As the Bass Pro Tour REDCREST tournament begins, Jacob Wheeler has a Vibe – literally and figuratively. Not only does his angler’s intuition tell him he’s about to catch some really big bass, he’s pretty confident they’ll bite a specific Storm®Arashi® bait.
“I’ve got a vibe we’re going to hit this just absolutely dead center and this is going to be an absolute smash-fest,” says Wheeler, a Storm and Rapala® pro. “And a Vibe lipless crankbait I expect will really show out this week.”
Other lures Wheeler says will likely be “key players” in REDCREST, Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour championship, are three lipped crankbaits: Rapala OG Slims, Luhr-Jensen Speed Traps and Rapala DT-6’s. Luhr-Jensen and Storm are Rapala Respected Brands.
A moon close to full, forecasts for a warming trend, and water temps likely in the mid-fifties should make for a “un-real” pre-spawn bite, Wheeler predicts in a phone interview Saturday, a day before REDCREST’s single day of practice; two days before the four-day tournament launches today Monday, Feb. 22. Check out all the Live action at https://majorleaguefishing.com/
Pre-spawn bass in Alabama’s Walter F. George Reservoir, AKA “Lake Eufaula” – the tournament venue – will likely be moving shallower from deeper haunts, “pulling up into spawning areas,” Wheeler predicts. “Probably not quite spawning yet, but trying to get in flatter areas.”
“That sets up for a really good Vibe bite,” Wheeler says further. “Eufaula’s known for really big bass. There’s a lot of 3-, to 5-, to 7-pound bass in this lake, and there’s some bass in that double-digit caliber that get caught every year. You’re going to see some stuff go down that’s going to be awfully entertaining.”
Although REDCREST was originally scheduled to be contested on Lake Palestine in Texas, severe winter weather across the Lone Star State caused a last-minute venue change to Alabama’s Lake Eufaula.
The last time Wheeler fished a February tournament on Eufaula he won big. In the championship round of MLF’s 2020 Bass Pro Tour Stage 1, he caught 24 bass weighing a combined 68 pounds for the win. Much of that weight came out of a school he first determined was hungry during practice, when he caught a big one off the spot with a Rapala DT-14. More big bass came off that spot that on DT baits throughout the tournament.
While Wheeler knows that weather and water conditions will make for a “completely different” bite this year on Eufaula, “I’ve got a few places in the back of my mind that I’m thinking about,” he says.
“But also, at the same time, I realize that things are going to be changing every single day,” he adds. “So it’s going to be a deal where you’re going to have to adapt and change.
“You don’t want to get pre-conceived notions with anything you do in this game,” Wheeler says further. “You think you know it all and you start trying to fish history and you put yourself in a bad position, rather than listening to your gut and reacting to what’s actually happening that current week. So I’ve got an open mind.”
Storm® Arashi® Vibe
An Arashi Vibe will start swimming at a slower speed than will another lipless crankbait. It falls slower too, allowing you to fish it in shallower water at a slower speed.
“The cool thing about the Vibe is that it’s a really a versatile bait,” Wheeler says, noting that he can throw it when pre-spawn bass are around flats, breaklines and even in “just inches” of water. “A lot of times, I’ll fish it out in the six- to 12-foot zone, yo-yo-ing it as I pull it off the bank. I’ll pull it and let it fall, then I’ll reel it for about half a cast and then drop it on a slack-line. It has a good little shimmy to it on the fall.”
“I always try to switch up my retrieve with it, because the fish will react to that,” Wheeler adds. “With a lipless crankbait, you’re always adjusting your retrieve when you’re trying to figure out how they want to eat it, each and every day.”
Featuring a soft-knock rattle, Vibes emit a unique single-cadence, low-pitch sound that attracts attention without alarming tentative fish.”
“It doesn’t make a whole lot of noise,” says Rapala Pro Ott DeFoe, who won the 2019 Bassmaster Classic with an Arashi Vibe. “But I’m not expecting one of these fish to come a great distance to eat my bait. I already know where he lives. I already know where I need to throw it. I just need a bait that looks pretty natural, that swims just exactly how it needs to, like this one does.”
DeFoe often ties on a Vibe, he says, when his side- and forward-looking sonar units locate bass holding on flats “where there’s not a lot of depth change” and “the bottom doesn’t have a lot of taper.”
Arashi Vibes measure 2 3/4 inches and weigh 9/16th of an ounce. They come in 14 color patterns. In the pre-spawn period – when water is often stained, to muddy – bright, crawfish-imitating color patterns like Red Craw and Rusty Craw usually work best.
