Year in review – Rapala® pros won big in 2020

Balsa-body Rapala® DT crankbaits helped Jacob Wheeler dominate the top ranks of professional bass fishing in 2020, winning three tournaments. Fellow Rapala pros won top tournaments with VMC® hooks and other Rapala baits.

Wheeler threw Rapala DT-14’s and DT-16’s on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula in the spring to win the first Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour tournament of 2020. In June, he threw DT-16’s and DT-20’s to win ledge-fishing-fests on two Tennessee River reservoirs, Pickwick and Chickamauga.

DT stands for “Dives To.” The number in the model name – 14, 16, 20, etc. – indicates the crankbait’s maximum diving depth. DT’s dive to their max-depth more quickly than other crankbaits, spending more time in the strike-zone. Built of balsa wood, Rapala’s signature material, DT’s give anglers an advantage over plastic crankbaits.

“A balsa crankbait triggers fish better than any other type of plastic crankbait does,” Wheeler says.

Major League Fishing pro Ott Defoe agrees – he threw a Rapala DT-10 to win a Bass Pro Tour tournament in March. VMC® Weedless Neko™ Hooks and Tokyo Rigs were key in that victory as well.

On the Bassmaster Elite Series, Brandon Palaniuk won two tournaments in 2020 with VMC tackle. A Storm® Arashi® Glide was key as well in one of those wins. Also on the Elite Series, Patrick Walters won Texas Fest with a Rapala Shadow Rap jerkbait and Seth Feider won a new pick-up truck for catching a 9-pound, 9-ounce bass — the biggest fish of the tournament  — on a Rapala OG Slim crankbait.

In FLW competition, Cody Huff won two tournaments in 2020, one with a Rapala Jigging Rap. In both victories, Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon were key.

Wheeler Wins MLF & FLW Derbies with DT’s

In the championship round of MLF’s Bass Pro Tour Stage 1 on Lake Eufaula, Wheeler caught many of his winning bass out of one school on a DT-14. On Pickwick and Chickamauga, he dredged offshore ledges with DT-16’s and DT-20’s to win an FLW Toyota Series tournament and the first-ever FLW Pro Circuit Super Tournament, respectively.

Because they’re made of balsa wood, DT-16’s and DT-20’s trigger bites from pressured ledge bass better than “harder-thumping” molded-plastic crankbaits, Wheeler says. And there are few, if any, bass that get pressured more heavily, week in and out, than the largemouth in Tennessee Valley Authority-managed reservoirs like Pickwick and Chickamauga. Both waterbodies are beloved by bass anglers for reliable offshore summer bites.

“When they get pressured, you throw this thing in there, it’s a little bit more subtle on the action,” Wheeler explains. “It just triggers those bites. That’s been my key [in the] events I’ve fished on the TVA.”

A DT-20 gets down to a deep strike-zone fast with the help of a metal disk permanently embedded in its ultra-thin polycarbonate lip. Swimming with a side-to-side action only balsa crankbaits can achieve, DT-20’s pull with ease despite the depth to which they dive. Perfectly weighted to hit the water in a nose-down, quick-dive position, they can be easily cast 150 feet.

Three DT-series color patterns triggered big bites for Wheeler in his wins, Caribbean Shad, Citrus Shad and Big Shad. Caribbean Shad is a chartreuse-and-teal “Ike’s Custom Ink” color pattern designed by Rapala Pro Mike “Ike” Iaconelli. It “catches the fire out of them,” Wheeler says. Citrus Shad features a sky-blue/green back, chartreuse and metallic white sides, a chartreuse belly and an orange throat. “Big Shad” features a metallic green-and-purple back, a gold lateral-line stripe, silver sides, a gray-green belly and black shad spot.

Wheeler throws DT’s on Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon. Advance Fluorocarbon is the most supple, sensitive and strong fluoro line Sufix has ever engineered. It features a higher density index than traditional nylon lines, a quality that helps anglers feel bottom and bites better. “It gives me invaluable intel of what’s going on down there” he explains. “That can be the difference of having a bad day or having a great one.”

Wheeler’s main tournament circuit is MLF’s Bass Pro Tour, which he dominated in its first two years of existence. MLF also owns Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) and its numerous national and regional tournament trails. FLW Toyota Series tournament fields comprise top local and regional anglers, as well as numerous top-level pros from the MLF, Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Pro Circuit.

