Top lures of the 2023 Classic

Of the 55 anglers competing in bass fishing’s world championship event, only one of them knew exactly what he would do to win the title. That’s a tall order, as the challenges of patterning bass in the prespawn was underway on the upper Tennessee River at the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. 
Betting on history repeating itself, Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson chose to target smallmouth in an area where he won a 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series event on Tellico Lake and the surrounding area. 
As the tournament progressed, warmer temperatures triggered largemouth movement where the fish staged on isolated shoreline laydowns, wood and rock prespawn transition areas, otherwise prime targets for lures designed to intercept their movements. The largemouth guys posed a threat to Gussy, but he held them off. 
Instead of reaching his goal of weighing 15 smallmouth (five each day of the tournament), Gussy came up three short, including a nail-biting Championship Sunday when he weighed two smallmouth to seal the winning weight of 42 pounds, 7 ounces, all of it caught on a Canadian technique. Check out the lures of the Championship Sunday Top 25 and prepare yourself for the spawning ritual with their proven lures. 
Click here to buy these lures at Bass Pro Shops.
Matt Arey (25th; 20-15)
Matt Arey stuck with one of his greatest strengths during the Classic- a jig.
Arey’s jig of choice was a 1/2-ounce hand-tied flipping jig paired with a craw style trailer.
JT Thompkins (24th; 21-5)
In his first Classic, JT Thompkins had a one-two punch with a vibrating jig and a flipping jig.
For reaction bites, Thompkins threw a 1/2-ounce Strike King Thunder Cricket paired with a Strike King Blade Minnow trailer.
Thompkins also chose a 1/2-ounce Outcast Tackle Cage Feider Flipping Jig paired with a cut down Strike King Rage Bug as a trailer to pick apart pieces of cover.
Louis Monetti (23rd; 22-13)
Representing the Strike King Bassmaster College Series, Louis Monetti also used a one-two punch with a vibrating jig and a jig.
Monetti relied on a 1/2-ounce Strike King Tungsten Thunder Cricket paired with a Strike King Blade Minnow to cover water.
When slowing down, Monetti chose a 3/8-ounce prototype Bizz Baits finesse jig paired with a Bizz Baits Cutter Craw.
Austin Felix (22nd; 23-10)
Austin Felix applied a combination of finesse and reaction bait tactics for his chosen strike zone. 
A key rig was a 3/8-ounce Smeltinator Swimbait Jig, with a Z-Man 4-inch Scented Jerk ShadZ.
A Spro 3/8-ounce Aruku Shad produced reaction strikes. 
For covering deeper strike zones, he used a Rapala DT6 crankbait. 
Tyler Rivet (21st; 24-4)
Tyler Rivet kept it simple at the Classic with a shallow running crankbait.
The Louisiana pro chose to throw an Xcite Baits XB-1 Squarebill to crank shallow cover.
Brock Mosley (20th; 24-10)
Brock Mosley also had a one-two punch of covering water and slowing down with a jig.
Mosley relied on a 1/2-ounce Buckeye Lures Ballin’ Out Jig when fishing slowly around cover.
For covering water, Mosley chose a Bill Lewis SB-57 crankbait.
Bryan New (19th; 25-15)
While Bryan New rotated through a variety of different baits, his main two players were a vibrating jig and a finesse jig.
New’s vibrating jig was a 5/8-ounce Z-Man Big Blade Chatterbait paired with a Zoom Z Craw trailer.
New backed up the vibrating jig with his signature series 1/4-ounce Greenfish Tackle Bad Little Dude Jig paired with a cut down Zoom Z Craw Worm.
Matt Robertson (18th; 26-12)
Matt Roberson was the king of the big bite at the Tennessee River with a big swimbait.
Robertson rotated between a 6-inch and 8-inch Berkley Cull Shad Swimbait.
Bob Downey (17th; 28-12)
Bob Downey covered water with a shallow running crankbait and slowed down with a flipping jig.
Downey’s jig of choice was a 3/8-ounce All Terrain Tackle A.T. Jig.
For fishing shallow rock, Downey utilized a Rapala OG Tiny 4 Crankbait.
