Early last month, I shared with you the near-death experience of much of my tackle, as I considered selling off goods I no longer use. A close investigation of the lures used to win 2019 FLW Tour events brought me back to my senses, as it was apparent that old-school never goes out of style, and retro baits can, in fact, catch bass. Lots of them.
This week, we’ll again uncover the specific lures used to capture the sport’s biggest titles as we investigate Elite Series winners. First, a little recap of the competition.
In a year when many fans questioned the ability of B.A.S.S. to hold on after losing many of its key players, the Elite Series came out swinging. Despite new anglers replacing household names, many rose to the top, creating year-long drama for the AOY title and spectacular catches along the way.
We saw two double winners (Jamie Hartman and Brandon Cobb), strong performers like Stetson Blaylock and Chris Zaldain, watched Scott Canterbury beat them all for the points title and saw Rick Clunn beat the odds again.
B.A.S.S. highlighted fantastic fisheries, hitting them at the right time, producing big weights and crowds at the weigh-ins. So which lures were used to take the top spots, and what can we learn as a result?
Overall, the spread was a little more even than FLW, but there were surprises. Winning lures included:
(2) Football Jig with Craw Trailer
(2) Topwater Lure
(2) Ned Rig/Jighead Worm
(2) Texas-Rigged Plastic on Traditional Weight
(2) Weightless Stickworm
(1) Punch Rig
(1) Vibrating Jig
A mixed bag, to say the least, and no dominant players.
The biggest surprise comes with the absence of crankbaits. As I stated in the previously mentioned piece, crankbaits continue to play a key role in bass tournament competitions year after year, often capturing more crowns than any other lure category. But they were surprisingly absent from the strategies of Elite anglers this year, with the exception of the St. Clair crankfest occurring at the final stage, as well as some high finishes at Lake Fork. Truthfully, I’m not sure why.
I love the quick comeback of football jigs. As anyone who’s ever structure-fished with a jig can tell you, there’s just something about that bite. It screams “big fish” in the mind of any bass angler a split-second before the hookset, and manifests a true swing-for-the-fences mentality. An old-school tactic in the North, dragging a football jig has long been recognized as the best way to fool the biggest fish in a school.
Speaking of old school, Rick Clunn again mystified us with his methods. Employing an original Gator-Tail worm, long ago recognized for its appeal to big bass in Florida, Clunn wrestled book-end giants the final day, bringing a 7-pound average to the scales to win his 16th B.A.S.S. title.
Despite my love for heavy line and big-fish techniques, the real eye-opener was the boost in finesse tactics on this year’s Elite Series. While the numbers may not scream spinning rod, take a closer look.
Dropshot, Ned Rig, stickworm, shaky-head. At five of the 10 events, the winner employed some form of finesse as all or part of his repertoire. Also credit a swimbait victory to a mini-version rigged on a jighead.
North to South, long rods and light line were key factors.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of the recent expansion in finesse. Many now-popular methods – again, Ned Rigs, Neko Rigs being another – weren’t around a few short years ago. With such expansion comes greater acceptance, as there’s finally finesse choices besides a shaky-head or a hundred-pack of Senkos.
It also brings to mind the absence of what were once regarded as the premier methods for catching quality fish. Flipping. Carolina rigs. Giant structure spoons. Magnum crankbaits.
Even punch rigs – a technique that seemed to be the hottest thing in pro fishing just yesterday – seems to be on the downhill slide, replaced by more finesse-ful methods for rigging worms. Good grief.
In any case, one other factor stood out that got me thinking: oftentimes, a competitor went from event to event and never retied. By that, I mean that many finalists used the exact same lures at numerous events. This shows – just as the FLW stats confirmed prior – that the best in bass fishing are relying more on their own ability rather than a hot bait or trend.
I remember when every serious bass fisherman HAD to have a Gitzit. Or a Slug-O. A Poe’s 400, bubblegum worm, LedgeBuster spinnerbait, or Red Eye Shad. A Lucky Craft square bill, or even a ChatterBait.
I wonder, are we losing our belief in magic, or is there still another rabbit in the hat?
(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.)