Some proven winners and a hotly anticipated newcomer are favorites to win the 2015 Bassmaster Classic this month on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. And that’s just the baits!
The same can be said for the Rapala® pros who will be fishing in the Classic with Shad Rap®s, DT®’s, Rippin’ Rap®s, Terminator® jigs and spinnerbaits, and the new Shadow Rap®, which will be unveiled soon. In Rapala’s contingent are Classic veterans Mike Iaconelli, Randall Tharp, Brandon Palaniuk, Ott DeFoe and Classic rookie Jacob Wheeler. Each has won one or more Bassmaster tournaments — including a Classic win for Iaconelli. Palaniuk has finished runner-up in a Classic, and both Tharp and Wheeler have won and finished championship tournament.
“Judging first on their history of success in the biggest tournaments at the highest level of competition, there’s a pretty good chance a Rapala pro could be hoisting the Classic trophy above his head after the final fish is weighed at Hartwell,” said Rapala Field Promotions Manager Dan Quinn. “And then when you consider how well Rapala baits catch bass in cold-water tournaments? Watch out for the Rapala guys!”
Many will be watching out indeed — watching and waiting to learn more about the Shadow Rap, the new bait Rapala has been teasing in advertisements this winter.
When the Classic kicks off Feb. 20, each Rapala pro will be armed with Shadow Raps, with which they’ve been practicing secretly for months. They’re all excited about the new bait’s ability to put fish in the boat — especially in the cold water they expect to find in late February on Hartwell.
“The Shadow Rap’s going to be a player for me — both the regular Shadow Rap and the Shadow Rap Deep,” said Iaconelli, a 16-time Classic qualifier and 2003 Classic Champ. “Lake Hartwell has a tremendous amount of blueback herring and shad, and if you look at the way this bait moves in cold-water conditions, it’s perfect — it’s exactly what I want.”
Anticipating water temps in the mid 40s to low 50s, Tharp said “there’s no doubt” the Shadow Rap will be a “huge part” of his arsenal. “Anywhere in that temperature range is when a bait like the Shadow Rap is most effective,” said the three-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and 2013 Forrest Wood Cup Champ. “That bait mimics a dying shad or blueback herring perfectly.”
“I really think this is an awesome tool that I can use to win the Bassmaster Classic,” he said further.
Palaniuk agreed the Shadow Rap could play a huge role on Hartwell this year. “It could win the Bassmaster Classic,” said the five-time Classic qualifier and 2013 Classic runner-up.
Wheeler stopped short of making a bold prediction, but said
“the Shadow Rap’s going to have a part of what’s going on, for sure.” Showing bass an action they haven’t seen before “is the ticket, a lot of times, to getting your fish in the boat,” said the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup champion and 2013 Cup runner-up.
A deep, rocky reservoir with clear water, Lake Hartwell is “a prime place to showcase the Shadow Rap and its action,” said DeFoe, a four-time Classic qualifier and 2011 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year. “So having the Shadow Rap at my disposal in that event could really be huge in my success.”
Featuring a minnow shape and metallic body finish with textured scales, the Shadow Rap is designed to target bass and other gamefish in two to four feet of water. The Shadow Rap Deep targets fish in four to eight feet. Both models come armed with three No. 6 VMC black-nickel, round-bend hooks and 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 and weighs 7/16 of an ounce.
Iaconelli will also be throwing Shad Raps and Rippin Raps on Hartwell. “I predict one of those three baits is going to win the 2015 Bassmaster Classic,” he said.
Thanks to its tight-wobbling action, the Shad Rap is a “cold-water, winter-time staple,” Iaconelli explained. “I’m a big fan of the Shad Rap — have been for 20 years.” He favors sizes 5, 6 and 7, in the Natural Shad and Crawdad patterns. He throws it on a spinning rod spooled with light line.
Although a lipless vibration bait might be “one you don’t necessary think about when you’re thinking about cold-water fishing,” Iaconelli said, he’s enjoyed great success this time of year with Rippin’ Raps.
Along with Shadow Raps, Palaniuk said he will likely fish with a heavy Terminator Football Jig, a Storm Arashi Deep 10 or Flat 7, and “something a little sneaky-squirrel, like the Rapala Jigging Rap.”
Although Jigging Raps were designed for ice fishing, they’re “not only meant for ice fishing,” he explained. “You catch a lot of bass [in cold-water] on a Jigging Rap.”
A warming trend could pull fish shallow, bringing Arashi crankbaits more into play. “A lot of times, those largemouth, they’ll pull up more shallow than you would think they would if you get some sunny, warm days that time of year,” Palaniuk said.
Anticipating a cold-water tournament, Wheeler expects he too will be throwing Shad Raps. Their “very lifelike, very subtle, small wobble” triggers strikes when bass are lethargic, he said. If water temps are “really cold” and the bass suspend, he said, a Husky Jerk could come into play.
A warming trend, on the other hand, would likely bring DT-6 crankbaits more into play. “If we have any warm days, those fish are going to move up shallow and they’re going to be a lot easier to catch with those-style baits,” Wheeler explained. “DT” stands for “dives to.” The number indicates the maximum depth to which a DT bait will dive.
A Shad Rap has “been big for me in all my Classic finishes so far,” DeFoe said. This year will likely be no different. “That crank bait, with the tight action it has, it catches fish [this] time of year,” he explained.
Noting that Hartwell is a “great jig-fishing lake,” DeFoe said he’ll likely weigh some fish caught on Terminator Pro Jigs and Terminator Finesse Jigs. The latter will catch spotted bass “better than any other jig out there,” he said.
A warming trend could make a spinnerbait bite a “wildcard,” DeFoe said. “Lake Hartwell is a blueback herring lake, so if we get some warm weather, I can see those fish moving up shallow, and me catching them on a Terminator spinnerbait,” he said. One of several new Terminator T-1 spinnerbait color patterns is “Blue Back Herring.”
In addition to Shadow Raps, the baits in Tharp’s Classic arsenal will be a crawdad-pattern Shad Rap and a DT-6. “I never go fishing without a DT-6 tied on,” he said.