Top 10 Baits and Patterns: Variety of techniques produced REDCREST success - Major League Fishing

Top 10 Baits and Patterns: Variety of techniques produced REDCREST success

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Dustin Connell used a medley of baits throughout the week, but a new soft-plastic minnow keyed his final-day rout at REDCREST. Photo by Garrick Dixon.
March 20, 2024 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Lay Lake provided a perfect setting for Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Powered by OPTIMA Lithium, as it showcased a multitude of ways to catch Coosa River spotted and largemouth bass. While forward-facing sonar was a popular tool for most of the Top 10, other patterns came into play to make for an interesting mix of fish catches.

Here’s a closer look at the top baits and patterns from the REDCREST Top 10.

1. Dustin Connell — 83-0 (28)

A CrushCity Freeloader served a variety of purposes for Connell during his REDCREST romp. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Dustin Connell took his second REDCREST title despite the added pressure of fishing one of his home lakes. His mixed approach included forward-facing sonar offshore and targeting current-related bass on a scrounger head and spinnerbait in riverine sections of the lake.

“I started fishing around suspended bass on the first day with a gizzard shad Rapala CrushCity Mooch Minnow, which will be released at ICAST,” he said. ” I was fishing it on a new 3/16 (ounce) VMC swimbait head with a RedLine hook that’s also coming out soon. I did that for the first two days but also spent a lot of time upriver fishing isolated rocks, current seams and tailraces for the Knockout Round.”

When fishing the current, Connell went with a 1/2-ounce scrounger head with a CrushCity Freeloader in albino and a 3/4-ounce chartreuse and white spinnerbait with a gizzard shad Freeloader as a trailer.

With two main patterns going, Connell arrived at the launch ramp Sunday morning still determining where to start the Championship Round, as he felt either gave him a chance to win. Safe to say he made the right call.

“I went down the lake and didn’t intend on doing it all day, but I rolled in and got a lot of bites, and they were all big ones,” he said. “The area was two small depressions, almost like sunken ponds; the bait hangs there, and the bass were there eating them.”

2. Alton Jones Jr. — 52-2 (19)

Despite a challenging practice, Alton Jones Jr. finished as the REDCREST runner-up for the second year in a row. Photo by Phoenix Moore

For the second year in a row, Alton Jones Jr. finished second at REDCREST, but he’s OK with it, primarily because of his challenging practice. He ran the gamut of patterns to get there before deciding to go all-in on the jighead minnow bite.

“I don’t have any regrets about this one because it wasn’t a great practice and the finish wasn’t close,” he said. “I did a lot of stuff this week up and down the lake and thought the shallow bite would have been more of a player. All my eggs were in the shallow basket, and on the first day I fished the river before heading down the lake to do the LiveScope thing. I tried the last period for some sight fish I had marked and no more had come up, so I stuck with the shaking a minnow deal for the rest of the tournament.”

Fishing the same general area as many of his competitors, Jones wielded a 5-inch Deps Sakamata Shad in wakasagi and a pearl white and a 4-inch Geecrack Revival Shad, both on 1/8-ounce Owner Range Roller jigheads.

“The Sakamata Shad is bigger, and I used it for the aggressive fish because you could see it better,” he said. “The Revival Shad was better for the finicky fish because it better matched the size of the baitfish.”

One key to his ‘Scoping was adjusting his position based on the day and what he was catching.

“They changed a little bit every day based on the current,” he said. “The first day, they were tucked closer to the bank and became more spread out later in the event. You had to keep scanning around to find them, and it also seemed like they were grouped by size. If you were catching smaller fish, you had to move around a little to find groups of better quality fish.”

3. Ron Nelson — 39-9 (12)

Fast current and bites from all different species made for a fun REDCREST debut for Ron Nelson. Photo by Garrick Dixon

Ron Nelson capitalized on the lake’s upper section of river, fishing the Logan Martin Dam tailrace and catching them as fast as he could cast at times. During a scouting trip before the lake went off-limits, he located several high-percentage areas that would play if the current was rolling.

“I went up there and marked the high spots and boulders in case the water ran during the event. It was fun fishing, turning off my electronics and fishing those current seams,” he said. “You had to stay put and wait for those little windows when they would bite. The best bite was in the afternoon each day, and it seemed like they would eat anything you threw in there when they got fired up.”

To catch his fish, Nelson rotated through a variety of different baits. He had two different Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammers in 3/8 and 1/2 ounce, both in shad patterns with a Castaic Jerky J as a trailer, rigged at all times. He also had an array of different shad colored Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbaits in various sizes on jigheads ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 ounce.

