In a week in which bites got harder to come by every day, VMC® hooks helped Rapala Pro Ott DeFoe pull enough big bass off beds and into his boat to win the Major League Fishing Heavy Hitters tournament last week on Lake Palestine in Texas.
“You gotta make those good bites count, and I’m so thankful that we did,” said DeFoe, who has now won four Major League Fishing (MLF) tournaments in Texas. “It was a hard day of fishing, and when it’s the 3-pound minimum like we had today, you have to really make every bite count.”
In the Championship Round of the Heavy Hitters tournament, the minimum weight for a “scorable” bass in MLF’s catch-weigh-release format was increased from two to three pounds. As a result, fewer bass hit the scales in the final round than did in the earlier qualifying and knockout rounds. DeFoe in the Championship Round caught four scorable bass weighing a combined 16 pounds, 6 ounces to win the tournament’s top prize of $100,000.
DeFoe landed most of the bass he caught in the Championship Round on a Texas Rig comprising a 3/16ths oz. VMC Tungsten Worm Weight and a 4/0 VMC prototype hook rigged with a magnum finesse worm in a dark-watermelon-with-red-fleck color pattern.
“Man, I can’t begin to tell you how impressive this prototype VMC hook is,” DeFoe said. “I’d been filming a product video for a new lure with the guys from Rapala and they’d gotten some final samples of these hooks and brought ‘em with. I’ll admit it, I snuck a couple away and put them to the test the past couple of weeks.
“And man, I’ve sore-lipped a bunch of big bass on those prototype hooks, including most of the fish I stuck and landed the in Heavy Hitters tournament,” DeFoe said further. “And they’re still tied onto my rods. These are flat-out the best hooks I’ve ever used – no bending out, no rolling points. Just the ultimate hook.”
Two of DeFoe’s Championship Round bass came on a VMC® Tokyo Rig® comprising a 4/0 VMC HD Wide Gap Hook, a 3/8ths oz. VMC Tungsten Flippin weight
and a “natural-looking” 4 1/2-inch boot-tail soft-plastic swimbait.
“Those two rigs were really key for me this week,” DeFoe said. “Those two main baits did it all.”
In the Championship Round, DeFoe often used his Tokyo Rig to “aggravate” the bedding bass he was targeting. “It’s something that is really good at making those fish mad,” he explained. “Then sometimes I’d go back to the Texas Rig to actually catch them.”
Imagine a drop-shot rig on steroids – with a big ‘ol hook and an indestructible metal leader – that’s a Tokyo Rig. It comprises a VMC 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 it affords a soft-plastic bait, and how it positions its weight below the bait and away from the impact zone. This helps ensure nothing gets between a bass and the hook during your hookset.
After the bass in his main area either disappeared or stopped biting, DeFoe made a “last-minute decision” to make a move in the second half of the tournament’s last hour. In second place with only 35 minutes left to fish, he needed at least a 3-pounder to surpass the leader. Sticking with the sight-fishing gameplan that had been successful for him all week – but in a new area – he took the lead after setting the hook on and landing a 4 lb. 10 oz. bedding bass that snapped at his Texas Rig. Eight minutes later, he hooked and landed a 3 lb. 10-ouncer to increase his total combined weight to 16 lbs. 6 oz, which proved enough to secure the win.
“I was around a ton of fish on the lower end, and there were some big ones, but I couldn’t get anything going,” DeFoe said. “I came back up here for the last hour or so and I got it done.”
Only 24 scorable bass – weighing a combined 95 lbs. 2 oz. – were caught by the ten anglers competing in the Championship Round. In the Knockout Round, one day earlier, 14 pros caught 90 scorable bass weighing a combined 301 lbs. 5 oz.
Weight totals from the qualifying and knockout rounds were not carried over to the Championship Round, in which each of the Top 10 competitors began the day with a zero-weight blank slate and an equal opportunity to win the tournament. By winning the two-day Group A Qualifying Round with 18 scorable bass weighing a combined 57 lbs, DeFoe earned an automatic berth in the Championship Round without having to compete in the Knockout Round.
On the first day of Qualifying Round Group A action, DeFoe caught 11 scorable bass weighing a combined 35 lbs. 9 oz. In the second day of the Qualifying Round A competition, he caught 7 scorable bass weighing a combined 21 lbs. 7 oz.
Better in Texas
DeFoe’s first-place finish on Lake Palestine was his fourth win in seven top-level MLF competitions on Texas lakes in the past two years. “I do enjoy when we come down to Texas,” he said. “It doesn’t always work out in a win for me, but sometimes it ends up pretty good.”
Including his first-place finish last week, DeFoe has won the following MLF competitions in Texas:
• 2020 Bass Pro Tour tournament on Lake Fork
• 2021 Bass Pro Tour tournament on Sam Rayburn Reservoir
• 2021 Heritage Cup tournament on Lakes Nears Waco, TX
• 2022 Heavy Hitters tournament on Lake Palestine
Defoe Catches ‘em on Tokyo & Texas Rigs in Qualifying Round Two
DeFoe led the tournament after two days of Qualifying Round competition, having caught and landed a total of 18 scorable bass weighing a combined 57 lbs. Targeting bedding, spawning bass around shallow cover, his best baits were again Tokyo and Texas Rigs armed with VMC hooks and weights.
“This state has been really good to me and I’m catching them right now like I did in that win on Lake Fork,” DeFoe told MLF writer Mason Prince. “These fish are ridiculously shallow and they love cover. Doesn’t matter how shallow they are, they love cover and that’s what I’m focusing on.”
In the first day of Qualifying Round Group A competition, DeFoe caught 11 scorable bass weighing a combined 35 lbs. 9 oz. “When I could see them, the best thing I could use to get to aggravate them was a VMC Tokyo Rig with a 4 1/2-inch swimbait on the back of it,” DeFoe said. “Something about the way that rig keeps the bait off of the bottom, just a little bit, drives those fish crazy.” His Texas Rig yielded some key bass on that day also.
In the second day of Qualifying Round A competition, DeFoe caught 7 scorable bass weighing a combined 21 lbs. 7 oz. He caught one of those fish early in the day on a Tokyo Rig, but most came on his Texas Rig. Another angler fishing in the area was throwing a Wacky Rig with less success, he noted.
“I feel like I was catching more fish than him because I was throwing the Texas Rig,” DeFoe said. “I tried throwing a Wacky Rig … and they just don’t like that for whatever reason right now. And that’s what it looked like he was throwing. For some reason that Texas Rig is absolutely getting it done. We are in Texas, so – when in Texas, right?”
MLF’s 2022 Heavy Hitters tournament field comprised the 2021 Bass Pro Tour anglers who caught the 32-heaviest five-fish totals. In the qualifying and knockout rounds, a bass had to weigh two pounds or more to count as a “scorable” catch whose weight would be added to competitors’ running totals. In the Championship Round, however, a bass had to weigh at least three pounds to be deemed “scorable.” Minimum “scorable bass” weights are determined individually for each competition waters that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.