The 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series spanned four seasons, from February through September, to continually challenge the skills of the sport’s top anglers.
Events occurring during the spawn were fewer than seasons past. So were the odds of one angler getting on a hot streak with a lure or technique and building momentum in consecutive events. The prevailing weather, bass behavior and layout of each lake required greater ingenuity when choosing lures.
A favorite assignment for photographer Garrick Dixon and myself involved producing a photo gallery with copy details of lures used by the Top 12 finishers. Looking back at the season I discovered these lure trends.
Inside the champ’s tacklebox
Brandon Palaniuk qualified for six of the nine regular-season Championship Sundays. He went on to win Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
At five of those events he combined shallow and deep patterns that worked together in his successful run at the title. Palaniuk wisely avoided limiting himself to one zone of the water column when at all possible. Doing so enabled him to expand a pattern or fall back on what worked best in shallow or deep water.
At three consecutive events he intentionally used a drop shot made with a 4-inch Zoom Z Drop Worm.
“I like consistency whenever possible, because being familiar with exactly how a bait acts can bring greater confidence and success,” he said.
The Z Drop produced success on the St. Lawrence River (third place), Lake Champlain (third place) and Lake St. Clair (29th place.)
Soft plastics by far were the most popular single category of baits. Texas rigged, wacky rigged and setups for finesse fishing covered the styles. The drop shot emerged as the most popular rig of them all.
Variations of drop shot rigs were used 25 times to make the cut on Championship Sunday. Not surprisingly, drop shotting was most popular later in the season at the predominant smallmouth fisheries. Those were the St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, Lake St. Clair and Mille Lacs.
Ironically, Jamie Hartman used his New York style of drop shotting for a third-place finish on Toledo Bend in early April.
Another regional trend emerged with various brands and styles of the topwater frog. The pros again proved the versatility of a lure once only believed to produce in lily pads and heavy vegetation.
Frogs appeared on the top lures list 11 times during the season. Lake Okeechobee, Ross Barnett and Lake Dardanelle were the trending fisheries.
Not surprisingly, Dean Rojas made the cut twice using his personally designed Spro Dean Rojas Bronzeye Frog 65. That happened at Lake Okeechobee and Lake Dardanelle, where he found yet another use for the dynamic lure.
“A lot of guys fished a frog but they didn’t pick up on this technique,” he recalled. “I flipped and pitched the frog around shoreline laydowns and other wood cover.”
Lipped lures appeared 15 times on the list. John Murray brought the crankbait into the seasonal spotlight at Toledo Bend. A Strike King Pro Model 5XD was part of his winning lure arsenal. Jacob Wheeler and Todd Faircloth also used crankbaits to finish in the Top 12 at Toledo Bend.
The trend gained momentum later in the season, and especially at Lake St. Clair and the final event at Mille Lacs.
Variations of bladed jigs took their share of the spotlight. Eight anglers used the lure to finish inside the Top 12.
Toledo Bend emerged as the trending lake for the bladed jig. Matt Lee (12th), Brett Hite (ninth), Todd Faircloth (eighth) and Brandon Palaniuk (fifth) scored with the rig fished in shallow water.
From the first event at Cherokee Lake in February until the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs in September, the jerkbait appeared seven times on the list of top lures.
The jerkbait was in the rotation of winning lures for Kevin VanDam at the St. Lawrence River. To trigger reaction strikes he used a Strike King KVD 200 and 300 Series Jerkbaits, Ayu and Sexy Ghost Minnow.
The old reliable safety pin lure appeared on the list of top lures six times.
Matt Lee, Casey Ashley and Jason Christie all posted Top 12 finishes using a spinnerbait at Toledo Bend. Mark Menendez and VanDam used it at Ross Barnett. Cliff Prince found success with a spinnerbait on Lake Dardanelle.
This obscure lure and technique was used five times by the top finishers. Predictably, fisheries on the northern swing emerged as front-runners for spy baiting.
James Elam made the Top 12 cut twice, on the St. Lawrence River and Mille Lacs, using the same rig. The choice both times was a Jackall I-Prop 755.