NEENAH, Wis. – The final regular-season stop of the inaugural Bass Pro Tour season was held in Neenah, Wisconsin. Evinrude Stage Eight Presented by Tracker Off Road featured competition days on Lake Winnebago, Lake Butte des Morts, and concluded on nearby Green Lake.
Each of the bodies of water fished differently, and even though anglers had an opportunity to ride around the Championship Round site, Cliff Pace chose not to. He was still able to take the title with 47 bass for 81 pounds, 9 ounces during his first-ever trip to the lake.
“I had never seen Green Lake before in my life and had just spent the past three days fishing shallow around grass and mainly for largemouth,” Pace said. “I launched the boat and saw that it was substantially cleaner, so I went with my confidence lures for clear water smallmouth bass.”
Among those confidence baits were a drop-shot, small swimbait, and a jerkbait. Each played a role in his finish, but Pace’s afternoon flurry with a jerkbait was the difference-maker.
Pace started the day by quickly heading to a mainlake point outside of a likely spawning bay and began fishing with a small swimbait.
“I found schooling fish, but it was slick calm because there was no wind, and I only caught a few there,” he said.
He was fishing a 3-inch prototype V&M swimbait on a BOSS Mini Swim Jig Head. His rod of choice was a 6-foot-10 medium TFO Rods Pacemaker Series spinning rod with a Savage Gear reel spooled with 15-pound Hi-Seas braid with an 8-pound Hi-Seas 100% Fluorocarbon leader.
After failing to capitalize on the schooling activity, Pace made a move to another location.
“It was another point but much flatter and more round. It also wasn’t as deep,” Pace said. “There was a mix of rock and short grass, and you could see the bass swimming all over. Some of the fish were still spawning, but it was mostly cruising fish, and it was so clear that you could see them down seven or eight feet deep.”
Pace was able to pluck off several cruising bass that he said were post-spawn and a handful of straggling spawners with a drop-shot rig on the same rod, reel, and line he used for the small swimbait. He used a Jackall Crosstail Shad in the Purple Winnie color with a Size 1 Mustad drop-shot hook and 1/4 ounce Elite Tungsten drop-shot weight.
While the swimbait and drop-shot got him started, the jerkbait was undoubtedly his top-performing lure, and Pace said it came down to both the conditions and his fishing location. He stuck with his drop-shot area and was able to catch many of the bass he saw swimming earlier thanks to changing weather conditions that included more wind and overcast skies.
He fished a Jackall Rerange in the 110 size in two different colors: Matte Pearl White and one that he customized himself. “I scraped most of the paint off of it to make it almost completely clear,” he shared.
That wasn’t his only tweak to the lure as he also swapped the stock treble hooks with short shank Mustad TG76 KVD Elite treble hooks.
“That big front came through, and I was fortunate that the wind was coming right into my area,” Pace said. “The conditions were perfect for a jerkbait, with the waves and overcast conditions,”
Pace also threw the following crankbaits during the qualification rounds: a Jackall Aska in Super Crawfish and a Black Label Tackle CB Balsa in Red Craw. He fished both of these baits on a 7-foot medium TFO TPM Pacemaker Series rod and a Savage Gear reel spooled with 15-pound Hi-Seas 100% Fluorocarbon.