“Late in the wintertime, water tends to be a little bit stained up and I tend to throw more brighter colors,” Wheeler says. “Then, as it gets later, your more darker reds tend to play a little bit better.”
Rapala® OG Slim
A non-rattling, easy-casting, flat-sided crankbait that swims with a medium wobble and tight side-to-side action, a Rapala OG Slim “caught a lot of big ones” in the 2019-20 season, Wheeler says. “I’ve got to think that’s going to be a major player in the REDCREST.”
Featuring a lightweight, circuit board lip, an OG Slim will dive to six feet when fished on 12-pound-test line. Although its name derives in part from its thin, flat-sided profile, its balsa-wood construction gives it a live-minnow action that similar-looking flat-sided plastic crankbaits can’t imitate.
“The OG Slim has a little bit larger of a profile, but it has more of a subtle action,” Wheeler says.
The “OG” in the bait’s name stands for “Ott’s Garage” – as in Ott DeFoe, who designed the bait in his garage to give Rapala a lure type that “for years and years” helped anglers win national, regional and local bass tournaments throughout the Southeast.
“We’ve kind of needed something like that,” DeFoe says. “Something not as wide-action, but something not as tight-action and more castable – something in between. That’s where the Slim comes in.”
OG Slims are armed with two No. 3 VMC black-nickel, 1X-strong, short-shank Hybrid Treble Hooks. “That’s another thing that’s an advantage,” Wheeler says. “Your hook-to-land ratio should be better on that bait when they can get it in their mouth and they’re eating it well.”
The OG Slim’s ultra-thin circuit-board lip delivers the right action and attitude no matter how you fish it, triggering bites from big bass and other gamefish. OG Slim’s measure 2 ¾ inches and weigh ½ ounces. They’re available in 14 color patterns.
Luhr-Jensen® Speed Trap™
Computer-controlled molding is the secret to the Speed Trap, Luhr Jensen’s floating, snag-resistant, clear-lipped crankbait for the 3- to 8-foot depth range. The process creates a very thin-walled, high-action body, which produces maximum vibration while offering incredible balance.
“They’re a little bit louder, with a wider wobble than most of my other crankbaits, so if the water’s a little bit more stained, or for some reason those bass want a little bit more of a loud profile, loud crankbait, I feel like a Speed Trap could be a player in the REDCREST as well,” Wheeler says. “It’s one of the best pre-spawn crankbaits ever made. It catches bass all over the country.”
Speed Traps will not roll at any retrieve speed. Maximum dive depths for the 1/8th and 1/4 oz. models are 5 and 8 feet, respectively.
“Most of the time in the pre-spawn period, especially in dirtier-water situations, bass will set up in that 3 to 6, maybe 7, feet of water,” Wheeler explains. “So those are perfect baits for that application. The bass like to set up on harder-bottom areas – rocky banks, rip-rap, gravel, clay – adjacent to where they’re going to spawn.”
Important design characteristics make Speed Traps different from typical shallow-running crankbaits. A sharp dive angle, for example, gets you to the strike zone faster, especially along steep banks. In stained to muddy water, the best Speed Trap colors are reddish crawfish patterns, including Crawdad/Crystal, Hot Texas Red/Crystal and Delta Craw.
“DT” stands for “dives to.” Therefore, a DT-6 will dive to six feet. Fished in four to five feet of water, it will bump and grind into the bottom, deflecting off rocks and other obstructions – and that’s when you get bites.
“You can’t forget about a DT-6,” Wheeler says. “I mean, a DT-6 has caught more big pre-spawn than any other pre-spawn, medium-running crankbait in the history, I feel like, of bass fishing. It’s definitely one of the best, all over the country. You got have one up on the front deck.”
Built of balsa wood, Rapala’s signature material, DT’s swim with an inimitable tight wobble and can back out of shallow cover better than copycat crankbaits, floating up and minimizing snags.
“If the fish are being really fickle, a lot of times I’ll go with the DT-6, because it doesn’t have as big a profile as the OG Slim,” Wheeler says. “It all depends on, number one, forage, and number two, how they’re getting the bait,” Wheeler says. “If I feel like the fish are slapping at my bait and not getting the OG, I might switch it up to a DT-6.”
In stained to muddy water brightly-colored DT’s generally out-produce brownish and greenish patterns. In clearer water, more natural color patterns usually prevail.