“I’d cast up there with the Jack Hammer and fish it erratically to get the most aggressive fish first,” he said. “I’d make some casts up close to the wall and then slide parallel and pitch to the eddies with the swimbait, because the fish were stacked top to bottom. I was using a Strike King Squadron swimbait head because it has a stouter hook, and you could give them the meat with 20-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon.”

Nelson was all-in on the moving water bite and had to cull through about every species living in Lay Lake.

“There were drum, hybrids, white bass, stripers and catfish mixed in,” he said. “I also have to thank the locals who let me fish beside them. I was on their pond, but they let me do my job.”

4. Takahiro Omori — 36-11 (13)       

Takahiro Omori stuck to his strengths at REDCREST, fishing one bait the whole event. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Regarded as one of the best casters by his peers, Takahiro Omori put on a trick-casting show on MLFNOW! with incredible forehand and backhand casts to shallow cover. He stuck to the shallows and did what he does best, picking everything apart with a chartreuse and white 3/8-ounce Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a hot chartreuse Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ as the trailer.

“I was beating the bank and fishing shallow cover in 1 to 5 feet of water,” Omori said. “It was all for prespawn and spawning largemouth, and I caught them on stumps, laydowns, grass and docks. The key was fishing my instincts and experience.”

Omori fished his ChatterBait on 16-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon and used a Daiwa Tatula Elite 7-foot, medium-heavy cranking rod and 9.1:1 Daiwa Zillion reel.

5. Jesse Wiggins — 32-8 (12)

Jesse Wiggins brought a Smith Lake staple slightly south. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Jesse Wiggins has recently racked up several Top 10s with forward-facing sonar, but he stuck to his roots during REDCREST on Lay Lake with a shaky head along the shoreline, just like he does at home on Smith Lake.

“I never caught a single bass during the tournament with my ActiveTarget, just one scorable in practice,” he said. “I had two things going: a morning bite in the river on a pipe with water running out of it, and the rest of the time, it was fishing for spawning spotted bass in the Paint Creek area. They were spawning on 45-degree banks out of the current.”

In the mornings, he primarily used a 2.8-inch Jackall Rhythm Wave swimbait in SS Shad on a 3/16-ounce Owner Ultrahead Darter Type head.

“Nobody uses a darter head anymore, but I think it’s underrated, and your bait swims a lot differently,” he said. “I also caught a few on a shaky head on the pipe. I’d stay there about an hour each day, as long as they were biting, and then head down the lake.”

His shaky head setup consisted of a 3/16-ounce jighead and a 6.8-inch Jackall Flick Shake worm in green pumpkin that he shortened to around 5 inches long.

“There was some good looking stuff on the main lake, but I never got bit doing it and had to get into the creeks and pockets to catch them,” he said. “At the end of the week, when the water cleared up, you could start to see those light spots, which were beds. Spots like to spawn in 4 or 5 feet of water, just out of visibility.”

6. Jacob Wheeler — 29-13 (11)

Like he has all season, Jacob Wheeler leaned on the Freeloader and Mooch Minnow from CrushCity to log yet another Top 10. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Jacob Wheeler has already done plenty with the Rapala CrushCity Freeloader and his forward-facing sonar, and it was again his primary approach on Lay Lake, but he also mixed in sight fishing as long as he could.

“I still love to get on the bank and spent a lot of time doing that early in the event,” he said. “I had to switch it up and go deeper, because you couldn’t catch them fast enough to keep up and because the pollen was getting so hard that it was difficult to be efficient.”

When he took the forward-facing approach, he had three one-mile stretches, each with critical areas within them that changed every day.

“The water clarity and current flow changed every day, and the fish moved, of course, so you had to relocate them within those areas,” he said. “The main deal was finding where the baitfish were each day.”

Wheeler used two different baits: a Freeloader on a 3/16-ounce VMC Hybrid Swimbait Jighead and a 1/8-ounce VMC Sleek JigHead with the CrushCity Mooch Minnow, both in gizzard shad. For both, he added Bait-Pop in the ice out color.

“The Bait-Pop helped the baits show up better, but the scent was also very important, because a lot of the fish would nose the bait more once those areas started getting more pressure,” he said. “The Mooch Minnow has a great subtle action, like a finesse swimbait, that seemed to get bites when they wanted a smaller bait, and I used the Freeloader when the water was dirtier and needed more drawing power.”

7. Gerald Spohrer — 29-9 (11)

Gerald Spohrer got on a unique pattern and rode it to his first REDCREST Top 10. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Gerald Spoher bucked the predominant trends and primarily threw a lipless crankbait after calling an audible the first morning and changing areas.

