Whether you’re fishing in the Bassmaster Classic this month or on your favorite highland reservoir, Rapala® and Storm® crankbaits, Terminator® jigs and spinnerbaits, and Rapala Shadow Rap jerkbaits will put fish in the boat. Those are among the baits top Rapala pros predict they’ll throw in official practice before the March 16-18 Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.
Weather and water conditions, and how the bass react in practice, will determine which of those baits the pros will tie on while competing in the Classic, described often as “the Superbowl” of competitive fishing.
“There will be guys that catch them in 30 foot of water and there will be guys that catch them in three foot of water – and everything in between,” says Brandon Palaniuk, the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year. “So you need an arsenal of baits that allows you to target a lot of different depth zones that those bass could possibly be at, and different types of cover that they could be around – but at the same time allow you to cover a lot of water to be able to figure that out quickly.”
In practice for the Classic, Palaniuk says, he’ll start his search for the winning fish with shallow-running Rapala DT and Storm Arashi crankbaits and Rapala Shadow Rap Deep jerkbaits. An Arashi Top Walker topwater bait could be a “wildcard” option, he says.
“Those baits allow me to fish at a lot of different depth zones and a lot of different types of cover,” he explains. “You get into that time of year where it’s still early spring and you’re going to have fish spread out all across the board. It’s just going to be a matter of a guy figuring out where the little bit better fish are.”
Pros Ott DeFoe and Seth Feider agree. Their go-to bait selections for Classic practice will be similar, but with differences that reflect their individual styles and preferences.
“Right off the giddyap, I expect the Rapala DT-6 will be a player,” says DeFoe, a five-time Classic qualifier and 2011 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year. “But my staples, the Terminator Pro Jig and the Terminator Spinnerbait, will be in play too.”
Warming, rising water – a trend underway on Hartwell today – would encourage DeFoe to target newly submerged shallow brush with Terminator jigs and spinnerbaits. Colder, stable water would likely see him slinging Shadow Rap and Shadow Rap Deep jerkbaits more. But warmer than average water temps could make a Rapala BX™ Waking Minnow a bait “that might surprise a lot of people,” he says.
Feider, fishing in his first Classic in his third year on the Bassmaster Elite Series, will begin practice on Hartwell with an open mind.
“I’m going to be rigged up for everything,” he says. “We could be anywhere from a pre-pre-spawn tournament to there might even be bed fish when we get there. So it’s key to have a wide arsenal of baits. With Rapala, Storm and Terminator, I’ve got that. I’ll have everything I need to tackle any depth, water temperature or cover.”
If weather and water conditions meet Feider’s expectations, his main baits are likely to be shallow-running Rapala DT crankbaits, Storm 360GT Searchbaits and Rapala Shadow Rap Deep jerkbaits. But warmer-than-usual water temps could put into play a topwater favorite like a Storm Arashi Cover Pop or a Terminator Walking Frog, 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 on highland reservoirs in March can load a boat with bass with the Rapala, Storm and Terminator baits Palaniuk, DeFoe and Feider will be fishing on Hartwell.
Highland reservoirs – also known as “upland reservoirs” – generally feature deep, clear water with steep, rocky banks and very little submerged vegetation, AKA “grass” in bass-fishing shorthand. If that describes your favorite nearby waterbody, the baits and tactics the pros describe below will work for you too.
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.
“I got a feeling the fish will be coming up, so I’ll be throwing a DT-4, DT-6 and DT-10, especially if the water is a little low and cold,” Feider says. “You can throw all those baits with the same rod. They all act similar, with that classic Rapala bait action. And the nice thing about them is that they’re game-day ready right out of the pack. You don’t have to tune them and they come in every color under the sun.”
On Hartwell, Feider will target shorelines and points with rock bottom and wood cover with DT-series cranks. Palaniuk will target “transitional type of banks” with a DT-6 and DT-10. DeFoe will sling a DT-4 and DT-6 on “channel-swing banks and those staging-type places where those fish will set up before moving right in to spawn.”
