Rapala® crankbaits and jerkbaits and VMC® hooks should help Rapala® Pros Ott DeFoe and Jacob Wheeler put big fish in their boats this week in the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour’s 2022 REDCREST championship on Grand Lake of the Cherokees. In pre-spawn conditions on the sprawling Oklahoma reservoir, Rapala® DT® series and OG Slim™ 6 crankbaits should trigger plenty of bites on cloudy, blustery days during the 5-day tournament. Rapala® Shadow Rap® jerkbaits could be key in similar conditions as well. If the sun shines and the winds lays down, however, VMC hooks and jigs dressed with soft plastics should get bit. Additional key baits could include Terminator jigs and spinnerbaits.
“Given the lay of the land and the time of the year, absolutely a shallow-crankbait is going to play,” said DeFoe, who won the 2019 Bassmaster Classic before joining the Bass Pro Tour later in 2019. “Is it going to play heavily? Or is it just going to play some? That will largely depend on the weather we have during the competition, on the particular day.”
REDCREST 2022 will showcase the Top 41 anglers from the 2021 Bass Pro Tour season competing for the prestigious REDCREST trophy and a top prize of $300,000. The field of competitors includes a combined 50 Angler of the Year titles or major tour-level championships. Wheeler and DeFoe will be favorites in the tournament, having “emerged as the superstars of the sport in the past 10 years.”
DeFoe has won three Bass Pro Tournaments, one in 2020 and two last year. Additionally, he won MLF’s 2021 Heritage Cup, an event contested in October 2020 near Waco, Texas, and broadcast on TV in 2021. Wheeler has won five Bass Pro Tour trophies, a Major League General Tire World Championship trophy, the 2021 Bass Pro Tour Angler of the Year award, a Forrest Wood Cup, an FLW Tour Super Tournament trophy and the hardware from an All-American championship. He was the fastest angler in history to hit the $1 and $2 million marks in tournament winnings.
Wheeler agreed with DeFoe that a Rapala OG Slim™ 6 could be a key bait this week. Shadow Rap® jerkbaits could be in play as well, he said. DeFoe agreed on the potential for a good Shadow Rap bite.
“They do catch them there on break-walls and sea-walls, and outside the marinas,” DeFoe said. “Those are definitely structures where they catch fish on jerkbaits. They catch them on the bluffs – bluffs are definitely a big deal there at times. So any of those could be places where those jerkbaits could play.”
Although Wheeler was a bit more tight-lipped than DeFoe with details of what his game-plan and other key baits might likely be, one thing is certain – he is in it to win it.
“For me, it’s just trying to get myself in the best position to win,” Wheeler said. “That’s all you’re there for, really, is to get the opportunity to fish the final day and have a chance to win.”
Both Wheeler and DeFoe have recent history on Grand Lake. DeFoe, recalling a late-March 2016 Bassmaster Classic on Grand and a late-April 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series event there, said weather and water conditions this week might split the difference between those two events. “It should be kind of in-between what we had seen in each of those, I would think,” he said. “The fish should be pre-spawn. I don’t suspect there will be any fish spawning while we’re there.”
Wheeler suspects his game-plan will ultimately favor “quality over quantity,” he said. Grand Lake is “not a place you’re going to generate 20, 30, 40 bites in a day,” he explained. “It’s a place where, typically, ten [bites] is a good day. So you’re going to have to those better-than-average fish.”
Consistent with Bass Pro Tour competition rules, REDCREST anglers “score points” in the tournament by adding up the combined weight of every “scorable bass.” The minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed “scorable” in REDCREST is 2 pounds. Minimum weights are determined individually for each of the competition waters that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.
The five-day REDCREST tournament will be live-streamed in the MLF NOW! webcast at MajorLeagueFishing.com and via the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app. MLF NOW! will be live-streamed on all five competition days, from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additionally, the tournament will be filmed and edited for broadcast later on CBS, the Discovery Channel and the Outdoor Channel.
All 41 REDCREST contenders will compete in a two-day (Wed. and Thurs.) Qualifying Round. The 20 anglers with the heaviest two-day, cumulative weight totals of scorable bass will advance – in two groups of 10 – to the Knock Out Round. Group A will compete on Day 3 (Friday). Group B will compete on Day 4 (Saturday). The 10 anglers with the heaviest cumulative Knock Out Round total weights – 5 from each group – will advance to the fifth and final day of competition, Championship Sunday, when their weight totals will again be zeroed. The angler who catches the most and biggest scorable bass on Championship Sunday, as measured by his cumulative weight total on that day, will be crowned the REDCREST 2022 champion.
DeFoe: OG Slim 6 and DT Series Crankbaits Will Be Best in Cloudy and Nasty Weather
DeFoe described Grand Lake as a “very weather-dependent” fishery. “So when the wind blows, and it’s cloudy and nasty,” he said, bass “bite really well and react extremely well” to moving baits like balsa-body Rapala DT-series and OG Slim 6 crankbaits, the latter of which DeFoe personally helped to design. The inimitable way a balsa-body Rapala crankbait wobbles while swimming and digs bill into the bottom makes it a perfect tool for triggering bites from shallow, early-season bass on waterbodies with little to no vegetation, like Grand Lake.
