Cody Huff and Brandon Palaniuk Land Top 10 Finishes at BASS Elite on Pickwick

Storm swim baits, VMC® hooks, Rapala® crankbaits and Sufix® line helped Rapala Pro Cody Huff to a runner-up finish Sunday in the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Alabama’s Lake Pickwick, a Tennessee River reservoir. In the same event, a VMC Tokyo Rig helped Rapala Pro Brandon Palniuk place 5th and retain his lead in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.

In earning his highest finish in his first season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Huff caught at least one big bass per day Thursday through Saturday on a Rapala® DT®-16 or DT®-20, both of which are famous as prolific, deep-diving fish-catchers on Pickwick’s famous offshore ledges. He stuck most of the fish he weighed in the first three days on VMC treble hooks hung uniquely on a 6-inch silver spoon. But after his big-spoon bite faltered on Championship Sunday, a small Storm® Largo Shad® swam in to save Huff’s day. He threw the 3-inch soft-swimbait on a VMC® Hybrid Swimbait Jig tied to Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon line.

“The 3-inch Largo Shad bailed me out,” Huff said in a live-streamed, on-stage interview after weighing his final five-bass limit in the four-day tournament. “I caught 20 pounds in an hour on a tiny swimbait on Pickwick – I never hear of that!”

Swimming with a slow body roll and an exaggerated tail swing, Largo Shads feature boot-tails that produce strike-inducing action on both the retrieve and during free fall.

“Look at that! 3-inch swimbait, baby!” Huff exclaimed Sunday afternoon, after catching one of several big bass on a Largo Shad to save his day. “Little Largo Shad, yes! What have we stumbled onto, my friends? … Let’s keep it going!”

A rare combination of durability and fish-enticing action make the Largo Shad an easy-to-fish, go-to soft-swimbait. Leading pros have reported catching 10 or more bass on a single Largo Shad, a feat that few, if any, other soft swimbaits on the market can likely match. Remarkably though, that durability doesn’t hamper Largo Shads’ action – they swim great.

When the scales settled for Huff at the weigh-in late Sunday afternoon, his five-bass limit weighed a combined 20 pounds, 8 ounces. His total weight for the tournament, comprising four 5-bass limits, was 80 lbs, 5 oz. – more than 2 pounds heavier than the 3rd-place angler’s total weight. His runner-up finish elevated him to 4th place in the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race.

“That dude is for real,” Bassmaster Live! Host Mark Zona said of Huff. “We will cover him early and often in his career.”

Brandon Lester, the tournament’s champion, agrees. He told scribe Steve Wright that Huff is among a select group of experienced rookies who previously won Bassmaster collegiate tournaments and “know the deal.” What’s more, he noted, “Huff has won more money in the Ozarks the last three or four years than most guys have won on the Elite Series the last three or four years.”

Hailing from Ava, Missouri, Huff won the 2021 Bassmaster Central Open Angler of the Year title to qualify for the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series. He won with a top-5, a top-10 and a top-25 finish in the division’s three tournaments. Before that, he excelled in collegiate bass tournaments. Fishing for Bethel University, he won the 2018 College National Championship and the 2019 Bassmaster College Series Bracket. The latter accomplishment qualified him to compete in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic.

VMC® Hooks Carry Huff’s Load
Of all the tackle that contributed to Huff’s success on Pickwick last week however, VMC® hooks proved to be the most consistently key. He chose them to arm both his swim-bait and drop-shot rig, and they come standard on the reaction baits with which he caught most of the bass he weighed – his Rapala® DT® crankbaits and his 6-inch silver flutter spoon.

Three sets of sticky-sharp 1X-strong VMC 9650 Round Bend Treble hooks help make Huff’s spoon effective – one on the tail, as is traditional for a spoon, and one on each side, half-way up between the tail and line-tie. The VMC trebles come standard on the spoon, right out of the package, and are touted by the spoon’s manufacturer on its website as integral to the bait’s effectiveness. They ensure greater fish-catching success even in situations such as Huff found himself on Pickwick, where bass in schools he found with his forward-facing sonar were not biting aggressively.

“These sharp hooks are deadly when fish swipe at the bait but don’t eat it,” reads the spoon’s description on its website. In such cases, the bait’s VMC trebles “complete the hook-up” to turn swipers into keepers.

“Tell me that those VMC [hooks] don’t get them!” Huff shouted excitedly Sunday in Bassmaster’s livestream of the event, as he landed a keeper bass. Almost a minute later, those VMC hooks were exhibiting just how tenacious they can be, having not yet conceded Huff’s bass, despite Huff going at them with needle-nose pliers. “He’s not coming off!” Huff exclaimed, seemingly half impressed, half frustrated. “Not today, not tomorrow!”

Earlier in the tournament – during a flurry of bites and bass catches – Huff himself had tangled with his VMC hooks. One of them got stuck in his own knee and he had to yank on it three times while attempting to remove it with the famous “line trick.” He was asked about that experience later on the weigh-in stage. “She was pretty deep,” he said. “But we got ‘er out. When they’re biting that good, you don’t worry about it.”

When, at times, the bass in his schools wouldn’t bite his go-to reaction baits on Pickwick, Huff coaxed a few additional bites with a Drop Shot Rig comprising a 1/2-ounce VMC Tungsten Drop Shot Cylinder Weight and a No. 1 VMC Neko Hook dressed with a long finesse worm.

VMC Tackle Helps Palaniuk Retain AOY Lead
Palaniuk also relied on VMC hooks in the tournament on Pickwick last week. They armed his Tokyo Rigs, Carolina Rigs and Rapala DT-series crankbaits. He placed 5th in the tournament, retaining his lead in the 2022 Angler of the Year race.

In the first two days of competition, Palaniuk caught about half of the 10 bass he weighed on a VMC Tokyo Rig comprising a ¾ oz. VMC Tungsten Slider Weight and a 4/0 Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook.

He threaded on a 5 ½-inch soft-swimbait with the hook exposed, sticking out the back – an ingenious hack that helped him also turn swipers into keepers. On Saturday, Palaniuk caught a key bass on a Carolina Rig armed with a 5/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hook. On Sunday, he threw a little bit of everything.

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