 oz. version, the Florida great is finding that Wheeler's bass are "choking themselves" to eat his 3/4 oz. Strike King Red Eye Shad prototype bait this week. While the bait is well known for its incredible swim-to-the-bottom action when it is killed, Grigsby is finding most success on a basic retrieve made with his Shaw Grigsby worm rod. Thanks to the rod's parabolic bend, the action allows Grigsby to tick the bait along the top of the grass as he prefers. At times this week when he has encountered slicked-out conditions, Grigsby has altered to a pumping style of retrieve. Finally, he is occasionally falling back to a Strike King Ocho soft plastic bait in black/blue fleck with a 3/16 oz. Texas-rigged weight and a Strike King Premiere Plus spinnerbait.
12th, Mark Menendez, 41-14
The Kentucky pro is primarily throwing a Strike King Series 5 crankbait in Sexy Shad and Albino Shad colors, burning the bait by the bass as fast as he can possibly retrieve it. Menendez says that the problem he is having is that the fish are just slapping at it, causing him to experiment with a variety of hooks, rods and lines to land more fish. Aside from his primary bait, the angler is also throwing a Strike King 4S bait into one particularly shallow area and occasionally a worm or a jig as well.