Top 10 baits and patterns: Minnow shaking keeps dominating on Dale Hollow - Major League Fishing
Top 10 baits and patterns: Minnow shaking keeps dominating on Dale Hollow
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Top 10 baits and patterns: Minnow shaking keeps dominating on Dale Hollow

Image for Top 10 baits and patterns: Minnow shaking keeps dominating on Dale Hollow
Jacob Wheeler continued CrushCity's reign of terror over the 2024 season with his win at Dale Hollow Lake. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Jacob Wheeler.
April 18, 2024 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

BYRDSTOWN, Tenn. — PowerStop Brakes Stage Three Presented by Mercury on Dale Hollow Lake provided the perfect venue for a forward-facing sonar shootout. The timing of the event, the lake’s clear water and ample largemouth and smallmouth bass allowed the jighead minnow to dominate, with Jacob Wheeler employing the technique to claim his eighth Bass Pro Tour win.

While all but one angler in the Championship Round heavily utilized their forward-facing sonar, they varied a bit in the baits and approaches they used to make the final day. Here’s a look at the top baits and patterns from legendary Dale Hollow.

1. Jacob Wheeler — 116-6 (39)

Jacob Wheeler’s winning bait at Dale Hollow should be no surprise at this point. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Wheeler secured his second win of the season and back-to-back regular-season victories with the help of a jighead minnow. He ran his game plan to perfection all week, saving key areas for the final day, which were also helped by the conditions during the week.

“In practice, I started to run around and catch fish everywhere from 5 to 45 feet of water, but the best bite was for fish suspended around baitfish,” he said. “I thought that bite was going to go away, but the rain muddied up the water, and the wind pushed an insane amount of bait into certain areas, making the bite 10 times better.”

During the qualifying rounds, Wheeler strategically sampled several areas, caught what he felt he needed and then kept looking. This decision-making process was a key factor in his success.

“I’d go into a zone for 25 minutes here, 45 minutes in another and see what I needed to see and kept moving,” he said. “I honed it in and had two main zones by the Knockout Round that I thought could go the distance, places with lots of fish that were big areas.”

On the final day, he picked his winning area because of the wind direction and went to work immediately with a Rapala CrushCity Mooch Minnow in gizzard shad and green shad, racking up more than 70 pounds in the first period. He rigged the baits on VMC Hybrid Swimbait Jigs in multiple sizes, which he said was key. Wheeler also utilized Bait Pop Sonar Intensifier, which he says helps him see his baits in the water 20% better.

“It was all about the Mooch Minnow this week because the fish were mainly eating threadfin shad and wanted something subtle, but I did catch some early in the week on the (CrushCity) Freeloader,” Wheeler said. “One of the biggest things was the jighead size. I used everything from a 1/8-ounce to a 5/8-ounce and would change it based on how deep the fish were, how much time I had to get to them if they were moving and based on how pressured I thought they were.”

Wheeler presented the baits on either a 7-foot, medium Jacob Wheeler Signature Series spinning rod from Duckett Fishing (for the lighter jigheads) or a 7-1, medium Jacob Wheeler Select rod (for heavier heads). He used Shimano Vanford 2500 reels with 8-pound Sufix Nanobraid tied to a 10-pound Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon leader.

2. Michael Neal — 85-10 (28) 

Michael Neal gave Jacob Wheeler a run for his money early in the Championship Round. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Neal was the only one to make a serious run at Wheeler on the final day, and he did it with the help of something that had worked for him all week – targeting suspended bass with a jighead minnow.

“It was all jighead minnow for me, fishing around bait balls that were around 20 feet off the bottom in 40 feet of water,” Neal said. “I had six areas like that to start the event with big concentrations of bait, but by the final day, I only had one. Every day, the areas would change a little bit as the bait moved around with the wind.”

Neal tossed his minnows on either a 6-10, medium-light Denali Lithium Pro rod or 7-6, medium Denali Kovert, using the former for 1/8-ounce jigheads and the latter for 3/8-ounce presentations. He used 10-pound Sunline Overwatch braid to a 12-pound Sunline Shooter leader. His best bait was a Big Bite Baits Scentsation Slim Minnow in smelt, which he affixed to a Big Bite Baits Swimmer Head.

“The bait color had to be something that wasn’t too bright; you couldn’t have anything too flashy,” he said. “Most of the tournament, I used a 1/8-ounce head because the fish were high in the water column, but I had to use 3/8-ounce the final day because it was so windy.”