“I started off the event on the first day down the lake planning to do the ActiveTarget thing but couldn’t get on any of my areas because 75 percent of the field was down there doing it,” he said. “That told me that hardly anybody would be north of Beeswax, so I pulled the plug and ran up the lake.”

He made a strong surge up the leaderboard after switching gears thanks to a 1/2-ounce Nomad Design Swimtrex Max in the red craw color.

“That’s a special bait for spotted bass because it’s small and compact for its weight with a lot of vibration, almost like a vibrating jig,” he said. “I focused on small flats with direct impact from the current and would fish it on top of the flats or the sides. I also had one island head where I could catch them quickly and then explore more areas if I felt I was safe on SCORETRACKER®.”

Another area he utilized was the mouth of a pocket where a school of fish stacked up. He Power-Poled down on the small, flat point in shallow water and threw to the deeper channel.

“I was using the jighead minnow with a Missile Baits Spunk Shad in a shad color and throwing to deeper water,” he said. “I wasn’t using my ActiveTarget to chase them, just to see the channel. I was set up down current and casting upstream, but the current slowed down on the final day and shut off the bite.”

8. Cole Floyd — 25-15 (10)

Cole Floyd kept his approach simple, using one rod and one bait at REDCREST. Photo by Phoenix Moore

All week, Cole Floyd kept it as simple as possible. He did all his damage with one bait in one general area down the lake, targeting bass feeding on balls of baitfish with forward-facing sonar.

“It was a one-rod deal, and I caught every one of my fish on a Strike King Baby Z-Too in blue glimmer pearl belly on a 3/16- or 1/4-ounce jighead,” Floyd said. “I was targeting those spotted bass at the mouths of creeks. That section of the lake had tons of baitfish, and the bass were congregated everywhere, feeding up before the spawn.”

Floyd said the depth didn’t matter, and the fish were typically high in the water column.

“It was 50 to 60 feet deep, but it seemed like most of the bass and shad were 8 feet or less from the surface,” he said. “The area was about a mile long, and many other competitors targeted those same fish. They got smart by the final day and were hard to catch.”

9. Nick Hatfield — 24-2 (9)

Nick Hatfield mixed in a Neko rig with his jighead minnow program. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Nick Hatfield was part of the party down the lake with forward-facing sonar, but he didn’t start with that plan when practice began.

“I spent most of my practice up shallow but only caught a handful of fish,” he said. “I knew there had to be a LiveScope bite going somewhere, so I went down the lake the second afternoon of practice and got some bites quickly. At first, they were small; then they turned into 3-pounders.”

After seeing that, he was keyed in on the open-water bite.

“All week, I never caught one down deeper than around 12 feet of water, but the boat was always in 20, 40 or 60 feet. The main deal was following around the bass and baitfish.”

While he did catch a few near the bank on a Neko rig during the Knockout Round, the jighead minnow bite accounted for nearly all of Hatfield’s bass.

“I used two baits: a Scottsboro Tackle Co. Sniper Shad and Strike King Baby Z-Too, both on Scottsboro Tackle Hellfire Finesse Swimbait Heads,” he said. “I used a 3/16-ounce head for the deeper fish and when I saw one moving quickly. I used the 1/8-ounce head for fish higher in the water column. All the baits were in different shad patterns; anything resembling a shad worked.”

10. Michael Neal — 18-1 (7)

Michael Neal looked like the man to beat for much of REDCREST but couldn’t get back on track on the final day. Photo by Garrick Dixon

For much of the tournament, Michael Neal looked to be one of the favorites to win before his forward-facing bite dwindled on the last day.

“In practice, the baitfish were very concentrated because of the current, but it got less and less as the week went on,” Neal said. “The fish also got pressured so much that they were terrified of your bait the last day. Instead of going towards it to look at it, they’d swim away the other way as fast as they could.”

His main area was occupied by several others in the field, and nothing was holding the fish besides the massive schools of shad.

“It was all open water around those bait balls,” he said. “The main thing that changed based on the conditions and the day was how deep the shad were. At times, you could see them with your eyes, and sometimes they’d be down 20 feet deep, but the bass was always between 2 and 10 feet below the surface.”

While he tried other methods, the jighead minnow proved to be his best and most efficient way to catch them.

“I tried jerkbaits and other baits, but those spots were swimming around like crazy, and that was the only way you could get a bait in front of them,” he said. “I was fishing a 1/8-ounce Big Bite Baits Swimmer Head and a Big Bite Baits Scentsation Slim Minnow in the smelt color.”