When B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott organized the first “national” bass tournament at Beaver Lake, Arkansas, back in 1967, he invited guys he considered to be the best bass anglers in the country to compete. A total of 106 fishermen showed up. I’ve never seen Scott’s invite list, but I’d wager my favorite crankbait that at least 105 of those dudes hailed from the South. Ignoring Yankee bass anglers might seem like a glaring oversight on Scott’s part, but this was the 1960s, when all the hot bass lakes were located in Dixie … not to mention 99% of the companies that made bass lures, bass tackle and bass boats.
Fast-forward to 2023. Surprise! Some of the hottest sticks on the Elite Series are Yankees from the upper Midwest, including Wisconsin’s Pat Schlapper. “Yep, believe it or not, we actually do have awesome bass fishing up in Wisconsin!” the amiable Schlapper enthuses. “Monster smallies? Yep, we got ’em! Big largemouth? You betcha! And the best beer — my buddies on the Elite circuit are always bugging me to bring ’em a case of Spotted Cow from back home!” Having spent a lifetime plying Wisconsin’s sky-blue waters for bass, has Schlapper accidently encountered any outsized specimens of the fish species more commonly associated with the Land of Cheese? “Oh, yeah!” he affirms. “I’ve caught a couple, — two, three 10-pound walleye on swimbaits — and I once landed a 50-inch muskie on a gol-darn Ned rig!” Holy cripes! If y’all think that’s impressive, wait till you see how Schlapper fared when he ventured down south to accept our DOTL challenge on an early November day!
◗ 6:33 a.m. It’s cloudy and an unseasonably warm 62 degrees when Schlapper and I arrive at Lake T’s deserted launch ramp. Schlapper pulls an arsenal of St. Croix rods from storage and fans them across the Skeeter’s front deck. “Let’s do this, eh?”
7 HOURS LEFT
◗ 7 a.m. We launch the Skeeter. Schlapper checks the water: It’s stained and 62 degrees. “Judging from the time of year, the lake’s location, the water temp and the mild weather, I’m anticipating a shad-based pattern today, primarily offshore. I’ll start off looking for baitfish schools around primary points, channel swings and humps using my forward-shooting sonar. This lake also has plenty of docks and laydowns, which should hold fish.”
◗ 7:14 a.m. After idling around Lake T’s lower end while watching his electronics for shad schools and structural elements, Schlapper makes his first casts of the day off a main-lake point with a bone white Reaction Innovations Vixen topwater stickbait. “Topwater is a great option in fall because bass will school up big time on baitfish.”
◗ 7:17 a.m. Schlapper switches to a Table Rock shad Megabass Ito Shiner jerkbait off the point.
◗ 7:19 a.m. Schlapper edges farther away from the point, locates a huge school of shad and chunks a Yum Flash Mob Jr. umbrella rig equipped with both Big Bite Baits and Keitech swimbaits at the suspended baitfish. (Note: Although umbrella rigs are illegal in Elite Series competition, they’re permitted on DOTL outings). A largemouth slams the rig at boatside; Schlapper’s first keeper of the day weighs
1 pound, 8 ounces. “That didn’t take long! [Umbrella rigs] are deadly in fall and early winter — they’ll catch both keepers and 10-pounders.”
◗ 7:21 a.m. Schlapper bags his second keeper, 1 pound, 4 ounces, on the umbrella rig. “This could get ugly! I’m seeing a bunch of bass around that shad school.”
◗ 7:39 a.m. Schlapper gravitates to a submerged brushpile 12 feet deep on a channel swing. He slow rolls the umbrella rig and nails keeper No. 3, 2 pounds, 4 ounces.
◗ 7:45 a.m. He tries a purple and white Megabass Vision 110+1 jerkbait over the brushpile.
◗ 7:47 a.m. Back to the umbrella rig. Schlapper catches his fourth keeper, 1-5. “They aren’t all this size; I’m seeing some big fish down there also.”
◗ 7:50 a.m. Another keeper smacks the umbrella rig; No. 5 weighs 1-3. “They aren’t big, but I’ve managed to catch a limit in under an hour. Let the culling begin!”
6 HOURS LEFT
◗ 8 a.m. While idling to another main-lake point, Schlapper locates a submerged roadbed. He swims the umbrella rig across the structure.
◗ 8:04 a.m. Baitfish are dimpling the surface near the point, prompting Schlapper to try a sexy shad-colored River2Sea Whopper Plopper topwater plug. No takers, however.
◗ 8:15 a.m. Schlapper moves to a nearby shoreline and casts a 6-inch albino shad Megabass Magdraft swimbait at a submerged laydown. A big bass follows the lure off the log and bumps it but doesn’t hook up. “Whoa, that was a 6-pounder!” He makes a couple more casts to the laydown from different angles, but the lunker doesn’t reappear. “They’re often reluctant to eat this big swimbait in calm water.”
