JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. – U.S. Air Force Stage Two Presented by Power-Pole was a unique event, with the first round on Douglas Lake and the final two rounds held on nearby Cherokee Lake. Both provided their own challenges, but the top anglers found a way to crack the code with various tactics.
Here’s a look at the top baits from the event.
Keith Poche had one of the most memorable wins in Bass Pro Tour history, running his 18-foot aluminum Gator Trax boat up the river on Cherokee Lake. Once there, he mixed in several different baits to catch his fish.
His arsenal included Berkley crankbaits, The General stick worm, and a jig with a Berkley Shape 108 as the trailer. But the primary tool was a 4-inch Berkley PowerBait Hollow Belly swimbait in sexy shad.
“That was the No. 1 bait that excelled on the last day,” he said. “You had to cast it into the current and let it work it down. The fish were sitting right on the edge of where the current would form a boil.”
It was another excellent finish for Dakota Ebare, who came up just short of his third win of the young season. While on Douglas, he capitalized on bass feeding on dying shad with various small jerkbaits.
On Cherokee, he still used the jerkbait, but his primary pattern focused on areas with baitfish around the 20-foot depth range with a shad-imitating soft plastic.
“I was looking for areas with a lot of bait around,” he said. “I fished a Strike King Baby Z-Too in pearl blue glimmer on a 1/8 to 3/8-ounce head. I adjusted the jighead size based on how deep the fish were and how windy it was.”
Tennessee pro Michael Neal lives relatively close to Cherokee Lake, but it was his first time visiting the fishery. But first, he had to get there via Douglas Lake. There, Neal relied on a SPRO McStick 110+1 in deadly black shad, targeting wood around the bank and brushpiles offshore.
Once he qualified for the Knockout Round, he switched gears to a Damiki rig that consisted of a 1/8- to 3/8-ounce Big Bite Baits Swimmer Head tipped with a Big Bite Baits Scentsation Slim Minnow in the chick magnet color.
“I was casting to them, targeting bass roaming around baitfish,” Neal said. “The bait was deeper, but the bass sat shallower in 8 to 15 feet of water.”
One of the best with forward-facing sonar and a jerkbait, Spencer Shuffield did just that on both Douglas and Cherokee lakes with a Yo-Zuri 3DB 110 deep in the natural Tennessee shad color.
“That was the best bait for both days on Douglas and the first day on Cherokee,” he said. “The last day, they didn’t want to commit to the jerkbait, and I threw a 2.8-inch Keitech FAT Swing Impact in shad colors on a ¼-ounce jighead to get a lot of those fish to eat.”
For both lakes in play during the week, Justin Lucas kept things basic with a Berkley Stunna 112 in the hankie pankie color. Nearly all of them were caught while he watched them on his Lowrance ActiveTarget.
“Almost every fish I caught during the week was on that bait,” he said. “The key was hitting all the places very close to where they wanted to spawn. I was fishing little points, rocks, and places right next to little spawning pockets.”
To get to Cherokee Lake, Bass Pro Tour rookie Matt Becker mixed it up with several jerkbaits and crankbaits. They included many different brands, styles, and colors.
“A lot of the fish would follow the jerkbait and wouldn’t eat, so I had to show them something a little different at times,” he said. “This allowed me to get some of those followers to bite when I tried a different bait.”
At Cherokee, he used the same jerking and cranking approach, but also caught several fish with a “Damiki Rig” for fish that he saw on his electronics. He used a 3-inch Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm in green gizzard for this technique, fished on a ¼-ounce jighead.
Ott DeFoe, the hometown hero, had a great event by finding success on both lakes. To earn his solid finish, he fished several different baits and they changed from day to day.
“It was different each day, and I used a jerkbait, Rapala OG Tiny, a finesse jig, and a shaky head at Douglas,” he said and added that it was a 1/8-ounce VMC Rugby head with a 4-inch Bass Pro Shops Stik-O in sooner run for his shaky head combo.
At Cherokee, he mixed it up again, finding success with a jerkbait, wake bait, finesse jig, and Storm Arashi Vibe in both dirty shad and hot blue shad colors, depending on water clarity.
Jacob Wheeler scored yet another Bass Pro Tour Top 10 and he did it with a new Rapala jerkbait that will be released at ICAST this summer. The same bait worked at both lakes, but he adjusted the colors based on the water clarity and conditions.
“I never got onto a good deep water smallmouth bite on Cherokee, so I stayed shallow like I was doing on Douglas,” he said. “It was all less than 10 feet deep, and I used the natural and translucent colors when the water was clear and the sun was out, and the white and opaque colors early in the mornings and when the water was a little more stained on Douglas.”
When asked more about the new jerkbait, Wheeler said as much as he’s allowed to before the official release.
“The jerkbait is a 4- to 6-foot diver and one of the keys is that it has the new VMC Redline trebles in #5,” he said. “It’s hard to find a jerkbait with big enough hooks so you don’t lose as many. This bait comes with those new trebles in the perfect size for the bait and for landing more of those fish.”
Todd Faircloth had a great start to the week, leading after a day on Douglas and eventually finishing second in his group. His primary bait there was a Strike King KVD Elite 300 jerkbait in sexy shad.
When the event switched to Cherokee, he stuck with the jerkbait for the first day and switched to a shad-colored crankbait on the final day.
“At Cherokee, I fished the same jerkbait but in the crystal shad color the first day,” he said. “The final day had warmed up some, and I wanted something I could fish a little faster. That’s when I went with the crankbait because I could cover more water.”
Securing his first Bass Pro Top 10, Louisiana’s Nick LeBrun utilized a spinnerbait and swimbait to advance on from Douglas Lake.
“It was a 6-inch Megabass Magdraft swimbait, and I changed out the treble hook for a #2 Hayabusa TBL 930,” he said, fishing it around the marina docks and also mixed in a spinnerbait. “The spinnerbait was a ½-ounce size with a white and chartreuse skirt, and I added a Hayabusa trailer hook on the back.”
Once on Cherokee for the final two days, he opted for a drop-shot with a 4-inch Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm in blue pearl silver flake and rounded out the rig with a 3/8-ounce Elite Tungsten teardrop weight and a 1/0 Hayabusa FPP straight shank hook, casting to fish he saw on his Lowrance ActiveTarget.