Meet the Damiki rig

An obscure wintertime lure rig popular in east Tennessee is in the spotlight this week. Meet the Damiki Rig. It’s a small shad bait rigged to a jig head. That’s nothing unusual you say? Think again.

All week fans have wondered why no drop shotting in the otherwise prevailing light line, deep water, offshore patterns used all week. The answer is the Damiki Rig.

Here’s the reason. The smallmouth getting caught are holding very tight to bottom objects like rocks. That makes the free-swinging lure attached to the drop shot weight useless and less accurate. The Damiki Rig can be guided precisely to a lure target while the angler watches the screen of the fish finder.

The rig gets its name from the Damiki Armor Shad, but think Coke. That’s what we folks in the South ask for when wanting a cola drink. You can use any fluke-style lure and that’s another benefit of the rig. This week, choosing the most lifelike imitator is a big deal.

The jighead is another key. The Lake Erie-style head features a 90-degree line tie behind the pointed nose. The keel-like weight is balanced on the underside of the hook. By design, the entire package sinks vertically instead of nose down. As a result, you get an even more lifelike look. 

Knoxville, Knoxville, my hometown

This tournament was special for me. I’ve lived in Birmingham, Ala., for nearly 10 years now. But Knoxville and East Tennessee are the places that built me. I grew up here, in the shadow of the mountains, playing on her lakes and rivers. It’s good to be in your presence again K-town.

Walking around downtown last night, I was so impressed with how you’ve grown. I worked in the city some time ago, at Whittle Communications, and later in West Knoxville at HGTV. And I’ve always felt Knoxville could be as vibrant as Ashville, N.C. Well now it is. With restaurants, shops, and lots of people living downtown. Buildings that stood empty for many years are now thriving. They used to call this place the Scruffy City, but that description doesn’t fit anymore.

I’m blessed to travel all over the country with Bassmaster, so I have a few tournaments to compare this one to. Thanks to Jefferson County for doing a great job at Cherokee Lake, and to Knoxville for the high-energy weigh-ins at the Convention Center over the weekend. Y’all look good!

Wind is the friend

If any one weather factor has changed the game today it's the wind. Wind-driven current moves baitfish, and smallmouth follow in pursuit. The wind is moving from the southwest at 18 mph.  

With the wind fishing in the open water is another plus, which is what Jacob Wheeler, Jamie Hartman and Seth Feider are doing.

Hartman is in a groove in more ways than one. He's fishing very used water. As in an area that got hammered earlier in the week. A fresh population of smallmouth are moving in. 

Another difference is how Hartman is working his bait, which is drop shot style. He's shaking the rod as opposed to not imparting any action at all.  

Hartman with the cull

At 2:20 p.m. Hartman caught two decent size looking smallmouth back to back. He said it might not help but he started putting these fish on balance beam. He said this fish helped to cull one. He gave me thumbs up!

What's the last hour have in store?

An hour left in the first Elite Series tournament on Cherokee Lake and the top three anglers only boated three fish total after 2 p.m. yesterday. 

Wiggins finishing up the earliest at 9:51 a.m.

Hartman upgrading twice after the 2 o'clock hour and Wheeler caught a fish pushing 4 pounds right at 3 o'clock. 

We still have some time left, and the top two unofficial anglers hooked up as I am sending this in. 

Hartman with a cull and Wheeler threw back a 3-pound fish that did not help. 

Hartman's cull may have just shut the door. 

Noting his larger fish "have come in the afternoon ... color change is what made it," Hartman said he ran through the school twice before changing colors, now he's 2/2 going into the last 45 minutes. 

He needs about a 4-pound class fish to upgrade.

Match the hatch

Here's a closer look at Wheeler's bait. He recently said to disregard the 18 1/2 on BASSTrakk, and said he has closer to 17 1/2. Either way this will be a close tournament. 

Leaderboard shakeup

Depending upon the accuracy of BASSTrakk, the anglers whose afternoon bites are strongest are contenders for the first Bassmaster Elite Series title of the year. 

Those anglers are Jacob Wheeler and Jamie Hartman, who is upgrading with every bass caught. Wheeler made a key move late this morning that has proven pivotal. The action for both anglers is heating up. Meanwhile it's cooled off for Jesse Wiggins, the leader both days and early choice to win. 

With a couple hours remaining much can change, the weather included, although it's becoming less of a factor. If there is an edge to be factored into the leaderboard it's pre-fishing time. Wheeler and Hartman both spent considerable time learning the lake. In Hartman's case, his time was spent graphing while tapping into his deepwater expertise after the tournament began. 

Wheeler back on the hunt

After straining his honey hole, Jacob Wheeler picked up and moved on looking for another upgrade or two. If you're paying attention to BASSTrakk you know he's barely in the lead, if at all thanks to an existing margin of error within the program.

You can bet Wheeler knows he doesn't have this thing won yet, and he's working hard to build on his limit.

The afternoon actually sets up well for his pattern. The wind is blowing and the sun keeps popping through, which is ideal for the smallmouth bite. Plus, Wheeler has been more productive later in the day.

What's that mean? Well, he's got a good handle on things as it is, but his best could be yet to come.

Hartman leading?

If you're looking at BASSTrakk and watching Bassmaster LIVE, you just saw an interesting segment - one that makes you question who is actually leading this tournament right now.

Jacob Wheeler caught a nice smallmouth and put it on his digital scale. It weighed 3.20 pounds, and didn't help him. His smallest is reportedly 3.28 pounds. Then Wheeler said, "I've got 17 1/2 pounds, not 18 1/2."

It within the rules for him to look at BASSTrakk today, and that's where he's listed with 18-8 and a four-day total of 70-2. BASSTrakk shows Jamie Hartman with 17-15 today and a total of 69-15. So he might be leading, if Wheeler has "only" 17-8.

However, if Hartman's most recent cull is an example, he's using a balance beam to cull. Unless he's been using a digital scale at times today, you have to question the accuracy of his 17-15 total.

All that is said simply to make this point: This tournament finale is tight, tight, tight. It will be officially decided who's got exactly what at the Knoxville Convention Center later this afternoon.