Brandon Card (16th; 28-15)
Brandon Card utilized a variety of different baits on the Tennessee River, but a jig played a big part in his success.
Card’s jig of choice was his signature series 3/8-ounce Advantage Bait Wild Card Finesse Jig paired with a Yamamoto Double Tail Grub as a trailer.
Lee Livesay (15th; 28-15)
Lee Livesay kept it simple at the Tennessee River with a lipless crankbait.
His crankbait of choice was a 6th Sense Quake.
Jason Christie (14th; 29-10)
Jason Christie used a skirted jig and spinnerbaits to cover isolated shoreline cover. 
Christie used a War Eagle 1/2-ounce Jiu-Jigsu Flipping Jig with a Yum Craw Chunk. 
A Booyah 1/2-ounce Covert Spinnerbait with single Colorado blade allowed him to catch prespawn largemouth from laydowns, docks and other staging areas.
Christie also worked those same spawning migration routes with the new Booyah 1/2-ounce Covert Finesse Spinnerbait.
Jonathan Dietz (13th; 29-15)
Representing B.A.S.S. Nation, Jonathan Dietz utilized a pair of reaction baits.
A 6th Sense Quake Lipless Crankbait was one of his tools for covering water.
Dietz also heavily relied on a 1/2-ounce Z-Man Jack Hammer paired with a Z-Man DieZel Minnowz Swimbait trailer.
Caleb Kuphall (12th; 30-0)
Like other Classic competitors, Caleb Kuphall covered water with a reaction bait and slowed down with a flipping jig.
For covering water, Kuphall chose a 3/8-ounce Z-Man Jack Hammer paired with a Big Bite Baits Kamikaze Swimon trailer.
Kuphall picked apart high percentage areas with his 1/2-ounce homemade flipping jig paired with a Big Bite Baits Chunk.
Cory Johnston (11th; 30-8)
Cory Johnston’s main lure choice was a jerkbait for triggering reaction strikes. 
That choice was a 6th Sense Fishing Provoke 106x Jerkbait. 
Greg Hackney (10th; 30-14)
Greg Hackney used a pair of swimbaits to finish inside the Top 10 at the Tennessee River.
Hackney targeted smallmouth by rotating between a 4.75-inch and 5.75-inch Strike King Rage Swimmer Swimbait.
Jacob Powroznik (9th; 31-12)
Jacob Powroznik targeted Tellico Lake with a simple plastic worm setup.
Powroznik relied on a Neko rigged 5-inch Yamamoto Senko paired with a 2/0 Ryugi Talisman Wacky/Neko Hook.
Brandon Cobb (8th: 34-0)
Brandon Cobb had a three-pronged approach at making fish react at the Tennessee River.
One of Cobb’s top choices was a 1/2-ounce Z-Man Jack Hammer Chatterbait paired with a Zoom Z Craw Jr. trailer.
Another player for Cobb was the Yo-Zuri 3DR-X Crank SR-50.
Cobb also mixed in his signature series Greenfish Tackle Toad Toter Buzzbait paired with a Zoom Uni Toad.
Jay Przekurat (7th; 34-9)
Jay Przekurat alternated between a bladed jig for covering water, and a skirted jig for slower presentations. 
Przekurat used a Strike King 3/8-ounce Thunder Cricket Vibrating Jig, with a Strike King Blade Minnow. 
Another top choice was a Strike King 3/8-ounce Structure Jig, with a Strike King Rage Menace Worm. 
Click here to buy these lures at Bass Pro Shops.
Brandon Lester (6th; 35-10)
Brandon Lester developed a pattern for targeting prespawn largemouth beginning to migrate into spawning areas. 
Lester alternated between a flipping jig and lipless crankbait to cover a strike zone of shallow isolated cover for prespawn largemouth. 
Lester chose a Dirty Jigs 1/2-ounce Matt Herren Flippin’ Jig for heavy cover with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Power Chunk. 
He also used a LiveTarget 1/4-ounce Golden Shiner Rattlebait. 
