VMC® hooks, VMC weights and Sufix® line helped Rapala Pros Patrick Walters, Seth Feider and Cody Huff earn top-10 finishes Sunday in the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Lake Oahe, a sprawling Missouri River reservoir in South Dakota. Walters finished in sixth place, Feider came in seventh and Huff placed tenth.
Walters caught four 5-bass limits weighing a combined 63 pounds, 8 ounces. Feider’s combined catch weighed only 4 ounces less than Walters’ total. Huff brought 54 lbs, 15 oz. of bass to the scales. Each of them caught multiple offshore smallmouth on drop-shot rigs comprising Sufix line, VMC hooks and VMC tungsten weights.
Key bass came also for Walters on a Ned Rig comprising Sufix line and a VMC jig. Feider supplemented his drop-shot bite with Damiki and Carolina Rigs.
Fellow Rapala Pro Brandon Palaniuk left South Dakota with a 37-point lead over 2nd-place in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) race. With only one tournament remaining in the season, he leads the next-three-closest challengers by 46, 50 and 62 points.
The final Elite Series tournament of the season will be contested later this week, Aug. 26-29, on Mississippi River sections – known as “pools” – that form the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. Elite anglers will launch their boats each morning on Pool 7, near La Crosse, Wisc, but can lock down to Pools 8 and 9 to fish as well.
Fellow Rapala Pro Bob Downey – a Wisconsin native now living in Minnesota – told Bassmaster writers that he expects most Pool 7, 8 and 9 bass to be in summer patterns, but conceded that there’s enough potential weather volatility to keep anglers on their toes.
“It’s late summer, on the brink of early fall,” Downey said. “We could get a weird cold front, but it should be steady temperatures.”
Last week, Bassmaster.com reported, all three pools held stable water levels. Water temperatures were in the mid- to upper 70s and the warm-weather forecast shows possible showers the first and final days of tournament competition.
Walters Gets 2nd Consecutive Top 12 Finish in a Smallie Derby
Walters’ drop-shot rig comprised a ½ oz. VMC Tungsten Drop Shot Cylinder Weight and a No. 2 VMC Finesse Neko Hook nose-hooked with a 4-inch fluke-style soft-plastic minnow, rigged up with Sufix 832 Advanced Superline® and a Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon leader.
His Ned rig comprised a 1/8 oz. VMC Ned Rig Jig dressed with a 4-inch soft-plastic stick-worm.
In placing 6th on Oahe, Walters earned a second-consecutive top-12 finish in a tournament on a waterbody in which anglers traditionally must target smallmouth bass for a chance to qualify for Championship Sunday. In previous Elite Series seasons, smallmouth tournaments were the ones in which Walters was more likely to falter.
“What you have done to change your smallmouth game in the last year has been incredible,” observed Elite Series Weigh-In Emcee Dave Mercer.
“I really appreciate that,” Walters replied. “It’s crazy how much smallmouth change. Every day it’s completely different. … You gotta change with ‘em every single day.”
“I’m just happy to have a Top 10,” Walters added, noting that he spent about $225 in gasoline each day to make a 140-mile round-trip drive to reach and return from his best spots.
Walters got a hot start in the tournament, catching on the first day a five-bass limit that weighed a combined 20 lbs, 5 oz. – the third-heaviest limit of the day and the 5th-heaviest of the tournament.
On day three of competition – AKA, “cut day,” because if you don’t finish in the top 10, you don’t qualify for the championship round – Walters caught a five-bass limit weighing a combined 12 lbs, 15 oz, ending the day in 5th place. “I worked my tail off for that 12 pounds,” he told Mercer on the weigh-in stage. “Actually, I got lucky.”
Walters explained that during competition that day, he had inadvertently flooded his motor at one point, preventing it from starting when he wanted to move to a new location. So he put back down his trolling motor and resumed fishing in the area while giving his big motor some time to rest before he tried cranking it up again.
“I caught everything I weighed in [today] off that one spot,” he said, laughing. “So, you do get lucky sometimes.”