◗ 8:18 a.m. Schlapper casts a 1/2-ounce watermelon candy Kureiji Sakana Lock’N Load Elite jig with a Big Bite Baits craw trailer to the laydown.
“I designed this jig and recently caught a 10-5 on it at the [2022 Bassmaster Elite at Chickamagua Lake, Tenn.].”
◗ 8:20 a.m. Schlapper crawls the jig over the laydown but can’t raise the 6-pounder. “I’ll come back and hit that tree again if the wind starts blowing.”
◗ 8:26 a.m. Schlapper backs off the laydown, then attacks it again with the Ito Shiner. “OK, enough is enough! I need to find something else to throw at.”
◗ 8:32 a.m. Schlapper continues down the bank while scanning his electronics for submerged cover. He’s alternating casts between the Magdraft and the umbrella rig.
◗ 8:37 a.m. Schlapper bags a short fish on the umbrella rig.
◗ 8:46 a.m. A light breeze is blowing out of the north as Schlapper moves to a shallow pocket between two points and tries the Magdraft.
◗ 8:51 a.m. Schlapper moves to a steep channel bank and retrieves a spot remover-colored 1/2-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait with a generic shad trailer around several laydowns.
5 HOURS LEFT
◗ 9 a.m. Schlapper speed trolls a hundred yards downlake to a seawall, where he tries the umbrella rig.
◗ 9:12 a.m. Schlapper grinds the umbrella rig around a channel bank lined with docks.
◗ 9:14 a.m. He pitches the jig under a dock. “That’s where I’d be if I were a bass!”
◗ 9:17 a.m. Schlapper bangs a bluegill Lucky Craft 2.5 squarebill crankbait off a dock and catches a 1-pound keeper. It’s no help to his weight total.
◗ 9:25 a.m. A nonkeeper smacks the squarebill.
◗ 9:27 a.m. The channel bank terminates in a shallow point. Here, a 2-pound bass hits the squarebill but shakes off.
◗ 9:29 a.m. Schlapper roots the squarebill around some spindly brush on the point and sticks a big fish! He races to the back deck and carefully works the lunker close enough to grab. Schlapper’s seventh keeper is a fine 4-pound, 13-ounce largemouth. “Check it out, she swam off that brush, rolled on the lure and got one hook stuck in her belly! It’s a miracle that hook didn’t pull out!” Schlapper’s seventh keeper culls the 1-3 he caught earlier.
◗ 9:44 a.m. Schlapper has rounded the point and moved into a tributary arm with numerous docks. He hits them with the squarebill, Magdraft and jig.
◗ 9:51 a.m. The tributary proves too shallow, so Schlapper motors to another main-lake point, where he retrieves the Whopper Plopper around some shoreline grass.
◗ 9:54 a.m. He swims the ChatterBait through the grass, then flips the cover with the jig. Nothing there.
4 HOURS LEFT
◗ 10 a.m. Schlapper moves 50 yards off the point and throws the umbrella rig around a baitfish school.
◗ 10:10 a.m. A bass nips the umbrella rig but doesn’t hook up. “They were really slamming this thing early this morning, but they’re way less aggressive now.”
◗ 10:17 a.m. Schlapper hangs the umbrella rig in a 16-foot brushpile but manages to shake it free. “Whew! I’d hate to lose that thing; it’s the only one I brought with me.”
◗ 10:21 a.m. Schlapper locates a shad school near a marina and slow rolls the umbrella rig through it. “I’m not seeing fish follow this contraption on my [Garmin] LiveScope like they were earlier.”
◗ 10:30 a.m. Schlapper tries a jerkbait around another offshore shad school. What’s his take on the day so far? “The offshore bite was hot first thing this morning, but it’s ground to a halt now that the cloud cover is gone and what little breeze there was has disappeared. I had a big fish bump my swimbait on a shallow laydown, and I caught that 4-13 on a brushy point, so maybe I can cull the rest of those [1-pounders] by hitting shallow cover. I’ll probably spend my remaining time bouncing back and forth between offshore and shallow and hope for a few more big bites.”
◗ 10:36 a.m. Schlapper is moving quickly along Lake T’s western shore, scanning for baitfish schools. “I’m not seeing much shad activity here.”
◗ 10:41 a.m. He’s two castlengths off a point, slow rolling the umbrella rig. Nothing going on out here, either.
◗ 10:47 a.m. Schlapper is back on that laydown where the big fish bumped his swimbait. He hops the jig around the gnarly cover. “If she’s still there, she’s sure playing hard to get!”
3 HOURS LEFT
◗ 11 a.m. Schlapper makes a short hop uplake to the area where he caught his first five fish, moves shallower, then rakes the squarebill down a submerged log. The crankbait brings back nothing but a chunk of bark. “The bite window has apparently slammed shut!”
◗ 11:13 a.m. Schlapper has raced farther uplake to a long, shallow point studded with stumps. Here, he’s alternating between the squarebill and the umbrella rig. It’s dead calm, sunny and 75 degrees. “I’m thinking that bright sun may be repositioning those roaming fish a lot tighter to cover. I haven’t spent much time hitting docks, but I’ll get to it before too long.”
