The Bluegrass Brawl was all about ledges, shad and chartreuse crankbaits. Here's how the top three anglers turned them into winning weights.
(84 pounds, 13 ounces)
"I had 12 to 15 schools of fish located on offshore ledges around shell beds," said the Kalamazoo, Mich., bass fishing legend. "I tried to manage them so that I could fish fresh bass every day.
"But, I can't say my spots had anything in common other than the shells. Some were as shallow as 7 feet and others were as deep as 15 feet; some were close to shore, others far away. I fished different types of water every day, and sometimes during the same day. There was no solid pattern or at least none I could find."
VanDam reported catching most of his keepers on a Strike King Series 6 crankbait finished in Sexy Shad and Chartreuse Sexy Shad. His three largest bass of the tournament, however, came on Strike King's new Sexy Spoon — the 5 ½-inch model — with a Sexy Shad finish.
He also caught a "few" bass on a variety of lures including football head jigs with plastic trailers, spinnerbaits and big worms. All were Strike King products.
"The bass were on the ledges and hitting crankbaits pretty good. I brought my baits back fast so they would dig into the bottom and bounce off whatever was down there — mostly shells and stumps. I fished the Sexy Spoon with a standard lift and drop action."
He cranked with a prototype, 7-foot, 10-inch Quantum PT Tour Edition Kevin VanDam Signature Series cranking stick. "I call it the Mega Launcher because it'll throw a crankbait a mile. That's important. Long casts will get the lure deeper and keep it away from the boat longer. That rod was a big part of my win."
He mounted a Quantum Energy PT 750 reel (5.1:1 gear ratio) spooled with 14-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Signature Series Fluorocarbon line on his new rod. (The rods have passed his on-the-water test and will be available for over the counter purchase shortly.)
For the spoon fishing he chose a 7-foot, 4-inch Quantum PT Tour Edition Signature Series Rod, a Quantum Tour Edition PT Tour Edition 1170 reel with a "burner" 7:1 gear ratio and 20-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Signature Series Fluorocarbon line.
(83 pounds, 12 ounces)
"I had a long milk run — maybe 15 or 20 places along the drops and ledges — that I fished intermittingly all four days," said the Muscle Shoals, Ala., professional. "The bass were schooled on those places in 10 to 12 feet of water and stayed pretty much in the same spots all four days. They were obviously holding with the shad.
"I caught almost all my good bass on a 3/4-ounce Citrus Sparkle finished Bomber Fat Free Shad. That was the right size and color to match the forage and the water color. The real key, however, was my modification of the bill on this bait.
"I shaved just a little off the edges and made it a little more rounded. That gives the lure a completely different action. It makes the roll kind of quiet and easy. That allows it to drop into the bass quietly."
Horton also used a soft cranking stick — a Pflueger Cranking Rod — which allowed him to pull the bass out of the school without upsetting the other bass too much. "They don't fight so hard — go crazy — when you work them on a softer rod."
His reel was a Pflueger Trion (5.2:1 gear ratio) spooled with 10-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Signature Series Fluorocarbon line to complete his outfit.
"The line was almost as important as the bill modification and my rod selection. The low test weight allowed my lure to get down deeper and have a more natural action. It's one of the big reasons I caught so many fish. And, with nothing out there to hang me up, 10-pound-test was plenty strong. I didn't break off a fish all week."
(78 pounds, 3 ounces)
Butcher said that at least 90 percent of his keeper bass came from one spot.
"I found this little ledge in practice that seemed to be holding a lot of quality bass. The ledge had some stumps on it, a small amount of brush and some scattered rock. The shad were everywhere. I'm sure that's why the bass were there.
"My area was 12 feet deep on top and dropped off into really deep water. I put the boat out in 12 to 14 feet of water and started casting a 3/4-ounce Bomber Fat Free Shad — Citrus Sparkle. It was digging into the bottom real deep and provoking lots of good, solid bites."
Butcher reports fishing it just 30 minutes during the first two days. "I tried to get a limit quick and then move on," explained the Talala, Okla., resident.
"Then, on Day 3 and Day 4, I decided to stay until I had at least 20 pounds. That worked for me. I caught 20 pounds from that little area both days. If I had stayed there longer the first two days, I might have won this thing."
Butcher threw his crankbait on a 7-foot, medium action American Eagle rod. His reel was a Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier (5:1 gear ratio) spooled with 14-pound-test Silver Thread Fluorocarbon line.