The 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series tracked its way across all phases of the spawning cycle, with some detours encountered along the trail. Those moments included postponed days due to flooding at two events, tournament leaders chasing bass 100 miles in opposite directions and sorting through changing conditions that required reinventing strategies.
There were notable angling lessons we all learned along the way. At Pickwick Lake, where the water quickly shot up from winter pool to flood stage practically overnight, Bill Lowen proved how a lighter weight jig can be productive in heavy current. He floated a 3/8-ounce swim jig through suspended fish in wood. A heavier jig would have quickly sunk and dropped through the strike zone. The tactic produced the 8-pound, 5-ounce clutch largemouth that won him the blue trophy.
Here are results of our annual audit that ranks the top lure categories based on their appearance in our popular top lures galleries. Some results are surprising, with the old school skirted jig used 27 times by the Top 10 anglers over the nine events. The subcategories include flipping and swim jigs for the sake of our audit. Wes Logan used a flipping jig to win at Neely Henry Lake, as did Caleb Kuphall by punching matted vegetation at Lake Guntersville.
Also tied at 27 appearances is variations of soft plastic straight-tail worms. Texas-rigged, wacky rigged or Carolina-rigged, the venerable worm proved itself from start to finish during the February through July season. Of those rigs, the wacky version emerged as a trending choice, from the gnarly cover of the Sabine River to the ultra-clear water of the St. Lawrence River, where Taku Ito used a Japanese worm, rigged wacky style, as part of his winning lure lineup.
Crankbaits, lipped or lipless, made it into the galleries 26 times during the season. Bryan New cranked a lipped bait over bars on the St. Johns River to score his win. Logan rotated between the jig and a squarebill maneuvered through laydowns on the Coosa River. Shallow to midrange depths produced best for transitional bass before and after the spawn.
Not surprisingly, soft plastic swimbaits were a near front-runner with 16 times in the galleries. Jeff Gustafson erased any textbook ideology that the swimbait is most effective as an imitator for roaming shad in the shallow to mid-depth ranges. The Canadian scored a win on the Tennessee River, fishing his swim jig in 18 to 20 feet of water, and using an ice fishing tactic to do it.
Just as it was in 2020, the bladed jig was a reliable choice for catching bass in changing conditions, when the bass moved up, down and across the water column. Bladed jigs were used 15 times by the Top 10 anglers during the season.
At 14 appearances, Texas-rigged soft plastic creature baits came next, all used for flipping and pitching in heavy cover. Kuphall flipped a creature bait into matted milfoil, as did others during the June event on Guntersville. The creature bait showed on the Sabine River, Guntersville and other fisheries with heavy cover.
Also, at 14 times in the galleries were topwater lures. The ideal topwater scenario setup happened at Lake Fork, where Lee Livesay discovered big gizzard shad on secondary points being chased by bigger largemouth bass. His topwater lineup, on the heavy side, enabled Livesay to make crucial extra-long casts to reach the target.
The venerable spinnerbait proved it was worthy of the limelight after appearing a dozen times in the galleries. A spinnerbait was the winner for Jason Christie on the Sabine River, where the heavy cover guru wound his spinnerbait through heavy wood. The spinnerbait provided double duty by causing reaction strikes while allowing Christie to cover territory.
Tied with 10 appearances apiece were jerkbaits and drops-shot rigs. Not surprisingly, the drop shot was in the winning lure lineup of Ito at the St. Lawrence River. The finesse bait is a favorite of the Japanese angler, who coincidentally scored a Top 10 finish with the rig in heavy cover at the Sabine River.
Bassmaster LIVE viewers were treated to explosive topwater action at the Sabine River and Guntersville, where the topwater frog was viewed eight times in the galleries. Frog fishing has come a long way in recent years, as fishing lines, rods and reels are being designed specifically for the technique, equally as productive in heavy cover as open water. Caleb Sumrall proved it with a Top 10 finish on Lake Champlain.
Ned and Neko rigs came in with eight appearances apiece, and both at Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. Ito used both in his win at the St. Lawrence River, using Japanese variations of the popular rigs.
It was a mix of old, blended in with a touch of new. The top lures used throughout the Elite season were used in conventional and atypical methods to win blue trophies and earn valuable points. We wouldn’t expect anything less from the sport’s top pros, whose full-time jobs on the water benefit us all when we spend time there as well.