Two of the three national tournament trails have completed their seasons, giving us the opportunity to gather real-time data on championship methods. Many of you recognize my desire to uncover the secrets of the pros, clueing us all into what it takes to win at the highest level. Today, I choose the FLW Tour to begin our investigation.
FLW may be the most consistent way to gauge the competitive state of bass fishing, as the field size has remained large and most of the key players continue to dominate. In addition, FLW often visits recognizable tournament venues frequently, allowing us the ability to compare notes from year to year.
One more thing: It’s important to note that I include the Forrest Wood Cup in our study, for reason’s you’ll soon see, making a total of eight events for the year.
Veteran anglers dominated the top spots, as no rookie anglers claimed a victory. Most winners were relatively household names with FLW, including Cox, Bolton and Thrift, with additional contributions coming from newer hitmen like Gross, Upshaw and Latimer.
Many of the tournaments produced stout weights. Five of the eight pushed, or exceeded, the 80-pound tally, with the Cup being the only low-weight event. For that reason alone, I felt it needed to be included in my review in order to prevent skewed results.
As usual, winning lures and techniques highlight my findings. And, for the first time since I’ve kept records, this Tour season was not dominated by a single lure or technique. Not even the ChatterBait could pull it off.
In contrast, the occurrence of the dominant winning lures consisted of:
(2) Stick Worm
(2) Deep crankbait
(2) Flipping/pitching plastics
(1) Carolina Rig
(1) Square Bill crankbait
(1) Wacky Worm
(1) Variety of topwater lures, including buzzbaits, frogs and walking baits
Yep, as wonders never cease, the spinnerbait played a role in more FLW victories than any other single lure – assuming no one was lying.
In any case, I feel this widening of techniques proves that anglers are content fishing their strengths, believing more in their ability than in their bait selection. Also, for the first time in recollection, I saw little or no reference to lures with magic scents or devices reported to send out fish-attracting sounds or signals.
Also of note were the details of tackle selection. Spinning gear played much less of a role on the FLW Tour than any time in recent memory. Sure, this might have been due more to venue selection than anything, with no Beaver Lake, Table Rock or St. Clair on the menu, but it also might add to my theory. Are the world’s best finding ways to catch fish without the use of fairy wands? Even pressured, difficult fish?
I think so. A case in point was the Toho victory by Buddy Gross. There, Gross went old school, spooling nothing but 65-pound braid on heavy rods. But his lure selection, built more on finesse, trumped any flaws to the fish. Gross employed very specific swimbaits on realistic flashy heads, as well as a detailed, lifelike swimjig to fool beat-up bass.
Terry Bolton did the same at Rayburn with very specific crankbaits dialed in to exact depths, and Jeremy Lawyer got nit-picky at Grand Lake, employing more unique spinnerbaits than most guys own.
My point is this: With the biggest dollars on the line, today’s champion anglers are creating their own luck. We could learn a thing or two from their methods.
If dropshotting’s your game, go for it. Like to flip? There’s room for you, too. And don’t throw away all of your spinnerbaits just yet.
I’ve looked into winning tactics in the past – even taking a historical timeline ¬– and found similar lure choices. I’m always flabbergasted by how often crankbaits dominate tournament fishing. In fact, I’m certain cranks have now played a role in more wins than any other lure category in history. Flipping tactics seem to come and go, almost “trending” every decade or so. And, despite today’s incredibly realistic topwater lures, bass still hit a buzzbait. Crazy.
My point? Again, develop what you enjoy. Back when the first BassTrix swimbait came out, if you would have told me that crankbaits would still win tournaments, I would have called you crazy. But they do. And the guys who crank them still make frequent trips to the bank.
So keep cranking, or swimbaiting, or worming, if you like. Has the ChatterBait worn off? Maybe, to some extent. But it will always be a player, as it’s a whole new category of lure, like the spinnerbait was. Or is.
And, just when we have it all figured out, there will come another, and another. That’s the beauty of bass fishing.
Out in my garage, I have a tackle cabinet that holds about 40 Plano 3700 boxes. Of those 40, I regularly use about four. The others, jam-packed with crankbaits, topwaters, jerkbaits and more, some of which are 20 years old, sit idle.
The other day, I thought of getting rid of most of those old lures.
I quickly came back to my senses.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)