Tennessee native Ott DeFoe and Volunteer State transplant Jacob Wheeler made the short run over to North Carolina’s Lake Norman to fish the 2023 Bass Pro Shops Redcrest and no semi-serious fishing fan will be surprised to learn that both finished in the top ten. Indeed, it’s increasingly newsworthy in a “man bites dog” sort of way when either or both of them aren’t casting for a title up until the last moments of competition. When the scales closed on Sunday evening, Wheeler was in 4th place and DeFoe ended up 10th, exceptional by any measure except their own unflinching standards.
This year Redcrest, along with the Bass Pro Tour more generally, moved to a “best five” format instead of allowing anglers to weigh and count every fish they could catch. On a lake like Norman, which is chock full of healthy but generally “cookie cutter” spotted bass and a handful of largemouths, distinguishing your catch in that format is particularly difficult. Both of these veteran pros and past champions credited VMC’s new Redline hooks with allowing them to maximize the fish they’d found.
Wheeler Relied Heavily on the Neko
Wheeler has proven himself to be among the most versatile pros who’ve ever lived, equally comfortable frogging in shin-deep mud or dropshotting for suspended roamers in 60 feet of water. This week, as Norman’s bass moved shallow and responded to a number of varied presentations, he kept things simple.
His best catch – a 15 pound, 4 ounce limit – came on the first day of the Knockout Round, but he stayed consistent, never falling below 10 pounds to strategically make each cut and move forward.
“I caught a lot of my fish on a Neko-rigged stick worm, inserting a Neko weight,” the 2021 and 2022 Angler of the Year stated. “I was using a 1/32 to 3/32 ounce VMC® Neko weight.
The key was using the lighter weight around docks when the fish were suspended. A lot of them would bite it on the fall. When I figured out that they were on the bottom, or offshore, that’s when I’d go to the heavier weight.”
He paired his soft stickbait with a #2 VMC® Redline Neko Hook and a 4 millimeter VMC Crossover Ring.
“I lost very few fish this week,” he further explained. “I just consistently hooked them really well, and got just about every fish into the boat.”
As fish continued to flood the banks, Wheeler also sight fished when he found a quality specimen ready to commit. He’s proven himself to be one of the best at the game when he’s looking at them, and while he wasn’t yet ready to divulge his prototype soft plastic that did the damage – after all, he still has tournaments to win – he noted hat he rigged it on a 3/0 or 4/0 VMC straight shank Redline worm hook and a 3/8 ounce VMC tungsten weight.
In order to eke out bites from reluctant, highly-pressured bass on the Neko Rig, Wheeler employed a pairing of 8 pound test Sufix® NanoBraid®,
with a leader of 10 pound test Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon. When it came to sight fishing, he went heavier, with the all-but-invisible Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon.
The third arrow in the all-everything angler’s quiver was a prototype Rapala jerkbait which he similarly outfitted with Redline trebles. “They’re just amazing,” he said. “I was testing out that jerkbait recently and caught 47 straight bass without losing one. That’s a testament to how awesome they are. It’s just insane.”
DeFoe Mixed it Up, But Redlined Just the Same
DeFoe is no stranger to championship pressure. As the winner of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River and a near-automatic annual qualifier dating back to his earliest days at FLW, he never seems to miss a step. Twelve months out of the year you can expect him to get the job done, and he’s particularly deadly with a spinning rod. That’s why it was no surprise that he used finesse gear to catch some critical fish off of beds at Norman.
“I caught some really key ones that way to make several cuts, as well as three key fish that way on the day that I had my biggest bag.” He was remarkably consistent, posting limits of no less than 10 pounds 12 ounces, but could not crack the 15 pound barrier necessary to compete for the trophy. For those wacky worm fish, he employed a pink finesse worm rigged on a #1 VMC® Redline Weedless Wacky Neko Hook. He fished it on a 7’1” medium action spinning rod paired with a 30-sized reel spooled with a main line of 10 pound test braid, and a leader of 10 pound test fluorocarbon.
The sight fishing game was a nice way to complement or top off his key pattern, but his bread and butter was a hard bait. “I caught the bulk of my fish on a wake bait rigged up with those new Redline treble hooks in a size three.
He threw it on 30 pound braid to allow for long casts and maximum hook setting capabilities, although the razor-sharp trebles made the connection all but certain. A 6’8” medium action baitcasting rod paired with a 6.8:1 gear ratio reel sealed the deal. “They were in the backs of guts, some in the middle, and also around docks and stuff like that.”
In both cases, when fish didn’t fully get his bait or were hooked funny in any way, the Redline hooks bolstered his confidence and his performance. “I like the fact that they’re made out of Vanadium Steel. I also really like the PTFE coating, and the way that they constructed the weed guard, but it’s really all about that material. It allows it to be thinner yet stronger at the same time.”
“This was just a great event,” he said in conclusion. “Any time you can make a Redcrest Top 10 it is a good performance.”