John’s Note: The 2015 Bassmaster Classic takes place at Lake Hartwell in Greenville, South Carolina, this week, February 20-22. And, I know a secret that many anglers have access to but few take advantage of – which lures have produced the most dollars and the biggest bass in bass-fishing tournaments across the nation. Each year, lure designers create new series of baits that often catch more anglers than they do bass. Most lures will produce big bass under certain sets of conditions. But which lures consistently catch the most bass during Bassmaster Classics? Which lures do you need to keep in your tacklebox during this upcoming bass-fishing season? Although history doesn’t guarantee the future, we can learn from history and use the historical lures and past winning techniques to shape our bass-fishing future. Let’s look at the Classic lures that have helped anglers win past Bassmaster Classics to learn what baits you can bet on to catch big bass.
Classic XXVII – 1997
In 1997, Dion Hibdon of Gravois Mills, Missouri, struck gold in the Bassmaster Classic. Hibdon fished a Dion’s Super Tube Jig around boat docks at Alabama’s Lake Logan Martin near Birmingham, Alabama, to pull off this Classic win. He actually skipped the jigs under the boat docks to reach inaccessible spots to which most other anglers couldn’t cast.
Classic XXVIII – 1998
Denny Brauer, the 1998 Champion, wore the title “Always A Bridesmaid, Never A Bride” for many years. Brauer always finished as one of the front-runners in just about every tournament he fished. But for some reason, he just couldn’t seem to win the Classic. However, his luck changed in 1998 when he fished High Rock Lake in North Carolina. Fishing in only 2 feet of water, Brauer picked a tube jig to make a soft presentation beside a log in the water on a shallow mud flat just off the main river channel. Although known as a jig and a spinner bait man, Brauer selected the soft-plastic tube jig – just the right bait for the big ole bass this time.
Classic XXIX – 1999
Davy Hite of Prosperity, South Carolina, went without food or water on the last day of the Bassmaster Classic to prove he had the skills to join the Classic Hall of Fame of pro bass fishermen. Hite won the Classic fishing a new jig, the Bacon Rind, designed by pro Basil Bacon. Hite used the flipping technique along the edges of grass in the bayous to catch enough bass to not only dominate, but win, this Bassmaster Classic.
Classic XXX – 2000
In one of the most-challenging Classics ever staged, Woo Daves of Spring Grove, Virginia, brought in a total of 14 bass weighing 27 pounds, 13 ounces from Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois. Daves decided to move in close to the bank and began casting parallel with it instead of toward it. He also switched from 8-pound-test Stren to 6-pound test. He fished a Zoom tube jig, with a 1/6-ounce lead head with the hook exposed.
Classic XXXI – 2001
Kevin VanDam had a 3-day total of 32-5 pounds of bass caught near New Orleans, Louisiana. VanDam’s success came on two lures made by Strike King – a: 1/2-ounce black, blue and purple Strike King Premier Elite jig (with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer) and a Wild Thing soft-plastic creature-type bait.
Classic XXXII – 2002
Jay Yelas of Corvallis, Oregon, led all 3 days of competition on Lay Lake near Birmingham, Alabama. Yelas caught 45 pounds, 13 ounces of bass. And with his 4-pound, 13-ounce largemouth caught on Saturday, he became the first Classic champion to take big-bass honors all 3 days of the Classic. Yelas spent the morning casting to schooling bass with a Berkley plug and a Berkley Frenzy deep-diving crankbait. When the dam’s turbines came to life and created current in the area, he switched to a prototype Berkley Power Jig with a Power Frog trailer tied to 25-pound Trilene XT line.
Classic XXXIII – 2003
Michael Iaconelli brought a five-bass limit weighing 10 pounds, 14 ounces to the scales for a 3-day total of 37 pounds, 14 ounces to win the 2003 Classic near New Orleans. He fished the Venice region of the Delta in the shallow, grassy lagoons. His Classic success came on a trio of Mann’s lures – a Stone jig, a Super Finesse Worm and a prototype Swim Worm.
Classic XXXIV – 2004
On Lake Wylie on the North Carolina/South Carolina border, Takahiro Omori, the first non-American to win the Classic, adjusted to water movement, changing light conditions, an influx of muddy water and the unseen impact of spectator boat traffic to win this Classic. He fished primarily a Bagley Balsa-II shallow diver to catch a 3-day total of 29 pounds, 2 ounces. Omori found that the muddy conditions drew resident bass into shallow water and kept them close to the cover – in perfect position for his preferred flipping/pitching baits.
Classic XXXV – 2005
Kevin VanDam had a 3-day catch totaling just 12 pounds, 15 ounces taken at Three Rivers near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania . Only seven pros managed to break the 10-pound mark at this Classic. An old lure from VanDam’s teenage days – a 20-year-old Smithwick Rogue – had fooled countless smallmouths in tough times over the years. According to VanDam, “Once the current stopped, and no water was run through the system, the bass basically dispersed. When the current was running, the bass would stay tight to those bridges. I believe the difference between the vintage version and the newer bait was the use of a different plastic and lead BBs that were in my old version of the lure. At the time of this Classic, the lure was made with steel BBs.”
To learn more about bass fishing, get John E. Phillips’ Kindle eBooks and some print books, “How to Bass Fish Like a Pro,” “How to Win a Bass Tournament,” “Catch the Most and Biggest Bass in Any Lake: 18 Pro Fishermen’s Best Tactics, “Hot Weather Bass Tactics” and “How to Become A Tournament Bass Fisherman.” Click here to get these books.