Higher water than anglers have seen in recent history will likely put Rapala® crankbaits and Storm 360GT™ Searchbaits center stage in the Bassmaster Classic March 16-18 on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. So says top Rapala pros prior to a practice period that began March 9 on the sprawling highland reservoir.
“Right off the get-go in practice, I’m going to do a lot of cranking with a Rapala® DT®-6, DT®-10 and a #7 Shad Rap®,” says Gerald Swindle, Bassmaster’s 2016 Angler of the Year. “Hartwell for years has been low, but it’s come up 14 feet, so over half the lake will probably be good and stained and a lot of fish will move to the shoreline and start feeding in that new cover. And that’s just prime cranking time when they do that. I have a feeling that DT’s and Shad Raps will be tied on a lot of people’s rods.”
Count Jacob Wheeler among them. A DT-6 and #7 Shad Rap are two of three “different-wiggling” crankbaits he will “for sure have tied on” when first scouting for shoreline bites in Classic practice. The third will be a Rapala BX®-Brat.
“Sometimes they’ll want one action over the other,” explains Wheeler, winner of FLW’s 2012 championship bass tournament, the Forrest Wood Cup. “Sometimes they’ll want the really tight wiggle of a Shad Rap. Then you go to a DT-6, which has a little bit larger, wider wobble. And then you go to a BX Brat, which wobbles even more so. And each one dives a little bit shallower or deeper, depending on which one you’re using.”
A Storm® 360GT Searchbait™ rigged a few different ways will round out Wheeler’s shallow-water game plan.
“With water rising up into new cover, right off the bat you’re going to think flippin’ – you’re going to think a 360GT will definitely play,” Wheeler says. “And in the backs of those creeks where the water is rising, you’re looking at places you can cast around some laydowns. So a 360GT rigged as a trailer on a swim-jig will definitely be in my shallow-water arsenal too.”
Where the Classic competitors find fish in clearer, deeper water, a Rapala Shadow Rap® Deep will likely be in play.
“I’m definitely going to have a Shadow Rap Deep rigged up for the deeper stuff, for the spotted bass and some of those fish that are set up on points and transitions, getting ready to set up to spawn,” Wheeler says.
Because Hartwell’s big spotted bass often feed on blueback herring roaming in deeper water, “there’s still going to be fish that guys target through jerkin,” Swindle agrees. “So I’ll have a Shadow Rap® tied on and If you get the wind blowing, if you work your way down the lake and you get some water clarity, that could be a player for those fish sitting out there in that eight to 10-foot range.”
Another popular way to target bass in that depth range, Wheeler says, is with underspin-style jig head rigged with a boot-tail minnow soft bait. He favors a 360GT Searchbait rigged on a VMC® Spin Jig.
“Any time you get on blueback herring lake, that’s a guarantee to get some bites from fish that are deeper and still oriented to, and feeding on, bait,” he says.
While not everyone can fish in the Bassmaster Classic – only about 50 of the top 100 professional anglers in the country qualify – anyone fishing highland reservoirs this spring should be able to catch more and bigger bass with the baits and tactics the pros describe above and below.
Rapala® DT®-Series Crankbaits
Rapala’s DT® Series baits dive fast to a pre-set depth and stay in the strike zone longer than any than other crankbait on the market. They combine carefully placed internal weights, a tapered fuselage and a thin tail to create the ultimate crankbait action. “DT” stands for “dives to.” The number indicates the maximum depth to which a DT bait will dive.
“We had some warm weather, we had some rain, so the water will be probably stained in the creeks and upper ends of the rivers and places like that,” Wheeler says. “So that’s going to be guaranteed for a DT-6.”
“The most secure bite you’ll have will probably be cranking in that dirty water,” he says. “I think a lot of the guys have never seen the lake full. And it’s totally different now. There’s a lot of cover in the water. A lot of it’s grown up. There’ll be some hay in the pockets and grass. With all that new cover, a lot of fish have went to the bank. And in that stained water, they’re not going to leave.”
Channel swings, secondary points and “little hard places” on main points in four to eight feet are also key locations to target pre-spawn bass with a DT-6, Swindles advises.
“There’s a bunch of them there and a bunch more coming,” he says. “They’re using those places as transitions into, or out from, spawning areas. You can catch ‘em on a lot of that stuff like that. It won’t just be running the bank.”
Storm® 360GT Searchbait™
Creating the ultimate illusion of natural movement, Storm 360GT Searchbaits pair a lifelike, single-ball rattling jig head with a realistic, soft body with 3D holographic eyes and a toe-in boot tail that imparts incredible action at any retrieve speed. “GT” stands for “Go To” bait.
“A searchbait must look realistic and cover a lot of water,” Wheeler says. “The 360GT Searchbait does just that with an amazing, lifelike action. It’s crazy — this bait is in a league all its own.”
A simple, steady retrieve gives 360GTs a fish-attracting swimming motion. Whether you’re fishing from a boat, dock or shore, you can easily cast them around main-lake points where the water is four to 12 feet deep. Or try targeting shallower bays with submerged bush or grass, swimming the lure over the tops of them. Pro Tip: Fish shallower on windy days and deeper in still weather.
Rapala Shadow Rap Deep
Combining a horizontal struggle with a vertical fade, Shadow Rap jerkbaits perfectly mimic an injured minnow’s last moments. Featuring a metallic style body finish with textured scales, the Shadow Rap Deep targets fish in four to eight feet.
“Throwing a Shadow Rap on Lake Hartwell, you’re probably going to be fishing in 15 feet or shallower in fairly clear water,” Wheeler says. “And that goes for a lot of reservoirs around the country this time of year. That Shadow Rap will dive down seven, eight feet and the fish will come up for it where the water is fairly clear.”
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. Not only will they dart side to side, they will spin around almost 180 degrees with the right action applied.
“I really like the Shadow Rap Deep,” Swindle says. “I think it’s a true player. You can get it down there where the fish are at. You can reach that six- to 10-foot range pretty easy with it. It’s got a nice action, really good hooks and I like the colors. They’ve got some really great colors that will be effective on spotted bass.”