For the first time ever, Rapala® pros took three of the top four spots in the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year race. Seth Feider won AOY honors, followed by Brandon Palaniuk in third and Patrick Walters in fourth.
“The 2021 Elite season was one for the Rapala history books,” said Dan Quinn, Rapala Director of Field Promotions. “Three of the top four in AOY is nothing short of amazing!”
“Seth, Brandon and Patrick are a threat to win every single event, and they’re just getting started,” Quinn continued. “They have proven to the world that they are the best of the best, and I can’t wait to see what they are going to accomplish in the years to come.”
Feider, Palaniuk and Walters all hooked and landed dozens of big bass this season on Rapala® lures and VMC® hooks. Feider and Walters also relied on Sufix fishing line to bring bass into their boats.
Feider won the AOY title with 787 points – 61 more than the runner-up Chris Johnston. Read more about Feider’s amazing year here. In third and fourth place, Palaniuk and Walters earned 708 and 668 points, respectively.
En route to his best Elite Series finish since winning Angler of the year in 2017, Palaniuk notched two top-10 finishes (6th on New York’s St. Lawrence River and 7th on Alabama’s Pickwick Reservoir), and two more finishes in the top 15, (11th on Alabama’s Neely Henry Lake and 14th on Florida’s St. Johns River).
“From the early days, when he was sleeping in his truck, to winning five Elites and AOY in 2017, it has been a heck of a ride working with ‘BP’ over the last 10 years,” Quinn said. “He has more than solidified an amazing career and is, without question, one of the best to ever make a cast.”
Walters earned three top-10 finishes this season – 2nd on Texas’ Lake Fork, 4th on Florida’s St. Johns River and 7th on New York’s Lake Champlain.
“Patrick is one of the most naturally talented anglers in fishing, and pairing that with his work ethic, he’s quickly become one of the most consistent anglers in the game,” Quinn said. “I have no doubt that he will be one of the most decorated anglers ever by the time he’s done.”
En route to finishing seventh on Pickwick, Palaniuk caught multiple limits of big bass on a Rapala® BX® Brat, a balsa-body, plastic-encased squarebill crankbait.
“It’s always been one of my favorite spring-time baits when the fish first start to pull up shallow,” Palaniuk said. “It deflects well and I can fish it at slow speeds, even in the current.”
In the four-day tournament, Palaniuk caught four five-fish limits weighing a combined 73 pounds, 3 ounces. Of the 20 fish he weighed in, 16 he caught on a BX Brat. “Blaze” was his best color pattern, followed by the “Change Up” color.
Rapala BX Brat square-bill crankbaits feature a balsa-wood core within a brawny hard-plastic shell. Rapala’s balsa baits famously float up and back out of cover well, minimizing snags. Encasing their balsa core in armor allows Brats to bounce off cover and trigger bites without hanging up often and getting beat up. A modified square-bill lip – its comes to a slight point in the middle – causes a BX Brat to carom off cover differently than other square-bill baits.
Unique flat sides and a V-cut belly give the BX Brat additional swimming action. Its hard-plastic shell adds weight, helping it cast like a dream. BX Brats are available in two models. One dives to three feet, the other to six feet. Both measure two inches, weigh 3/8th of an ounce and come armed with two sticky sharp VMC® No. 6 Black Nickel Treble round-bend hooks. As near-shore depths fluctuate, you can change models and line size accordingly to ensure your Brat is scraping bottom throughout the majority of your retrieve.
On the St. Lawrence River, where Palaniuk placed sixth, he caught big bass on a dropshot rig comprising a No. 4 VMC Spinshot Drop Shot Hook, a finesse-style soft-plastic worm, and a 3/8-once VMC Tungsten Teardrop Drop Shot Weight.
On the St. John’s River, where Palaniuk placed 14th, he caught one of the biggest bass of the tournament – a 9-pound, 8-ouncer – on a Texas Rig comprising a 4/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hook, a soft-plastic bait, and a ¼ oz. VMC Tungsten weight.
En route to placing fourth on the St. Johns River, Walters caught big bass on soft-plastic worms rigged wacky-style on No. 1 VMC® Neko Hooks and secured with VMC Crossover Rings. He threw his wacky rigs on 20-pound-test Sufix® 131™ Braid tipped with a 14-pound-test Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon leader.
VMC® 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.
Comprising a single strand of GORE Performance Fiber surrounded by 12 precision HMPE fibers, Sufix® 131™ G-Core x13 Braid is the most reliable braided line ever made. Featuring reduced internal abrasion, it won’t falter via weak points, guaranteeing reliability during casts, bites and battles back to your boat.
A new product that won an ICAST 2020 Terminal Tackle Best in Category award, VMC® Crossover Rings maximize efficiency for rigging soft plastics and worms on VMC hooks to catch and land big bass. They feature a dual-channel hood for easy Neko or Wacky rigging. Specially designed Crossover pliers enable anglers to quickly insert soft-plastic worms into the rings.
Walters had Shadow Raps and 13 Fishing Loco Special jerkbaits tied on several rods with varying line sizes, throwing heavier line when fishing shallower and lighter line when fishing deeper. He used 12-, 14- and 17-pound Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon.
“As I went shallower, I’d go to bigger line sizes,” Walters explained to Bassmaster.com. “It’s all to present the bait accordingly. …When you find the bait they want to eat, you just have to figure out how to get it at the right depth.”
Developed with Gel Phase Technology™, Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon is incredibly tough, offering superior knot strength and incredible abrasion resistance, while offering the suppleness and sensitivity to help anglers feel those “light” bites. With 50-percent lower stretch than standard monofilament line, Sufix Advance offers exceptional lure control, ultimate bite detection and firm hook-setting power.
On Lake Fork, where Walters earned runner-up honors, one of his top baits was an X-Rap Haku, a Rapala glide bait sold in Europe.
“When rigged for action, the hooks are positioned just like on a regular glide bait, and the rig rests in the lure’s belly groove, out of the way and protected from weeds and snags,” Bassmaster.com reported in a “top-ten baits” photo essay from the Lake Fork tournament. “At hook-set, the hook rig will release from the body, allowing a direct contact to the fish and letting the fish have no chance to use the lure as leverage to break free. The rig also makes removing the hooks from the fish easier, as the body of the lure is not in the way.”
En route to finishing 7th on Champlain, Walters targeted grass edges near flats and channels with a drop-shot rig armed with a No. 2 VMC Finesse Neko Hook dressed with a fluke-style swimbait and pinned to the bottom with a 3/8th oz. weight.