Storm Arashi Square 3, Arashi 5
Arashi Silent Square 3 and 5’s are different than any other square-bill crankbait on the market, Palaniuk says. And they’re almost always his go-to shallow runner. The numbers in the names indicate the baits’ maximum diving depths.
“I can take a Square 3 and target shallow wood and docks and a lot of the more shallow cover,” Palaniuk says. “And I can take an Arashi 5 and fish a lot more of the little bit flatter banks and things like that.”
Featuring a sturdy, square, circuit-board lip and premium finishes, the Arashi Silent Squares are built to withstand repeated contact with cover. “Generally, when I’m fishing Arashi Squares, I’m target oriented,” Palaniuk explains. “I’m throwing ‘em around rocks, logs, brush, something like that. And I’m throwing right into the middle of it.”
Arashi’s square bills were specifically designed to help deflect the baits off of heavy cover without hanging up. “It’s going to hit that cover and its going to roll my hooks away from whatever I’m banging into,” Palaniuk explains. “So it will come through that type of cover pretty freely.”
Rapala Shadow Rap Deep
Combining a horizontal struggle with a vertical fade, Rapala’s all-season jerkbait perfectly mimics an injured minnow’s last moments. Featuring a metallic style 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.
“Depending on the temperature of the water, Shadow Rap and Shadow Rap Deep jerkbaits certainly could be in play,” DeFoe says. “A Shadow Rap really shines in that 50-degree water-temp range — 48, 50, 52 — with good water visibility.”
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.
“If the fish are not on the shoreline/point stuff, I’ll take a deep-diving Shadow Rap and throw it right down the center of these drains, or guts, that the fish will suspend in as they follow them back to the ends of pockets,” Feider says. “A lot of winter fish will use those drains as they turn into pre-spawn fish. They’re just fish highways this time of year.”
Shadow Raps are not just for suspending fish, however, DeFoe notes.
“In water I like to fish a jerkbait in — that has two to four feet of visibility — I’m fishing it within a foot, two foot, of the bottom the whole time,” he explains. “So I’m catching fish that are holding within a foot or two of the bottom. It’s not like I’m fishing it eight feet down in 20 feet of water.”
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.
If Lake Hartwell’s water is in the 55 to 60-degree range and has risen to flood shoreline brush, Feider says he will likely fish a 360GT “a few different ways – either just on the jig head, as a swim bait trailer or a spinner bait trailer.”
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 bushes or grass, swimming the lure over the tops of them. Pro Tip: Fish shallower on windy days and deeper in still weather.
Terminator Jigs & Spinnerbaits
Featuring a unique head design, the Terminator Pro Series Jig is much more versatile than most jigs. Custom jig-skirt colors, color-matched brush guards, a single rattle and a heavy VMC® Black Nickel hook further differentiate it from other cookie-cutter jigs that all pretty much look the same.
“100 percent, I think I would bet almost anything that I will weigh fish in on a Pro Jig in the Classic this year,” DeFoe says. “Especially if rising water is putting more and more cover in the water all the time. That’s where the jig and spinnerbait I expect will come into play more.”
When water both warms and rises throughout a tournament, DeFoe says, “it’s like most of the fish in the lake — instead of just portion of them at a time — swim to the bank at once, especially if there’s an abundance of cover.” Simple biological realties are the cause. “There’s new life there and there’s stuff that’s getting flooded that has food opportunities in it,” DeFoe explains.
Terminator’s T-1 Original Titanium Spinnerbait features unbreakable titanium construction, a premium ball bearing swivel and a premium VMC® hook. Additional features include: painted, gold or nickel-plated, bevel-edged blades; super realistic metallized baitfish head; and QuickSkirt changeable premium silicone skirts.
“There’s a really good chance of a spinnerbait bite,” DeFoe says.