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. 

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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.  

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. 

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.

Wheeler's sudden flurry

"There's a hundred of 'em down there and they all weigh three and half pounds apeice."

And with that the flurry began for Jacob Wheeler. 

Spending 13 days on Cherokee Lake in December is paying off. While there he spent the entire time graphing the lake, from one end to the other. 

Wheeler made a key, planned move to a spot that is producing the fish. Within 10 minutes here's what he's caught, by time and weight, according to BASSTrak. 

10:16 a.m.: 3-4

10:16 a.m.: 2-0

10:26 a.m.: 4-0

10:27 a.m.: 3-12

10:27 a.m.: 3-8

10:28 a.m.: 4-0

The key point to remember is afternoon was the best time of the day for Wheeler on Day 2. 

What's Hartman doing?

Jamie Hartman is in a lull. He's near Panther Creek in the mid to lower end of Cherokee Lake. Hartman hasn't had a bite in nearly an hour. He says he can see plenty of fish on his electronics, but can't get them to bite.

Hartman is fishing a mud flat where the water is 25 to 35 feet deep with occasional pits. The bait lay in the pits, attracting smallmouth. We're seeing many guys this week fishing the same pattern.

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Mullins' rabbit trick

The one piece of gear that you'd never think of seeing this week on Cherokee Lake is in the hands of David Mullins. It's gear that will likely see use at the next event at Lake Okeechobee, not the deep, clear water of Cherokee. 

In Mullins hand is a push pole. He used it to push his boat over shallow rocks to gain access to a pond. It's familiar territory. Mullins previously caught a 20-pound bag to win a tournament in this pond during this time of the year and under the same fishing conditions.

What makes it unique is the location near an island. Those are proving key for the top anglers, Jesse Wiggins included. The islands near ponds like those fished by Wiggins, and now Mullins, create current breaks for the predator smallmouth. They use the calm water to ambush baitfish. 

Mullins planned to fish the spot now occupied by Wiggins. Instead, he's potentially pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the few hours remaining in the tournament. Saving this spot for last could be a wise move.  

Gulp effect on smallmouth

Wherever there's a smallmouth bass bite happening, it seems there is always some Berkley Gulp in use. Both Jamie Hartman and Josh Bertrand have relied on it this week. Bertrand has been using the Gulp 3-inch minnow on a jighead. Hartman has had his Damiki Armor Shad soft plastics soaking in a tub of Gulp liquid for two months.

"We talk about it all the time," said Bertrand of his fellow pros. "The biologists at Berkley, they know. I'm not a biologist. All I know is it works better than anything else for smallmouth. The 3-inch minnow is what I use for smallmouth - everywhere from New York to the West Coast."

Being from New York, Hartman has known about the Gulp effect on smallmouth bass for many years. 

"I know what Gulp does," Hartman said. "I put three big packages of Damiki Armor Shad in a Tupperware tub of Gulp back in December. I just saturated them – closed the lid, put it in the sun and let 'em stink!"

Hartman is also making some other key modifications to that bait. He's colored them in different shades from dark to light and in-between. Plus, he's fishing them on a custom-made 3/8ths-ounce jighead, which circles on the fall and holds the bait horizontally when it's stopped.

"They aren't dramatic colors," Hartman said. "I've got all the shades covered. I keep switching colors throughout the day until I figure out what they want. Smallmouth can be picky, man. When they get together, they're not. But when they're by themselves, they're picky."

Hartman charging

New York angler and Elite Series rookie Jamie Hartman is charging. We just watched him cull twice which moves him into second, just 1 pound, 4 ounces behind leader Jesse Wiggins. Whouda thunk a month ago we'd have two rookies battling for first on Day 4 of Cherokee Lake?

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