3. Spencer Shuffield — 85-5 (29)

Always a threat when he can use forward-facing sonar to target suspended fish, Spencer Shuffield utilized a jighead minnow to advance to the Championship Round at Dale Hollow. Photo by Tyler Brinks

After finishing second to kick off the season on Toledo Bend, Shuffield had another excellent showing on Dale Hollow. He achieved both with a similar approach — a jighead minnow while watching his forward-facing sonar.

“I focused on the middle section of the lake between Wolf River and Mitchell Creek, primarily between 10 and 20 feet of water,” he said. “I was targeting largemouth that were following around bait balls and also catching smallmouth that were sitting above grass.”

His key bait this week was a 3.5-inch Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ in electric shad or smokey shad, both on a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce Queen Tackle L.S. Tungsten Jig Head. He paired a 7-3, medium-light Ark Reinforcer spinning rod with a new Ark Gravity reel, which he spooled with white, 15-pound Yo-Zuri SuperBraid to an 8-pound Yo-Zuri SuperFluoro leader.

4. Drew Gill — 78-8 (27)

Red-hot rookie Drew Gill is up to two top-five finishes in three career BPT events. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Fishing deeper than most, Gill rode his jighead minnow and forward-facing sonar to his second top-five finish in just three events on the Bass Pro Tour.

“I was chasing wind and targeting bass that were chasing bait,” he said. “I was fishing for the deeper fish because it gave me the best bite ratio. I was fishing in 22 to 30 foot of water around 40 feet deep.”

Gill had several different areas, but his primary area was perfect for holding baitfish and bass.

“It was a very natural funnel area with gravel and clay on the banks and one drain running through it,” he said. “The bait piled up in there, and I was catching them with a 4-inch Big Bite Baits Jerk Minnow in alewife on a 3/8-ounce ball head.”

Gill threw his jighead minnow on a 7-6, medium-light, extra-fast Ark Invoker Tour spinning rod, using braid to a 10-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader.

5. Alton Jones Jr. — 74-0 (23) 

Alton Jones Jr. just keeps stacking up Top-10 finishes on the Bass Pro Tour. Photo by Tyler Brinks

Fishing alongside his father in the Championship Round, the younger Jones continued his fantastic recent run. Last week, it was all about the jighead minnow and his forward-facing sonar.

“I looked for flatter banks — not just big flats, but any flatter feature seemed to stand out and were way better for concentrations of bass,” he said. “I also caught a lot of fish the last day around the brush. They were sitting above it and would come up to get the bait. You’d think that would be a largemouth thing, but most of those fish around the brush were smallmouth with a few largemouth mixed in.”

Jones used a Deps Sakamata Shad and a RAID Japan Super Fish Roller, both in 5-inch sizes, with a host of different jighead sizes. He tied them to 15-pound Cortland Master Braid with a 12-pound Cortland XTR fluorocarbon leader, wielding his minnows on a prototype mid-strolling spinning rod he’s working to develop with Kistler Rods.

“They were all shad colors; something with some silver in it was key,” Jones said. “I used a variation of jigheads from 3/32 to 3/8 ounce depending on the wind and how the fish were positioned. The heads were from all different brands, but the Owner Range Roller was the best for me.”

6. Marshall Robinson — 61-14 (21)

Whether targeting spawning smallmouth or bass chasing bait, Marshall Robinson leaned on a jighead minnow. Photo by Garrick Dixon

The young Bass Pro Tour rookie had a great showing, leading his group into the Knockout Round. He had success those first two days by targeting spawning areas before switching it up once that bite fizzled in the Knockout and Championship Round.

“Most of the fish I caught the first two days were spawning, and I wasn’t out chasing the bait balls,” Robinson said. “I was targeting areas with steeper banks where a channel swing came in. The best places were slate rock mixed with gravel that formed a little shelf in 5 to 15 feet of water. It was textbook for spawning areas.”

He struggled in the Knockout Round when that bite disappeared, so he switched gears.

“The bite changed on me, so I started looking for places where the wind was blowing baitfish into areas,” he said. “I ran that deal for the rest of the tournament because I knew it was the only way to make up ground and catch big numbers.”

Robinson primarily fished a Yamamoto Scope Shad in sexy shad and Tennessee shad but also rotated through several other baits. He rigged both on homemade ball heads, casting them on a 6-8, medium-light Phenix K2 spinning rod spooled with 10-pound braided main line and a 10-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon leader.

“The fish were educated and you had to keep showing them something different,” he said. “I used a 3/8-ounce jighead for speed because I felt like they got too good of a look at the bait with a lighter head. Even on the shallow spawning fish, the heavier head was key.”