John Cox (5th; 36-13)
John Cox did what he does best, plowing through dirty water in search of largemouth staging on isolated cover. 
Cox used a crankbait to probe his strike zone around isolated shoreline wood cover used as staging areas for prespawn largemouth. 
The choice was a Berkley Frittside 5, Kentucky Blue for dirty water, and Ghost Morning Dawn in clear water. 
Drew Benton (4th; 38-3)
Drew Benton targeted smallmouth and largemouth as both fish began prespawn movements. 
He specifically chose lures for covering those varied strikezones. 
For smallmouth, he used a Dirty Jigs 3/8-ounce Guppy Swimbait Jig Head, with a 3-inch soft plastic trailer. 
Benton also used a Nichols Lures 3/8-ounce DB’s Finesse Jig, with a Big Bite Baits Scentsation Quarantine Craw. 
For reaction strikes Benton used a Bagley Baits Sunny B. 
Another strike-producer was a Nichols Lures 1/2-ounce Pulsator Spinnerbait with a gold No. 5 Colorado blade, with a Big Bite Baits Pro Swimmer. 
Scott Canterbury (3rd; 40-1)
Scott Canterbury dialed into a pattern designed to cover water to intercept migrating prespawn largemouth. 
Canterbury rotated through a flipping jig, spinnerbait and bladed jig, all of the choices used to cover a strike zone in shallow water for prespawn largemouth. 
For flipping isolated laydowns and wood, he chose a Dirty Jigs 1/2-ounce Matt Herren Flippin’ Jig, with a NetBait Paca Chunk. 
For covering water, he used a Nichols Lures 1/2-ounce Hoosier Series with a NetBait Little Spanky Swimbait. 
For the same purpose, he used a bladed jig with a NetBait Little Spanky Swimbait.
Bryan Schmitt (2nd; 40-14)
Bryan Schmitt targeted prespawn largemouth in key transition areas. 
Schmitt alternated through a uniquely designed swimbait, drop shot and lipless crankbait. 
Schmitt made the swimbait with a 1st Gen Fishing 1/4-ounce Jaw Dropper jig head that imparts a walk-the-dog action with a mouth opened lip design. He paired it with a Missile Baits Mini Magic Worm. For added strike appeal Schmitt used a Floatzilla Tail-Mini designed for stickworms that adds buoyancy.
He made the drop shot with a Missile Baits Magic Worm with a 3/0 Hayabusa WRM 957 Offset Shank Fishing Hook, and a 1/4-ounce Reins Tungsten weight, also with a Floatzilla Tail-Mini.
Schmitt also used a SPRO Aruku Shad to cover water in between the specific targets. 
Jeff Gustafson (1st; 42-7)
Gustafson relied on a familiar rig that has served him well on the Tennessee River, featuring a Canadian designed and made swimbait head, paired with a unique soft plastic swimbait. 
The rig is a Z-Man 4-inch Scented Jerk ShadZ. Gussy rigged it on 3/8-ounce Smeltinator Swimbait Jig, designed by Bryan Gustafson (not related) and available from Lake of the Woods Sports Headquarters in his hometown of Kenora, Ontario. Clear coated airbrush paint, 3D holographic eyes, textured gill plates and mouth and a universal ribbed bait keeper are features of the jig. The Jerk ShadZ ElaZtech superplastic adds a natural buoyancy that complemented the lifelike action of the jig head. 
The knot was another key that maximized the performance of the rig. “I use a knot called a San Diego Jam or a three tag-in knot,” Gustafson said. “You can really tie whatever knot you want, but you want that bait to sit horizontal and natural in the water.”
The action Gustafson imparted on the jig was as unique as the lure. “There’s no real jigging,” he said. “It’s more of a quiver. If they’re kind of eyeballing it, coming slower toward it, I just give the bait a little bit of a quiver.”
The unique action, and the bait, allowed him to fool lazy and reluctant smallmouth to take the bait. “When they’re coming slow, I pull it up away from them a little bit sometimes,” he said. “You get a lot of bumps, too, where they hit it with their mouths closed. When they do that, I drop it back down and start the quiver like it’s an injured baitfish.”