Bassmaster Classic Winning Gear

1st Place: Randy Howell

Howell spent most of day 1 just running around and junk-fishing. He targeted grass, wood and rocks at various points of the day and caught fish on a crankbait, a spinnerbait and a bladed jig. He popped a 6-07 late in the day to eclipse the 20-pound barrier and his sack put him at the very bottom of the initial Top 12. It was then that he made his faulty prediction. "Twenty pounds isn't a great day for Guntersville and it's going to have to be my worst day, by far, if I'm going to have a chance," he said. Although his second-day bag was down by 10 percent, he was able to dial in on the riprap cranking program. He caught far more keepers than he had the previous day and even though most were on the smallish side, he was convinced that the bigger specimens were about ready to move up onto the rocks where the shad buffet was laid out for them. Also, the day-1 pace-setters (Randall Tharp, Edwin Evers, David Walker, et al) had also come in lighter, and Howell was only 9 pounds back going into the final day. The consensus was that anybody within 10 still had a shot at the crown. His original plan for day 3 was to return to Mill Creek, where he'd caught all of his weight the previous day. However, after pulling away from the launch, he made an instinctive decision to head for Spring Creek instead. He felt that the fish populations in both places were roughly equal in terms of quantity and quality, but Spring Creek receives much more angling pressure on a day-in, day-out basis. Still, he opted for Spring because those fish had yet to be worked over during the tournament, simply because they hadn't started biting. "I'd fished all of those causeways in the different creeks every day and I was shocked when I'd catch no fish or maybe just one. When I pulled up that morning, the water temperature was up to the middle 50s. The time was right." Boy, was it ever!

For the first 15 minutes, he caught a quality fish on almost ever cast with a Rapala DT6. The fourth one he put in the box was a 7-03, and that one fully validated that Spring Creek had been the correct call. Before the first hour was over, he'd exceeded his day-1 weight. When the DT6 action cooled off, he switched to a prototype Livingston Lures Pro Series medium-diving plug that he'd only had since Thursday and had never thrown. It was in a bag of baits given to him by fellow Livingston pro-staffer Byron Velvick at Media Day. "I threw it in the water and started reeling it back and I could feel that it vibrated really hard it rattled the rod tip. I said, 'This is the bait that's going to catch them right here.''' He doesn't know how many fish he caught during the remainder of the day he estimated maybe 40. He eventually culled out all of his 4-pounders in favor of specimens that were 5 or better. Late in the day he made a quick trip to the back of the creek and used a bladed jig to pull one that was over 6 from a grassy area. That fish supplanted a 5 on his stringer and likely provided his winning margin.

Winning Gear:

Shallow-cranking gear: 7-foot medium-light Daiwa Tatula rod, Daiwa Tatula casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 12-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, Rapala DT6 (demon). Demon is part of Rapala's Ike's Custom Colors series. Howell said he picked up several of those baits while serving as an instructor along with Mike Iaconelli at a recent session of The Bass University, then obtained three more from Rapala pro-staffer Brandon Palaniuk prior to day 3.

Deeper cranking gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Daiwa Steez rod, Daiwa Steez casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 14-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line, prototype Livingston Lures Pro Series medium-diver (red craw). His bladed jig was a Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits creation called the Fizzle. He threw it on a 7'2" medium-heavy Tatula rod with a 6.3:1 ratio Tatula reel and 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon.

Main factor: "Having a little bit of local knowledge about Spring Creek and the other creeks and knowing the history of how those places turn on when the conditions get right."

Performance edge: "That Livingston bait. Before I threw it I didn't even know how it worked, but it had the perfect mixture of vibration and sound. I'd caught all I could catch with the DT6 and the other baits and I ended up culling everything except that one 7-pounder."

Bassmaster Classic Winning Pattern Bassfan 2/25/14 (John Johnson)

2nd Place: Paul Mueller

Mueller said he was targeting irregularities with grass nearby. I was looking for inside turns and points in that area because it was all irregularities," he said. "If you had a clump of eelgrass next to an inside turn or a point, that's where the big ones were sitting. The males were all over the place, but the key was that grass. It was thick and healthy. I think, even though the water was warming up, they never moved. They didn't have to. There was so much grass there." He said the grass topped out at 3 feet and then dropped in 7 feet with a 10-foot channel behind him. "I was sitting on 7 or 8 feet and throwing into 3 to 7 range," he added. "It was an old creek channel off the main river. It didn't have milfoil. There were little points off that channel in 3 to 7 feet." He said slow-rolling the ChatterBait, then popping it free from the grass was the key to triggering reaction strikes. "They'd sit on the upside of the point and I'd throw that ChatterBait and slow-roll it and they'd react to that. The difference when you're throwing the trap in the grass is if you reel it slow, it would get buried in the grass. With the ChatterBait you can slow roll it. I just creeping it through there. "The ChatterBait could get through the eelgrass no matter how you retrieved it. If you went too slow, it would get buried and you'd have to pop it. I'd work it slow enough to where it would get hung up a little bit and then I'd give it a short pop and a lot of times on that short pop, boom, they'd hit it."

Gear:

ChatterBait gear: 7'3" heavy-action Dobyns Champion casting rod, Daiwa Lexa 100 casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 14-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, 3/8-oz. Z-Man ChatterBait Elite (sexy shad), 4" Reins Fat Rockvibe Shad trailer (clear pearl silver). He chose the Elite model of the ChatterBait because it's constructred with a stout 5/0 Gamakatsu hook. "If I hooked a big one, I didn't want any flex," he said.

