The 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series tested the sport’s best anglers on every conceivable type of water. Lake Oahe, the upper Mississippi River, Kentucky Lake and Lake Travis were just a sampling of diversity in the schedule, which spanned the four seasons from February to September.
That made lure choices a top consideration for meeting the challenges dealt by the variety of fishing conditions encountered along the way. Old stand bys and updated versions of reliable lures were top producers for the winners. So were newly introduced products in the spotlight on Championship Sunday.
These are trends I discovered along the way while working with our team of photographers to produce the ever-popular top lures galleries.
The lures of Lucas
The 2018 Toyota Bassmaster of the Year point race came down to the wire between Josh Bertrand and Justin Lucas, who won the title. Lucas qualified for six of the 10 Championship Sundays. In all but two of those soft plastics accounted for his most productive lures.
The Berkley Powerbait Maxscent The General Worm twice helped him make the cut. The worm produces a slow, shaking descent and larger scent field for heightened attraction.
By late June, Berkley had a new worm in the hands of its pro staff and the pre-production version became a highly sought lure by the pros. The new Berkley Powerbait Maxscent Flat Worm is the product. Crafted with a flat bottom and thinned out tail section, the worm glides to the bottom slightly nose first. A tail-wagging action is designed to mimic a swimming baitfish.
Lucas fished the plastics wacky rigged, shaky head and drop shot rig styles. He pulled a rabbit trick at the AOY championship, where topwaters ruled the top lures list.
Lucas finished seventh using the newly released Berkley Cane Walker that was ideal for the clear water fishing. The aerodynamic shape is heavily tail weighted for long casts. When it settles the lure imparts a unique action through an internal rattle chamber and spitting cupped mouth, which draws bass to the surface from long distances. Berkley Fusion19 treble hooks complete the rig.
Lipped lures of varying styles emerged as the top overall choices of the winners. Those were Takahiro Omori (Lake Martin), Kevin VanDam (Grand Lake) and Wesley Strader (Kentucky Lake).
A Lucky Craft LC Silent Squarebill 1.5 produced for Omori in the prespawn conditions at Martin, where largemouth migrated into spawning creeks during February. The same conditions were in play at Grand, where a 1.5 Strike King KVD HC Shallow Squarebill Crankbait, Brown Craw, produced for VanDam. All spawning phases were underway in May at Kentucky Lake, where Strader relied on a PH Custom Lures Crankbait for the win.
Smallmouth came into the mix as the tour moved north over summer. Those fish undoubtedly also bring drop shotting into the spotlight. Those popular rigs produced wins for Mark Daniels at Lake Oahe, and Josh Bertrand at the St. Lawrence River.
Daniels caught some fish on a soft plastic stickbait, and more on a 4-inch Z-Man Finesse WormZ. He made the drop shot rig using a No. 1 Owner Cover Drop Shot Worm Hook, and 3/8-ounce tungsten weight.
Bertrand went deep, fishing over submerged rock shoals and channel dropoffs in the river. His top choice was a 4-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm. Alternatively, the winner used a 3-inch Gulp! Minnow. For both baits he used No. 1 Berkley Fusion19 Drop Shot Hooks, with a 3/8-ounce weight.
Two consecutive June events on opposite fisheries produced wins with a topwater frog. The first win came on the Sabine River for Greg Hackney, while Ish Monroe won the other on the upper Mississippi River.
Hackney used a Strike King KVD Sexy Frog and fished it in backwater areas with thick shoreline cover. Monroe did battle on the river using a weapon that he uses best. The choice was a 2.75-inch River2Sea Ish Monroe Phat Matt Daddy Frog. Monroe went frogging in large expanses of lily pad fields near the main channel.
Jigs and topwaters rounded out the top winning lures. A 1/2-ounce Strike King Denny Brauer Structure Jig and 4-inch Strike King Rage Twin Tail Menace Grub was a top choice for VanDam at Grand Lake. He fished the lure around boat docks along creek channels used as migration routes by prespawn largemouth.
The topwater action heated up at Lake Travis, where winner Drew Benton focused on largemouth using shady boat docks as ambush points in the clear water. Benton relied on a Bagley Knocker B that produces a seductive walk and rhythmic tonal footprint that is designed for making long casts. The lure also produced strikes on the shady side of large shoreline boulders.
At the AOY championship the bass were entering the fall transition with a blue herring bite in full swing. The bass ate in the midday sun as the herring passed over offshore points on the main lake. Topwaters were in the tackleboxes of most Top 12 anglers, including winner James Elam. He used a vintage Cordell Red Fin and IMA Little Stik 135 Walking Bait.