7. Dustin Connell — 60-14

The other half of the CrushCity crew, Dustin Connell used the same approach that has already landed him two victories in 2024. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Connell secured yet another top finish with his Lowrance ActiveTarget forward-facing sonar, but it was a little bit of a surprise to him. His preconceived notions of the lake were a little off.

“I came in and thought there would be a lot more fish on beds,” he said. “Honestly, I think most of the smallmouth here spawn super early. Every bass I caught, except for a couple, were spawned out. The best areas for me were flats and areas where the fish were chasing bait around the flats.”

Focusing on the middle section of the lake, Connell utilized the same Rapala CrushCity Mooch Minnow that helped him win REDCREST (which is slated for public release at ICAST this summer), as well as a smaller minnow-style bait.

“The Mooch Minnow was a big player, and I used the smaller bait because the fish were keyed on tiny bait,” Connell said. “I fished them on a 3/16- and 1/4-ounce VMC RedLine swimbait jighead.”

8. Justin Lucas — 38-4 (13)

Justin Lucas mixed both largemouth and smallmouth to make the Championship Round. Photo by Tyler Brinks

Instead of targeting fish roaming and chasing bait, Lucas primarily keyed on flats for fish moving up to spawn, finding them tucked snug to the bottom.

“I focused on flat points and caught both largemouth and smallmouth. It was about 50/50 for both species,” he said. “I stayed on the main lake and fished between 8 and 20 feet of water. I found some other fish on bait in practice, but they vanished, and the only way I could catch fish was targeting these staging fish.”

Lucas caught most of his bass with a 3-inch minnow imitator on a 3/16-ounce jighead but also mixed in a 2.5-inch Berkley Powerbait MaxScent Tube in green pumpkin rigged on a homemade 3/16-ounce tube jighead on the final day. He used a 7-1 Abu Garcia Zenon BFS spinning rod paired with a Zenon X 3000 reel for both applications, spooling them with 8-pound Berkley X5 braid to a 10-pound Berkley Trilene fluorocarbon leader.

9. Keith Poche — 36-12 (14)

Keith Poche did what he normally does, chasing shallow largemouth and making it work. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Poche is known for going against the grain and finding fish that others miss, and that’s what he did at Dale Hollow. He was the only angler in the Championship Round not using a jighead minnow, opting instead for flipping, pitching, and targeting spawning largemouth.

“The first two days were mainly bed fishing for me. I marked about 50 of them in practice,” Poche said. “I also caught fish that were moving up to spawn by pitching to standing trees, willow, and bushes way back in the creeks, where the water was a little dingy.”

Poche caught his fish using a 3-inch Berkley Powerbait Pit Boss with a 3/8-ounce weight and 4/0 flipping hook. His other top bait was a 3/8-ounce Berkley F19 Flipping Jig with a Berkley Shape 108 Craw as the trailer. He used a Fenwick World Class 7-5 heavy rod with an 8.3:1 gear ratio Abu Garcia Zenon X reel for both presentations.

“Everything was green pumpkin for the baits; I kept it pretty simple,” he said.

10. Alton Jones — 20-7 (7)

Alton Jones joined his son, Alton Jones Jr., in the Championship Round at Dale Hollow. Photo by Tyler Brinks

Like most of the anglers fishing the final day, Jones was shaking a jighead minnow. He did most of his damage close to takeoff, primarily with smallmouth.

“I stayed in this arm the whole time, and more than half of my weight came within sight of the marina,” he said. “I went down as far as 10 miles away, and the main thing was focusing on flatter banks and points with gravel.”

Using a 7-3, medium-light Kistler Z Bone rod paired with a Kistler Chromium spinning reel, Jones fished a 5-inch Deps Sakamata Shad or Strike King Z-Too in shad patterns and paired them with a 1/8-ounce jighead. Not only did he opt for a lighter jighead than most of his competitors, he tied it to a 3-foot section of 14-pound fluorocarbon leader on 20-pound braided main line. That shorter, heavier leader helped him float the bait above the fish without reeling it back to the boat.

“The fish were suspended, and you had to bomb it out to them,” he said. “Once you see them rocketing up, you can start working the bait, and the lighter head allows you to hover the bait. You can’t keep it perfectly still, but you can get pretty close.”

Late in the final day, he also caught a few bedding bass.

“I was retying and drifted into a pocket and saw one sitting on a bed,” he said. “I was way behind, so I decided to have fun and catch some spawners. I had a big old time.”