An open mind, a gut feeling and a variety of VMC® hooks helped Rapala Pro Brandon Palaniuk win his second Bassmaster Elite Series tournament of the season last week. Among key tackle to the Idaho pro’s win on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper lakes were VMC Neko™ Hooks, Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hooks and Hybrid Swimbait Jigs.
Palaniuk’s open mind helped him throw multiple baits throughout the four-day tournament, not just baits that were effective in practice. His gut feeling led him to return in the championship round to an area that was unproductive on Day 1. And his confidence in the strength and hooking percentage of VMC hooks resulted in him catching his biggest fish of the tournament – a 7-pound, 12-ounce whopper – out of a brushpile on a Finesse Neko Hook-armed dropshot rig.
“I tied up a dropshot and caught a giant,” Palaniuk recalled after weighing in a championship-round five-bass limit that weighed a combined 22 pounds, 11 ounces. “I had not thrown a dropshot all week. I didn’t even know that brushpile was there until today. … You can’t make that stuff up.”
Palaniuk’s dropshot rig comprised a 1/4-ounce VMC Teardrop Weight and a No. 1 VMC Finesse Neko Hook dressed with a green pumpkin/blue flake soft-plastic finesse worm.
“I think it came down to versatility; that’s why I was able to have the kind of day I had,” Palaniuk told Bassmaster.com. “Without that big one on the dropshot, without those two I caught this morning, I wouldn’t have been able to win.”
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 tied on his Finesse Neko Hook dropshot rig after discovering a brushpile while chasing down a seemingly large bass that surfaced farther from his boat than he could cast. “I see a giant one blow up in the middle, so I take off and I’m trying to go after it,” he explained. “Because it looked like a bass eating.”
That’s when he saw a submerged brushpile on his Humminbird 360 Imaging. Convinced the cover held at least two big bass – based on what he was seeing on his electronics – he threw several baits at the brushpile. But everything came back fouled with slime.
So he stopped fishing and took time to tie up a Neko Hook dropshot rig, hoping would both present his bait above the slime and tempt a big bass up and out of the tangle of wood. And it did indeed – a 7-pound, 12-ouncer, no less. But then that monster tried to bury itself back in the brush.
“I have that 7-pounder hung up in the brushpile and I’m fighting it and its head-shaking and I think it’s a catfish, because it’s head-shaking so hard,” Palaniuk recalled. “I land that thing, and I’m like, I don’t know what even to say.”
He hadn’t even planned on fishing in the area in the championship round. Although in practice he caught a 7-pounder there on a Storm® Arashi® Top Walker topwater bait, but he soured on the spot after it only produced a 1½ pounder on the tournament’s first competition day. But while waiting at the dock to launch on championship day, he got a gut feeling.
“For whatever reason this morning … I’m like, ‘I think I’m going back to where we started on Day 1,” Palaniuk recalled. “It just felt right.”
His gut feeling was vindicated when he quickly caught a 3- and a 4-pounder in the area, prior to catching the 7-12 out of the brushpile.
Later in the championship round, Palaniuk caught keepers by flipping a punch rig into, and through, mats of surface vegetation, a tactic that put big bass in his boat throughout the tournament. His punch rig comprised a 1¼ oz. Tungsten Weight
and a 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook dressed with a crawfish-shaped soft-plastic creature bait.
“I caught most of my fish this week punching,” Palaniuk said. “That’s how I caught my [other] big ones.”
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 fishing around tough cover, VMC HD 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, a new VMC product unveiled in July during ICAST, 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. They come in four sizes: 3/16 oz. (2/0 hook, 4 per pack); 1/4 oz. (2/0 hook, 4 per pack); 5/16 oz. (3/0 hook, 4 per pack); 3/8 oz. (3/0 hook, 3 per pack); 1/2 oz. (4/0 hook, 3 per pack).
VMC Crossover Rings Help Schultz to Top-5 Finish
VMC tackle also helped Rapala Pro Bernie Schultz to a top-5 finish on Santee Cooper lakes. His best tactic was “skipping cypress trees” with a wacky-rigged senko on a Neko Hook and held in place with a VMC Crossover Band, a new product that won an ICAST 2020 Terminal Tackle Best in Category award.
“There were certain things to look for, where you could kind of put yourself in the right high-percentage areas,” said Schultz, who placed 5th in the tournament. “Point trees were good. You had to fish really slow. … If you don’t hit the tree with the bait, you’re probably not going to get bit. … Most of them, it had to hit the tree and fall just right and they’d start walking off with them.” The other key to this pattern was having confidence in his line, 10# Sufix 832 for his mainline which was tied directly to a section of 10# Sufix fluorocarbon leader material. “I have so much confidence in 10# Sufix 832, like landing tarpon in excess of 100# with it confidence!”
VMC’s innovative new Crossover system maximizes efficiency for rigging soft plastics and worms on VMC hooks to catch and land big bass. The system comprises patent-pending Crossover Rings, which feature a dual-channel hood for easy Neko or Wacky rigging, and pliers specially designed to quickly insert soft-plastic worms into the rings.
Crossover Rings are available in three colors (clear, black, green pumpkin) and five sizes (4, 5, 6, 7, mm). They come 10 per pack. Made of lightweight, durable plastic, Crossover Pliers come with built-in compartments within the handles to store and organize Crossover Rings. Each pair of pliers comes with four 6 mm Crossover Rings.