By the time you determine bass will only eat one bait, it won’t be long before they begin ignoring it and eating something else – especially in multiple-day fishing tournaments on small, heavily pressured waterbodies. So it’s best to rig up some “Plan B” baits and reach for them at the right time. Jacob Wheeler did just that last week to score a Top 3 finish in Bassmaster competition, switching to a Rapala® Shadow Rap® Deep after catching most of his fish on a Storm® Chug Bug®.
“They weren’t just seeing my Chug Bug, they were seeing every topwater known to man,” says Wheeler of Lake Chatuge’s spotted bass. “So on the last day, I realized I needed to switch it up. And that’s when I picked up that Shadow Rap Deep. That was the main player that last day – I caught all of my fish I weighed on it.”
The strategy helped him place third out of 50 of the best bass anglers in the world, competing in the final Bassmaster Elite Series event of the 2018 season, the Angler of the Year championship.
At 7,000 acres, Lake Chatuge, a mountain reservoir on the Georgia-North Carolina border, is considerably smaller than many of the waterbodies on which Bassmaster tournaments are held. That’s one of the things that made this tournament difficult and had anglers shaking their heads on the weigh-in stage and telling hard-luck tales of seeing big schools of fish on the surface, or with sonar, but not being able to get them to bite. Unleashing 50 of the world’s best anglers on a small lake puts a lot of pressure on the same schools of fish, which most everyone finds and targets with a variety of baits in two and half days of practice and three days of competition.
“It was all about keep moving and going to as many places as I possibly could that had schools of fish,” Wheeler says of his successful gameplan. “The schools were on brush piles, points and sharp breaks. You had to rotate through all of them because they wouldn’t bite all the time on each one.”
The other factor that made this tournament tough was timing – this late in the year, fish have seen a lot of baits and become educated. “The fish in those schools were probably a lot easier to catch early in the spring and early summer, but as the months go along, they get smarter and smarter, because they get pestered all spring and summer.”
Most anglers targeting Chatuge’s prodigious population of spotted bass quickly determined that the fish were “looking up” and would only react to walk-the-dog-style topwater baits with lots of flash. That’s because one of the main forage fish in the lake is blueback herring, which doesn’t relate to the lake bottom, but rather roams far and wide high in the water column.
“The first two days, it was all about a top-water,” Wheeler says. “Those fish were suspended 10 to 15 feet down and you had to call them up. So that Chug Bug was perfect for that. It made a lot of noise and had a lot of flash and I could pull those fish up from 15 to 17 feet out of schools of 20 or 30 fish. If one didn’t get it, another one would try to get it.”
To get extra casting distance – a necessity in Chatuge’s clear water – Wheeler opted for a Storm® Rattlin’ Saltwater Chug Bug®, which at 4 3/8th inches and 15/16th ounces is a bit longer and heavier than the freshwater version of Storm’s Rattlin’ Chug Bug. His color pattern of choice was Metallic Silver Mullet. Both the saltwater and freshwater models are tail-weighted to enable long casts and feature a spitting, darting and chugging action that perfectly imitates fleeing, panicking baitfish.
Wheeler replaced his Chug Bug’s saltwater hooks with Size 1 VMC® Hybrid Treble Hooks, which combine the best aspects of O’Shaughnessy and Round Bend hooks. While the O’Shaugnessy shape allows greater strength with a smaller-diameter wire – which improves landing percentage – it forms a narrower gap than most freshwater anglers prefer. The gap on Round Bend hooks, however, is much wider, providing the best hooking rate.
“Some guys were talking about losing 10, 12, 15 bass a day, but I caught almost every bass that bit me,” Wheeler says. “I can only think of one fish that I lost the whole tournament – with those Hybrid trebles on my Chug Bug. When they get on that, they don’t get off.
“I boat-flipped a 3 ½-pounder and some other nice ones, because I wasn’t even worried about them coming off because I knew that hook had ‘em so good,” Wheeler recalls. “That was super, super important.”
Swithc to Shadow Rap® Deep
With so many anglers throwing topwaters at the same schools of spotted bass, the fish eventually grew wary of them, Wheeler says.
“A lot of these places were getting hammered,” he explains. “As soon as I left a place, 15 minutes later someone else would pull up, 15 minutes after that, someone else would pull up. So they got to where they got a little bit wary as time went on.”
That’s when Wheeler started throwing a Ghost Shiner colored Shadow Rap Deep. “That was a sneaky deal I don’t think many people were trying,” he says. “After a while, those fish didn’t want to break the surface, so I would jerk that Shadow Rap Deep through them really fast to get them to react. On that last day especially, you really had to have something a little bit different that those fish hadn’t seen.”
Featuring a minnow body, flat sides and a metallic finish with textured scales, Shadow Rap Deep jerkbaits run four to eight feet deep. They come armed with three No. 6 VMC black-nickel, round-bend hooks and are available in 14 color patterns. They measure 4 3/8 inches and weigh 7/16 of an ounce.
While most jerkbaits follow a forward trajectory with each twitch of the rod tip, a Shadow Rap will dart side to side and, with a certain jerk, spin around almost 180 degrees. “That bait does stuff that not another bait out there in the market does,” Wheeler says.