The last Elite Series event of the season was tough. The first two days were marked by violent thunderstorms and the last two days by a difficult sun and nasty wind. Regardless, the winners found a way to catch bass.
Here's how they did it.
(65 pounds, 2 ounces)
"Before the tournament started I committed to largemouths," Rojas said after his first professional win in seven years. "I was convinced I could catch a winning sack in shallow water if I approached them correctly."
Approaching them correctly meant pitching and flipping plastics into "common areas" around shoreline grass and docks. And, when that didn't work he'd switch to a frog.
"It was a slow, careful and quiet approach. The water was 2 to 3 feet deep so there wasn't a lot of room for error. I targeted mostly green patches of matted shoreline grass and the occasional dock. It was typical largemouth cover in shallow water. I had a milk run and never fished the same place two days in a row.
"I think my accuracy in presenting the bait made a big difference. It had to be placed exactly where the fish were or they wouldn't bite. Sometimes that was a cut, sometimes sun, sometimes shade. Regardless, the bait had to be on target."
Rojas tossed a Northland Slurpies Brush Beaver, armed with a 4/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook and weighted with a 1-ounce tungsten weight. He used a 7-foot, 4-inch heavy action Quantum Tour Edition PT rod and a Quantum Tour Edition PT Burner reel (7:1 gear ratio). His line was 65-pound-test Izorline braid.
The Lake Havasu City, Ariz., angler also caught a number of keepers on his Dean Rojas Signature Series Bronzeye Frog when the flipping and pitching bite started to fade on Sunday.
"I fished frogs around the same matted grass on Sunday. Fast, slow, walking and waking all worked at some point during the tournament.
"My primary choice was a 65 — that's the bigger one — but I occasionally threw a prototype called the Bronzeye Pop. I used it on heavy mats when I wanted to make a commotion."
He threw his frogs on a 7-foot, medium action Quantum Tour Edition PT rod with a Quantum Tour Edition PT Burner reel (7:1 gear ratio) and 65-pound-test Izorline braid.
(60 pounds, 7 ounces)
"I located big schools of baitfish in 18-20 feet of water. They were hanging around isolated boulders," said the Terrell, N.C., angler. "The numbers were unbelievable. I'd guess there were several hundred smallmouth in the area."
His approach was direct. He threw natural-colored — perch and shad — Mann's HardNose SwimShads, Mann's Loudmouth crankbaits and Mann's Waker Elite baits into the holding areas above the baitfish schools and then retrieved the baits slowly just under the surface.
"Those are all relatively large lures. I went to them because my biggest problem was getting the baits past the smaller bass. The big lures helped.
"The real key to my success, however, was watching my electronics. I could see the baitfish all balled together. When they started to split and scatter I knew the bass were chasing them. It wasn't long after that I'd start catching fish.
"I fished shallow over the bass for a specific reason. Over my career I've noticed that when bass chase a lure they usually bite it harder. A chase means they're serious. If you put it right on their nose they sometimes ignore it or just peck at it. They had to rise for my shallow baits and that meant they were serious. They hit 'em hard."
Langill fished with a 7-foot Power Tackle medium action crankbait rod, a Shimano Calutta TE DC reel (5:1 gear ratio) and 10-pound-test Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line.
(59 pounds, 4 ounces)
"Every fish I weighed in during the tournament I caught on two baits fishing them basically the same way," said the 2003 Bassmaster Classic Champion. "It was power fishing all the way for me this week."
Power fishing means a heavy, 3/4- or 1-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight and a Berkley Beast — black and blue — or a new prototype Tru-Tungsten plastic he calls a glide bait in bluegill. (Ike describes the glide bait as a cross between a tube and a creature bait with a glide type of fall.)
"I found bass in the heavier grass. Mostly they were in cabbage grass that was surrounded by other weeds. I'd scan the water for the telltale yellow of the cabbage and then drop one of the baits — rigged Texas style — right into the center of it.
"Two things were critical this week. First, you had to find the cabbage. That wasn't easy given the weather. I used a new prototype Cocoons model of sunglasses for that. They were indispensable.
"Second, was the heavy weight. I didn't need it to punch through the vegetation. Frankly, it wasn't all that thick. But, what the heavy weight did do was give me speed on the fall. That was critical. Every bite I got was a reaction bite — smallmouths and largemouths alike."
Iaconelli used a Team Daiwa Steez 8-foot flipping stick with a Team Daiwa Steez reel (7:1 gear ratio) and 20-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon Line. His hook choice was a 4/0 Youvella prototype flipping hook.
"Most of my bass were caught in a weedy bay near rock and sand," said the Rocky Mount, N.C. angler. "They were relating to rock and sandy areas around the weeds in 4-6 feet of water.
"I found them by accident. I was practicing and having a tough time of it. As I was leaving the bay I saw one lone fish bust the surface. I caught it but didn't stay because I didn't want anyone to see me fishing there.
"When I went back during the tournament I really didn't know what to expect. It turned out to be a gold mine. I fished it 20 minutes Thursday and another 20 Friday. I limited both days and saved the rest for the weekend. It held up all day Saturday and most of Sunday."
Wilks determined that the bass would only bite when they were schooling and busting the surface. His technique was to wait until there was surface activity and then start casting.
"I'm sure they were there all the time but they wouldn't feed until they surfaced. It was a strange pattern, but once I figured it out it was easy to execute."
Wilks caught a few of his bass on a walking stick and a shallow-running hard jerkbait, but the majority of them fell for an out-of-production jig — the Glammer Shad — with a green pumpkin candy Culprit Foxy Craw trailer.
His rods and reels are all Daiwa Steez, his line was Sunline 20-pound-test fluorocarbon for the jig and plastic combination and 12-pound-test Maxima monofilament for the jerkbaits.
"I used mono for the walking stick and the jerkbaits. It floats and doesn't drag the lure down. That was important with the topwater plug for obvious reasons. It also helped keep the jerkbaits from running too deep. For almost all other applications — especially single hook baits and rigs — I prefer fluorocarbon."
(57 pounds, 9 ounces)
Unavailable for comment.