DeFoe Wins with DT®-10, VMC® Hooks

Repeatedly hooking up in a huge school of bass with a Rapala DT-10, DeFoe came from behind to earn his 2020 Bass Pro Tour victory..

“With that DT-10, I was trying to trigger bites,” DeFoe explains. “It was something I could burn through there and really try to get a reaction bite out of them. And that was what did it.”

A 9-pound, 6-ounce largemouth gave DeFoe a lead he never relinquished.

“That DT-10 is doing some work on the large ones!” Defoe exclaimed on camera in the MLF NOW! live webcast of the championship round, shortly after catching the 9-6 and a 5-3 that followed. “I love catching ‘em cranking. That’s my most-favorite-est thing.”

DeFoe won the multi-day tournament on Lake Athens. The qualifying rounds were held on Lake Fork. There, he targeted spawning bass with soft-plastic worms and swimbaits rigged on super-sharp and strong VMC hooks.

In the first day of competition, every scorable bass DeFoe caught came on a long, pink finesse worm wacky-rigged on a No. 1 VMC Weedless Neko™ Hook. In the Knockout Round, he found success targeting spawning beds with a 4-inch, boot-tail swimbait presented on a VMC Tokyo Rig.

“The Tokyo Rig has become one of the most versatile ways to fish with a soft plastic – from punching, flipping and pitching to dragging baits deep and shallow,” DeFoe says. “But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t equally effective on bedding fish!”

Imagine a drop-shot rig on steroids – with a big hook and indestructible metal leader. That’s a Tokyo Rig. It comprises a Heavy Duty hook, barrel-swivel, welded O-Ring, and a 2 ½-inch rigid-wire dropper arm to which you can attach a weight or two of your choice. The Tokyo Rig’s key design innovations are the freedom of movement the lure has, it’s unparalleled and also how it positions the weight below the bait and away from the impact zone. This helps ensure nothing gets between a bass and the hook during the hookset.

VMC® Hooks, Tackle Help Palaniuk Win Two

Palaniuk rotated through VMC-armed Neko rigs and drop-shot rigs and a Storm Arashi Glide Bait to win the Elite Series tournament on New York’s Lake Champlain in early August. A Storm® Arashi® Glide Bait yielded key bass as well.

Palaniuk’s Neko Rig comprised a No. 1 VMC Ike Approved Weedless Neko Hook dressed with a 6-inch finesse worm and weighted with a 3/16-oz. VMC Mushroom Head. His drop-shot rig comprised a No. 2 VMC Neko Hook dressed with a 3.25-inch finesse worm and weighted with a 3/8-oz. VMC Tungsten Teardrop Weight.


In October on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper lakes, a variety of VMC hooks helped Palaniuk win his second Elite Series tournament of the season – Neko Hooks, Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hooks and Hybrid Swimbait Jigs.

Palaniuk’s biggest fish of the tournament – a 7-pound, 12-ounce whopper – came on a Neko™ Hook-armed dropshot rig. His dropshot rig comprised a 1/4-ounce VMC Teardrop Weight and a No. 1 VMC Finesse Neko Hook dressed with a soft-plastic finesse worm.

VMC Finesse Neko™ Hooks feature a black-nickel finish, wide gap, 3-degree offset point, resin-closed eye and a forged, long shank. Numerous Rapala pros have relied on Neko Hooks to win and place high in top tournaments. VMC is a Rapala Respected Brand.

Palaniuk caught additional keepers on Santee Cooper by flipping a punch rig into, and through, mats of surface vegetation. His punch rig comprised a 1¼ oz. VMC Tungsten Weight and a 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook dressed with a crawfish-shaped soft-plastic creature bait.

In one 40-yard stretch where he flipped his VMC punch rig on multiple days, he caught a 4- or 5-pounder in practice and a 7 ½-pounder, 6 ½-pounder and 4-pounder during the tournament.

Designed for light- to medium-weight fishing conditions, VMC Wide Gap hooks offer the advantage of a 3-degree offset point, a trick enlisted by tournament pros for years to increase hook-up percentages. A closed, resin eye eliminates the risk of line slip-through. An enhanced “Z” bend holds soft plastics in place better than competitors’ hooks.

