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Best of 2023: Elite top lures

See the winning lures of all nine events during the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series season.

The 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series followed all phases of the spawning cycle for the first six events. The final tournaments unfolded on smallmouth fisheries, providing a diverse mix of patterns and lures used by the winners. Here’s a best-of recap from the season, beginning with the first event at Lake Okeechobee. 
The prevailing thought was Okeechobee’s mainstay areas would produce the winning catch, including the likes of Moonshine Bay. 
Thinking the tournament would be won in the community holes of the main lake, one angler capitalized on a hunch to do otherwise at the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee.
With exception of a few local boats, he would have the Kissimmee River all to himself. 
Tyler Rivet capitalized on a multi-lure pattern to catch staging bass, targeting isolated hard-bottom spots off the bank, otherwise known as classic prespawn areas. 
Rivet weighed limits of 24-5, 29-2, 14-11 and 18-13 for a winning weight of 86-15. 
Rivet dialed into his fish using a combination of baits designed to work in tandem with their changing behavior. 
He would cast a Berkley Stunna jerkbait to individual fish after spotting them on forward-facing sonar, adjusting the cadence and action of his retrieve to trigger reaction bites. 
When the reaction bite subsided, he switched to a Carolina rig made with an Xcite Baits Hawgalicious, rigged on a 3/0 Owner Wide Gap Hook, with a 3/4-ounce weight. A buoyant body makes the bait ideal to keep it suspended for Carolina rigs. 
For a punch rig, he used an Xcite Baits Sucka Punch, rigged on an Owner 4/0 Owner 4X Jungle Flippin’ Hook, with a 3/4-ounce weight. Rivet designed the bait for pressured fish, to allow the hook to be concealed within the plastic body, and without appendages to prevent hang-ups in vegetation. 
February ended the next week at Lake Seminole, where the largemouth were on the move toward spawning areas. Finding the right combination of clear water, prespawn staging habitat and forage were keys to victory at the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Lake Seminole.
Elite Series rookie Joey Cifuentes III found all three on a main channel swing that created a staging area, and a food source of spawning crappie for bass migrating toward a spawning flat. Cifuentes won his first blue trophy with a winning weight of 85 pounds, 7 ounces, anchored by daily limits of 19-13, 26-1, 20-13 and 18-7, all from the same area. 
Cifuentes kept it simple with a drop-shot rig as his primary setup. 
He used a hand-poured worm, rigged on a 1/0 weedless hook, with a 1/4-ounce weight. 
Favorable mid-April weather warmed the water to the magical temperature that stimulates spawning activity at the Marathon Bassmaster Elite at Lake Murray. 
Combine that with spawning blueback herring and the sum of the whole were prime bass fishing conditions.
Drew Benton played to his sight-fishing strengths, locating an area that maxed out at 70 degrees, several degrees cooler than surrounding areas making it ideal for spawning. Benton favored pockets and creeks, while other anglers played the game where bass and herring comingled. He posted a winning weight of 87 pounds. 
Benton rotated through a stick worm, topwater and creature bait to cover the shallow strike zone of his targeted spawning bass.
Benton’s primary sight-fishing setup was a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog, rigged on an Owner 4/0 Wide Gap Hook, with a 3/8-ounce Elite Tungsten Weight. 
An alternate bed bait was this Big Bite Baits 5-inch Scentsation Trick Stick, rigged on a 4/0 Owner Jungle Wacky Hook. 
For reaction strikes, Benton used a Reaction Innovations Vixen.
Another back-to-back tournament continued at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes. 
The conditions were set for something special to happen in the late-April contest. 
A spawning cycle leaning more toward late spawn and into postspawn provided plenty of big bass opportunities for everyone.
Luke Palmer winched big bass out of gnarly cypress tree roots, armed for heavy combat with a stout rod, thick line and big baits, the full intention being to push the limits of his areas on Lake Moultrie. He succeeded, nearly breaking into the B.A.S.S. Century Club. Palmer came close with a winning weight of 96-14. 
Palmer alternated between two creature-style baits for his shallow-water strike zone. 
A key bait was a YUM Bad Mamma, rigged on a 3/0 straight shank hook, with a 1/4- or 5/16-ounce Rougarou tungsten weight. 
Using the same weights and hook, he also used a YUM Wooly Bug.
Nothing says Coosa River like this Alabama Power Co. facility, site of stop five in early May. 
The pros had many options for the postspawn bite underway during the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Lay Lake. 
Brandon Palaniuk was poised to win after leading for three days with all of his limits caught from the same area.
Meanwhile, a challenger was gaining ground. Will Davis Jr., the rookie who tapped into his deep knowledge of Lay Lake, would go against two formidable challengers whose shallow-water and spawning cycle expertise is tough to match. 
In the end, the pride of Sylacauga, Ala., and the B.A.S.S. Nation — Davis’ path to the Elite Series — would win in just his fifth event. Davis stayed in the Top 10 all week, with limits weighing 15-14, 18-5, 14-7 and a final-day push of 14-2 for a winning weight of 62-12.  
Davis rotated through a selection of primary baits made by Davis Bait Co. 