“So it definitely should be a good tournament for Slim,” DeFoe said. “But if you get a bright, sunny, still day, those are the days you gotta kind of slow down and pick them apart a little more.”
“OG” stands for “Ott’s Garage,” the location of the workbench at which DeFoe carves and sands prototypes of balsa-wood baits he designs for Rapala. “Slim” refers to the bait’s flat-sided body. “DT” stands for “dives to” a maximum depth. A DT-6, for example, will dive to a maximum depth of six feet. Likewise, the “6” in OG Slim’s name references its maximum running depth.
DeFoe will rely on Terminator® and VMC® tackle if crankbait bite cools off
DeFoe won’t go all-in on a crakbait bite. If the weather and water conditions are not suited to crankin’, he will “definitely” slow down and throw some finesse offerings, he said. “If the crankbait bite – due to the weather or whatever – has seemed to have died on me, then I’m going to transition into either, soft plastics or a jig at that point in time,” he said. “My first thought would be a Wacky Rig with a VMC Crossover Ring and Weedless Neko Hook,” he said.
Other key baits could include a Terminator® spinnerbait or soft-plastics rigged on VMC® Rugby Jigs and Terminator Heavy Duty Swim Jigs and Pro Series Jigs. A wild card could be a Terminator frog. VMC and Terminator are Rapala Respected brands.
“A lot of times, you kind of just say, ‘This is what was working, what should be going next?’ And then really plan for that, because so much does change throughout the course of an event,” DeFoe explained. “So it’s very rare that what works in practice is actually what you do by the end of the tournament, as far as baits, and pattern and locations that kind of stuff.”
DeFoe, Wheeler and the rest of the REDCREST field get two days of practice on Grand Lake before the tournament begins on Wednesday, yesterday and today. And although weather conditions in Tulsa are currently cold and stormy, warmer temps and sunnier skies are forecasted for Friday through Sunday.
“You know, if it got real warm and fish got up around any kind of shallow cover, it could even transition into a Terminator frog bite,” DeFoe said. “People don’t always think to pick up a frog, pre-spawn, but sometimes those fish get kind of weird and get super, super shallow, and want to just lay around and enjoy the sun. And when they’re doing that, that frog bite can actually be really hard to beat.”
VMC® Neko Hooks
DeFoe has enjoyed much success in recent years arming his drop-shot and wacky worms with a VMC Neko Hook, which he called “one of the most amazing pieces of tackle” he’s ever tied on. “Since getting them,” he has said previously, “I’ve caught literally hundreds of fish and I can only think of two that I’ve lost.”
VMC’s original Neko Hooks and Weedless Neko Hooks both feature a black-nickel finish, wide gap, 3-degree offset point, resin-closed eye and a forged, long shank. They’re available in four sizes: 2, 1, 1/0 and 2/0.
Shadow Rap® & Shadow Rap® Deep
While most jerkbaits follow a forward trajectory with each twitch of the rod tip, Shadow Raps will also dart side to side and, with a sharp jerk, spin around almost 180 degrees. They move vertically too.
Shadow Raps combine a horizontal struggle with a vertical fade, perfectly mimicking a dying minnow’s movements. They are designed to target bass and other gamefish in two to four feet of water. To catch fish in four to eight feet, there’s a deeper-running model, the Shadow Rap Deep.
Both models come armed with three No. 6 VMC black-nickel, round-bend hooks and are available in 24 color patterns. Each measures 4 3/8 inches and weighs 7/16 of an ounce.
Shadow Rap® Shad & Shadow Rap® Shad Deep
Similar to the Shadow Rap, the Shadow Rap Shad is taller in profile than the former, but not as long. And rather than slowly sinking on the pause — as does an original Shadow Rap — a Shadow Rap Shad slowly rises when stopped, slightly wobbling and perfectly mimicking an injured shad. An all-season jerkbait, the Shadow Rap Shad triggers fish in three ways — on the kick, on the wobbling slow rise, and with a snap back to life.
Shadow Rap Shads come in models that target two different depth ranges — three to four feet and five to six feet. The latter is called the Shadow Rap Shad Deep. Both models come armed with three No. 6 VMC black-nickel, round-bend hooks and are available in 24 color patterns. Each measures 4 3/8 inches and weighs 7/16 of an ounce.
Live In, or Around, Tulsa? Attend the 2022 REDCREST Expo
In conjunction with the REDCREST tournament, Major League Fishing is hosting a FREE, family-friendly Outdoor Sports Expo throughout the weekend, March 25-27 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day at the SageNet Center at Expo Square in Tulsa. Fishing and outdoor enthusiasts will have the opportunity to visit more than 130 booths and vendors, showcasing the latest and greatest in fishing, boating, hunting, camping and more. The biggest names in the outdoor industry will be on hand, including all 80 of the professional anglers that compete on the Bass Pro Tour.