◗ 11:20 a.m. He hangs the squarebill in a wad of fishing line with a brace of orange crappie floats attached. “You’ve heard of the Neko rig? This is the deadly two-bobber rig! I’m going to save it; it might come in handy at the Classic!”
◗ 11:33 a.m. Having struck out on the stumpy point, Schlapper returns to the main-lake point where he started and tries a Carolina-rigged watermelon Zoom Baby Brush Hog. “The ol’ ball and chain is literally a drag to fish, but it’s gotten me out of some tough situations.”
◗ 11:45 a.m. Schlapper has located an offshore hump adjacent to the point that rises from 18 to 9 feet with scattered brush on top. He gets a bite on the Brush Hog, but the fish runs into the shrubbery and Schlapper is forced to break off the creature. He re-rigs with a reddish purple Big Bite Baits Cliff Hanger finesse worm and continues dragging the hump.
2 HOURS LEFT
◗ Noon. Still dragging the offshore hump. “I’ve seen several fish scooting around this hump on my electronics, but nothing big so far.”
◗ 12:20 p.m. After what seems like an eternity, Schlapper gets another bite on the hump. He swings aboard his eighth keeper, 1-3; it’s a cull. “They don’t have dry spells this long in the Sahara Desert! I’ve got to get something going quick.”
◗ 12:31 p.m. Schlapper bolts back downlake to the marina cove. He combs the 30-foot water at the cove’s entrance with the umbrella rig. “What little bait I’m seeing is deeper now than it was earlier.”
◗ 12:39 p.m. He relocates to a nearby 15-foot ledge and drags the Carolina rig around the structure.
◗ 12:43 p.m. Schlapper roots the squarebill parallel to a wood retaining wall and hangs in another tangle of fishing line. “This is right on the verge of sucking!”
◗ 12:51 p.m. Schlapper races downlake to a seawall adjacent to Lake T’s dam, where he slow rolls the umbrella rig around some scattered baitfish.
1 HOUR LEFT
◗ 1 p.m. Schlapper enters a deep cove with multiple docks. There’s a light breeze blowing out of the northeast as he tries the squarebill and Magdraft around the structures.
◗ 1:11 p.m. He jerks the 110+1 over a submerged brushpile.
◗ 1:15 p.m. Schlapper pitches the jig under a dock, detects a tap and slams back his rod. “Freakin’ giant!” he exclaims as he leans into the fish, powering it from beneath the dock into open water. As it swims parallel to his boat, he swings the lunker aboard. His ninth keeper spans 22 inches and weighs 5 pounds, 13 ounces! Schlapper is ecstatic. “Dude, that jig I designed is the real deal! Look how long and skinny this fish is. She’d weigh over 7 pounds in prespawn!”
◗ 1:33 p.m. Schlapper is pumped after catching the 5-13. He’s now keying solely on docks with the jig and ChatterBait. “I love fishing that jig! If I had some Spotted Cow on board, we’d celebrate!”
◗ 1:35 p.m. He bags his 10th keeper, 1-7, off a dock on the jig.
◗ 1:46 p.m. Schlapper races into a smaller cove with a couple of boathouses and tries the jig.
◗ 1:53 p.m. A bass nips the jig inside a boathouse but drops it. “Man, I wish I’d gotten on this pattern earlier!”
◗ 2 p.m. Time’s up! Schlapper has had a great day on Lake T, boating 10 keepers. His five biggest fish weigh 15 pounds, 13 ounces.
THE DAY IN PERSPECTIVE
“The offshore shad bite was strong early in the day, but it died off once the cloud cover disappeared,” Schlapper told Bassmaster. “My two biggest bass came from shallow water — one off a little brushy point, the other off a dock. If I were to fish here tomorrow, I’d probably start offshore again with the [umbrella rig], but I’d target docks, shallow brush and shoreline laydowns a lot sooner than I did today — that’s where the big girls seem to be.”
WHERE AND WHEN PAT SCHLAPPER CAUGHT HIS FIVE BIGGEST BASS
- 1 pound, 8 ounces; Yum Flash Mob Jr. umbrella rig with Big Bite Baits and Keitech swimbaits; offshore shad school; 7:19 a.m.
- 2 pounds, 4 ounces; same lure as No. 1; brushpile on channel swing; 7:39 a.m.
- 4 pounds, 13 ounces; bluegill Lucky Craft 2.5 squarebill crankbait; brushpile on shallow point; 9:29 a.m.
- 5 pounds, 13 ounces; 1/2-ounce watermelon candy Kureiji Sakana Lock’N Load Elite jig with a Big Bite Baits craw trailer; dock; 1:15 p.m.
- 1 pound, 7 ounces; same lure as No. 4; dock; 1:35 p.m.
TOTAL: 15 POUNDS, 13 OUNCES