He used a 1/2-ounce Shaky Fish Swim Jig, with an XSwim Fat Minnow. 
Alternatively, Davis used a 3/16-ounce Little Will’s Shaky Head, with a Davis Shaky Worm. 
Davis also used a 3/8-ounce The Beast Swim Jig, with a Zoom Z Craw Jr.
There would be fewer long runs to Houston at the 2023 Folds of Honor Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River. Instead, remaining nearer the host city of Orange, Texas, and keeping baits in the water was the wiser move made by Brock Mosley.
And this time, there would be no more bridesmaid finishes for an angler everyone cheered for after five near-miss wins on his tournament resume. Like always, the fans turned out to see if Mosley could finally triumph after eight years of trying on the Elite Series. Mosley posted a winning weight of 44 pounds, 3 ounces.
Mosley created a strategy allowing him to maximize his time along the shoreline strike zone with a topwater, Texas-rigged and drop-shot rigged soft plastics and a bladed jig. 
A top choice was this Rebel Pop-R, retrofitted with Trokar Treble Hooks. 
For slower presentations, he used a Texas-rigged, 4-inch Yamamoto Senko, on 2/0 Lazer Trokar EWG Hook, with a 1/8-ounce tungsten weight. He made a power shot rig with the Senko, rigging it on a 2/0 Lazer Trokar EWG Hook, with a 1/4-ounce drop-shot weight. 
Mosely also used this new 1st Gen Copperhead Bladed Jig, featuring BBs inside the head for strike-appealing loud, clacking noises. He paired it with a Yamamoto Zacko trailer.
This aerial view represents a snapshot of the 40 or more tournament boats on the expansive Anchor Bay area during the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair. For four days, the area consistently produced forward-facing sonar induced limits of smallmouth. Why would anyone leave when the tournament could be won there?
Joey Cifuentes III chose to shun the crowd and find an area all to himself, claiming a second Elite title of the season with a winning weight of 91-8 . 
Cifuentes’ primary strike zone was an expansive area 18 feet deep with cabbage offering concealment for smallmouth feeding on perch. 
He relied on his forward-facing sonar and one bait to line up with smallmouth. That choice was this Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm 3.6. 
Cifuentes rigged it on a No.2 Berkley Fusion19 Drop Shot Hook, with a 1/4-ounce tungsten weight.
The eighth stop of the season was at Lake Champlain, known for its mix of largemouth and smallmouth on the Northern Swing.
The Inland Sea was the place to be at the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain. This was the scene during practice, when calm conditions prevailed. That would change when the competition began.
Boat positioning and keeping baits on vertical targets was a challenge, as strong mostly southerly winds ran directly up the north-south oriented lake. 
Forward-facing sonar might be a game changer, but you still had to get the catch into the boat. 
Japanese pro Kyoya Fujita masterfully did all of the above, racking up a four-day total weight of 86-12. 
Fujita alternated between lures and rigs of varying design and weights to cover the wide strike zone he fished using forward-facing sonar. He targeted smallmouth following schools of baitfish, with a strike zone from 12 to 30 feet. 
He used a Damiki-style rig made with this Jackall Revoltage Drift Fry 5.2, rigged on a 2/0 hook with 1/8-ounce weight. 
Alternatively, Fujita rigged a drop shot using this Jackall Yammy 4.5, cut down to 3 inches, with a No. 4 hook and 1/4-ounce weight. 
For deeper bites, he reached the smallmouth with this new 38-gram Jackall Counter Back Spoon. 
Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams. A fitting headline for the Minn Kota Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River, where something always magical happens where the river meets Lake Ontario. 
Four anglers — Taku Ito, Kyoya Fujita, Chris Johnston, Patrick Walters — entered the Bassmaster Century Club with four-day weights exceeding 100 pounds. The Top 50 anglers weighed an eye-popping 60 pounds or better. Come in with anything less than 20 pounds and you missed the cut, with 40 pounds the minimum weight to fish on Semifinal Saturday.  
Patrick Walters led the pack, setting a B.A.S.S. record for the heaviest winning weight of 20 smallmouth in Bassmaster history with 105 pounds, a blue trophy, $100,000 and an automatic berth in the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. 
Turning in daily weights of 24-14, 27-3, 28-5 — Day 3’s heaviest bag — and 24-10, Walters edged Canadian superstar Chris Johnston by 1-4. Forward-facing sonar and finesse soft plastics and rigs accounted for the patterns of the Top 10. Walters posted a winning weight of 105 pounds, all of it smallmouth.
He wisely chose to fish the river on Day 1 when boat positioning and lure control were challenges on the lake. He spent the remainder of the tournament mostly in the Canadian waters of the lake. 
Walters rotated through a Ned rig and drop shots. 
He used this 1/4-ouncer VMC Ned Rig with shortened Zoom Fluke Stick.
Walters made drop-shot rigs with a variety of soft plastics, rigged on No. 2 VMC Redline Drop Shot Hook, with 3/8- to 1/2-ounce drop-shot weights. 
And with that, the 2023 season came to a close in downtown Clayton, N.Y.