Having predicted he would need at least a 22-pound bag on Sunday for a chance to win the tournament, Walters fished for a W in the championship round. But the “swing for the fences” strategy in bass fishing results in far fewer homeruns than it does pop flys, and it was no different for Walters, who caught five bass weighing a combined 13 lbs, 7 oz. in the championship round.
VMC Armed Carolina Rig Helps Feider Finish 7th and Qualify Again for Bassmaster Classic
Feider, the 2021 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, caught on Oahe four 5-bass limits weighing a combined 63 lbs, 2 oz. – just 4 ounces less than Walters’ 6th-place total. On Championship Sunday, he caught a five-bass limit weighing a combined 14 lbs, 11 oz.
“I caught most of my fish off one place,” Feider said after weighing in his final limit of the tournament. “Some drop-shotting, some Damiki Rigging, some Carolina Rigging – I just kind of ground it out.”
Feider’s drop-shot rig comprised a 3/8 oz. VMC Tungsten Drop Shot Weight and a No. 4 VMC Neko Hook, nose-hooked with a 4-inch, soft-plastic drop-shot minnow, rigged straight on 20 lb. Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon.
The AOY points Feider earned with his 7th-place finish on Oahe were probably enough, he said, to earn him a sixth qualification for the Bassmaster Classic. “I had a great week,” he said. “I think it’s pretty much got me in the Classic.”
While most of the field struggled on Day 3 – total weights were down across the board – Feider caught his heaviest limit of the tournament, 19 lbs, 5 oz. That total – the second-heaviest of the day – jumped him up from 21st to 7th place, qualifying him to fish in the finals. In a weigh-in-stage interview after his 19-15 total was announced, Feider thanked a fellow competitor for giving him “a hot tip” the night before about a technique then working to catch bigger-than-average Oahe smallies.
“That’s what I pretty much caught all of them on today,” Feider said, keeping secret at that time the name or details of the technique. He confirmed after the tournament that he was referring then to Carolina Rigging.
Having qualified for the Classic, but lacking enough points to challenge for a second-consecutive Angler of the Year title, Feider will have no reason to fish conservatively this week on the Mississippi River, a home-state tournament venue on which he has previously earned a runner-up finish. So he’s planning to “swing” – for the fences – and “try to win it,” he told Mercer after weighing in his final limit on Oahe.” I’m gonna give ‘er hell, we’ll see what happens. I can swing now – I don’t gotta to play it safe. So I’m gonna do some crazy stuff.”
Huff Earns 2nd Top-10 Finish in Rookie Season; Has Chance to Win Rookie of the Year
En route to placing 10th on Oahe to earn an impressive second rookie-season top-10 finish,
He caught them best on a drop-shot rig comprising a ½ oz. VMC Tungsten Drop Shot Cylinder Weight and a No. 2 VMC Finesse Neko Hooks nose-hooked with a 4-inch soft-plastic drop-shot worm.
“This lake is very, very interesting,” Huff observed in a weigh-in-stage interview on the tournament’s third day. “It’s a really cool fishery. … It’s a tough code to crack.”
But Huff cracked the code better than most, learning as we went to move up from 32nd place after the first day, to 14th after the second, to 10th after the third. His first three five-bass limits weighed a combined 14 lbs, 5 oz, 16 lbs, 4 oz. and 15 lbs, 9 oz. He swung for the fences on Sunday, but never connected with the bigguns he would need to move up from 10th place. He weighed five for 8-13.
Bassmaster writer Shaye Baker commended Huff’s consistency on Oahe in what was a tough tournament for many veteran Elite Series pros.
“Cody Huff has flown under the radar this week, quietly getting himself into the Top 10 thanks to steady fishing,” Baker noted. “Consistency has been extremely difficult to attain for the Elite anglers this week.”
Heading into the final tournament of the season, Huff is in second place in the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race, trailing the leader by 64 points (543 to 479).
Huff’s previous top-10 finish in his first season the Bassmaster Elite Series was an impressive runner-up effort in June on Pickwick Lake, a famed Tennessee River reservoir.