Additionally, Palaniuk caught several keeper bass on a 1/2-ounce VMC Hybrid Swimbait Jig dressed with a 5-inch soft-plastic swimbait. The hook on a Hybrid Swimbait Jig features a wider gap to maximize hook sets and a hybrid bend for extra strength.

Hybrid Swimbait Jigs are 1X strong and made from Hi Carbon Steel with a forged shank. They feature an un-painted jig-head with a 60-degree-angle line-tie and 3D holographic eyes. They have a wide-diameter spring keeper that securely locks soft plastics in place.

Walters Gets Elite Win with Shadow Rap® Jerkbait

Walters threw a Rapala Shadow Rap® jerkbait en route to earning a $100,000 prize for winning the Bassmaster Elite Series Texas Fest tournament on Lake Fork.

He won Bass Fest in impressive fashion, weighing in 20 bass in four days that weighed a combined 104 pounds, 12 ounces. That total amounted to 29 pounds, 10 ounces, more than the 2nd-place angler weighed – a Bassmaster Elite Series record margin of victory.

Walters caught most of his big bass by pulling jerkbaits over fish suspending among the branches of submerged trees. Key among a trio of jerkbaits he rotated through to get bites was a Rapala Shadow Rap.

Combining a horizontal struggle with a vertical fade, Shadow Rap jerkbaits perfectly mimic an injured minnow’s last moments. Unlike a host of similar-looking jerkbaits, Shadow Raps neither rise slightly on the pause, nor strictly suspend in space.

And while most look-alike jerkbaits follow a forward trajectory with each twitch of the rod tip, the Shadow Rap’s action stands out. Not only does it dart side to side, it’ll spin around almost 180 degrees with the right action applied. As a result, it can trigger bites in three phases of your retrieve – initial kick, snap back to action, and on the pause, while slowly sinking, nose down.

OG Slim Helds Feider Win Truck at Texas Fest

Feider won a brand new Toyota Tundra pick-up truck for catching a 9-pound, 9-ounce largemouth — the biggest bass caught in Texas Fest — on an OG Slim crankbait. Texas Fest differs from other Elite Series tournaments in that it awards a separate prize – a Toyota Tundra – to the angler that catches the biggest bass.

Feider caught his 9-pound, 9-ounce lunker on a Rapala OG Slim 6 crankbait in the Green Gizzard Shad color pattern. A non-rattling, easy-casting crankbait that swims with a medium wobble and tight side-to-side action, the OG Slim 6 sports a lightweight, circuit board lip. It 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.

OG Slim 6’s come armed with two No.3 VMC black-nickel, 1X-strong, short-shank Hybrid Treble Hooks. OG Slim 6’s measure 2 ¾ inches and weigh ½ ounces. They’re available in 14 color patterns.

Huff Wins with Jigging Rap® on Table Rock

Huff dropped a Jigging Rap® on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake to win $32,000 and an FLW Toyota Series trophy. His primary pattern was dropping a chrome-blue No. 9 Rapala Jigging Rap on Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon line.

“That was the key to getting bigger bites on the first two days, especially for bigger largemouths sitting in 40 to 70 feet of water over anywhere from 50 to 100 feet from Indian Point down to the dam,” FLW reported. “Once he’d drop on a group of bass, he says it didn’t take long for them to eat if they were going to. A hop or two at most was all it took to trigger them, and oftentimes they’d pounce on it as soon as it got to them.”

Long predominant as ice-fishing lures, Jigging Raps were proven equally productive as open-water baits in the last few years after several Rapala pros won or placed high with them in tournaments. After that, this once-secret tactic went public. Featuring a balanced, weighted minnow profile, Jigging Raps swim in tantalizing circles on the fall. With single reversed hooks on the nose and posterior, and a center treble hook hung from a belly eyelet, they don’t allow for missed bites — regardless of how a fish attacks, it’s running smack dab into a hook.

See Rapala® DT® Series

See Rapala® Shadow Rap® Series

See Rapala® OG Slim 6

See Rapala® Jigging Rap®

See Storm® Arashi® Glide Bait

See VMC® Tokyo Rig®

See VMC® Weedless Neko™ Hook

See VMC® Neko™ Hook

See VMC® Finesse Neko™ Hook

See VMC® Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook

See VMC® Tungsten Weight

See VMC® Wide Gap Hook

See VMC® Hybrid Swimbait Jig

See Sufix® Advance® Flourocarbon

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