Minn.— Showing bass something they've never seen before was key for Rapala® pros who finished in the top 15 of the Bassmaster
Classic last week on Lake Hartwell.
Mike Iaconelli (6th), Ott DeFoe (11th) and Jacob Wheeler (14th) all brought fish to the scales that they caught on a Shadow Rap®, Rapala's innovative new jerkbait.
And Wheeler really threw the local bass a curveball — a Jigging Rap®, one of Rapala's predominant ice-fishing lures. Living in a reservoir located on the South Carolina/Georgia border, Lake Hartwell's bass had surely not seen many of those before. Still, unseasonably frigid conditions in and around the Classic's host city of Greenville, S.C., made the Jigging Rap and Shadow Rap productive baits last week, since they both were designed to trigger bites in ultra-cold water.
The key to triggering cold-water bites, for both the Shadow Rap and the Jigging Rap, is a specific, subtle action — an action Lake Hartwell's bass were not conditioned to seeing from anglers bombarding them with the same usual suspects of baits.
Unlike a host of similar-looking jerkbaits, Shadow Raps neither rise slightly on the pause, nor strictly suspend in space. Rather, they combine a horizontal struggle with a slow vertical drop.
"It's not really a sink, it's a slow
fade," explains Wheeler, a first-time Classic finisher, 2012 Forrest Wood
Cup champion and 2013 Cup runner-up. "So the longer you wait on pauses
between jerks, the more that bait falls. Those bass haven't seen that before,
because no other jerkbait does that. If that bait would have been floating or
suspending, it wouldn't have triggered bites like it did."
Featuring flat sided, metallic body finish with textured scales, the Shadow Rap is designed to target bass and other gamefish in two to four feet of water. Another model, the Shadow Rap® Deep targets fish in four to eight feet. Both models are available in 14 color patterns: Albino Shiner, Blue Back Herring, Blue Ghost, Bone, Bud, Carbon, Clown, Ghost, Ghost Shiner, Moss Back Shiner, Olive Green, Purpledescent, Silver and Yellow Perch. Each measures 4 3/8 inches, weighs 7/16 of an ounce, and comes armed with three No. 6 VMC black-nickel, round-bend treble hooks.
A four-time Classic qualifier and 2011 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, DeFoe said last week that Lake Hartwell is a "great jerkbait-fishing lake" and that February "is really as good as it gets for jerkbait fishing." No surprise then, that he caught his first keeper bass of the Classic on a Shadow Rap Deep. Still, some of the scuttlebutt surrounding the tournament was that other jerkbaits were not producing nearly as well.
"The jerkbait bite wasn't really on for many other guys — you heard people saying how that was a surprise, with the cold water," recalls Iaconelli, a 16-time Classic qualifier and 2003 Classic Champion. "But the Shadow Rap Deep was a key bait for me. It was perfect. On the pause, it just barely drops down, and with these subtle little flashes and rolls. And that's something these fish just haven't seen before."
The Shadow Rap's sticky-sharp VMC® treble hooks were key on a weekend when Lake Hartwell's bass were prone to short-striking.
"You heard a lot of the other guys talking about missed fish, because the bass were head-butting their baits," Iaconelli says. "The Shadow Rap has three sets of VMC treble hooks. So even if the bass head butt it, you're catching them."
Wheeler agrees. "Those VMC hooks got them every single time," he says. "They'd just eat it really good."
The Shadow Rap Deep produced best during the Classic, mostly in the morning over ditches/drains in the backs of pockets. Bass were suspending in 10 to 20 feet of water in these locations, feeding on blueback herring.
"On 10-pound fluorocarbon, I was getting that bait around 10-foot deep on a long cast," Iaconelli reports.
Vertical baits fished deep put keeper bass in the boat as well — a Terminator® Football Jig for DeFoe and the ice-fishing bait, the Jigging Rap, for Wheeler.
"That was one bait that I didn't know was going to play as well as it did, but it triggered those fish, because it's all about trying to show them something different they haven't seen," Wheeler explains. "And they haven't seen an ice-fishing jig down here in South Carolina, let's be real! I caught weigh-in fish every single day on that bait."
A 2 3/4-inch, 5/8th-oz. No. 7 Jigging Rap in the Glow color pattern was most productive for Wheeler. The key was dropping it to the bottom as fast as possible on 10-pound test fluorocarbon line near the edges of flooded timber in 35 to 40 feet, giving it at least three vertical snaps and then letting it fall back down on the pause.
"When you'd stop it, it doesn't just sit there still," Wheeler explains. "Because of that tail, it still moves a little bit. And that's why those fish would come up and eat it. So that was the key to me getting those fish to trigger and get those fish to bite. They wouldn't eat a drop-shot at times, they wouldn't eat a jigging spoon."
Featuring a balanced, weighted minnow profile, Jigging Raps swim in tantalizing circles on the fall. With single reversed hooks on the nose and posterior, and a center treble hook hung from a belly eyelet, they don't allow for missed bites — regardless of how a fish attacks, it's running smack dab into a hook. Jigging Raps are available in five sizes and 20 color patterns.
VMC Swimbait Jig
DeFoe's third productive bait was a VMC Swimbait Jig rigged with a split-tail soft-plastic trailer bait. Designed to mimic a baitfish head, the jig features flared gills, 3D holographic eyes and a cavity in the back that allows your bait to nest up tightly to it.
"That minnow-shaped head gives your trailer bait just a little bit different action as it falls," DeFoe explains. "And that was real key, I think, for me getting bit."
VMC Swimbait Jigs come equipped with a forged shank made from hi-carbon steel, a 1X strong hook and a double-wire keeper to ensure your bait stays on.