Main factor: "When I put the Reins Fat Rockvibe Shad on a ChatterBait, it rolls side to side so it looks a lot like something you'd put on a scrounger head. You'd have the vibration of the ChatterBait, but the swimbait would be rolling side to side. I was slow rolling it over the tops of the eelgrass."

Performance edge: "I have two Lowrance HDS-12 touch screens. To me, they were huge. I have it set to be 90 percent map and 10 percent sonar. I didn't rely on the sonar part because you couldn't really see them. You didn't want to be on the grass because you'd be spooking them. I'd be watching where my boat was in relation to the next contour. The biggest key for that was the Navionics Platinum chip because you could see all the little irregularities. Once you caught them, you could look on the map and tell where you could catch another one."

Classic Runner-Up Pattern Bassfan 2/26/14 (Todd Ceisner)

3rd Place: Edwin Evers

Evers said he found the area in Goose Pond that he ultimately fished during the tournament on the second day of practice. "It was the first time I'd ever fished in there," he said. "I really didn't know if it had any history or not." He said the water was warmer in there than most other places he practiced and by the final day of competition it got up to 60 degrees. "I fished the little bays where they were fixing to spawn next to the gator grass," he said. "I caught them over the grass and out in front of it on days 1 and 2." On the final day, he had to move shallower to trigger bites. "I got a lot of bites," he said. "I just didn't get the 10-pounder I needed. If we hadn't see those changes in conditions like we had, it probably would've been a different game."

Gear:

Shallow cranking gear: 7' medium-action Bass Pro Shops cranking rod, CarbonLite casting reel (5.2:1 gear ratio), 10-pound XPS fluorocarbon line, Megabass Flap Slap (sexy French pearl), Megabass Knuckle 60 (Bahama pearl).

Vibrating jig gear: Same rod, same reel, 20-pound XPS fluorocarbon line, homemade vibrating jig (green-pumpkin).

Main factor: "I just expanded on the area I'd found. I stayed in there the whole time. I just locked down in that area and stayed with it. There are so many in this lake that I think you could pick any major pocket anywhere on this lake and there are tournament-winning fish in there anywhere. I locked down in there. Maybe it hurt me, but maybe it helped me."

Performance edge: "The new SpotlightScan is a neat deal on the Lowrance. Being able to see that grass out in front of me and how detailed it is makes it a great tool."

Classic Patterns 3-5 Bassfan 2/27/14 (Todd Ceisner)

4th Place: Ott Defoe

EOtt DeFoe now has two Top-5 finishes in three Classics and he can attribute his latest impressive performance to adjusting to the conditions. He'd visited the lake for about 2 days in December, but had a general idea what was going to happen come tournament time. "After about 2 hours on the water, I was ready to go home," he said. "I've been here enough and I know the lay of the land so catching them then didn't matter." In practice, he caught fish on a little bit of everything in shallow and deep water. He entered the competition without a firm grasp on what would be his go-to pattern or strategy. "The 3 days of practice, it was so cold and so much had changed," he added. "I caught four on the first day of practice, then I had 15 bites on Saturday and caught 10. I had 10 bites Sunday and caught three. It was some here and some there. I got bit on a jig shallow and deep, a swimbait, a jerkbait and couple different crankbaits and a few lipless baits. "There was no rhyme or reason to it. Wednesday was no better. On Friday, I said it is what it is and decided to fish what looked good." He ultimately cranked bridges, riprap banks and causeways on days 1 and 2. "The thing that made that really good was after that storm came through and dropped 3 or 4 inches of rain, I was fishing those in creeks and I didn't expect it but that big rain was pushing a lot of water out of those creeks and that really set those fish up the first 2 days," he said. "The first place I stopped I caught three pretty quick. Then I went to another area that had been really clear where I'd actually seen some fish just cruising around. That area got really dirty, but in front of it was some riprap with some current pushing them back and forth. Once I figured that deal out I sensed I was onto something, so I found a couple different places and caught them doing that." On day 3, the current around those areas tapered off and he shifted his attack to main-lake spots and was able to sew up a third 20-pound stringer. "I would've liked to have started fishing bridges earlier on day 1," he added. "I'd caught three, but they were three that didn't matter and I knew that when I caught them."

Gear:

Crankbait gear: 7'8" medium-heavy Fenwick Elite Tech casting rod, Pflueger Supreme casting reel (5.4:1 ratio), 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, Rapala DT-6 (custom pumpkinseed color). He also caught some fish on a jerkbait, but the majority of his keepers and bigger fish came on the DT-6.

Main factor: "Getting big bites and getting them in. I had a 5 1/2 or 6 the first day, a 7 1/2 on day 2 and an 8-04 on day 3. Getting those bites, period, was huge, but it was important to land them."

Performance edge: "That new Fenwick rod and the VMC hooks on the DT-6 were big in terms of confidence that I could get those fish into the boat."

Classic Patterns 3-5 Bassfan 2/27/14 (Todd Ceisner)

5th Place: Randall Tharp

If the Classic had been held on the weekend of the 3-day pre-practice period, Randall Tharp thinks his chances of winning would've gone way up. Instead, the weather started to trend warmer for the tournament and much of his local knowledge fell by the wayside by the time Sunday rolled around. "My odds would've way better had the water stayed in the 40s and normal conditions," he said. "All that flow and the water warming up so rapidly, I saw real quick they were right on the bank. That's what I figured out (on day 3). "Unfortunately, I don't have much experience here fishing the bank. All of the times I've fished here, just the last 4 or 5 years, I fish docks just because I've gotten proficient and good at it." He mainly fished main-river grass ledges that had points and a mixture of milfoil and eelgrass, throwing lipless cranks and jerkbaits. On day 3, that pattern began to fade and he fished a stretch of docks he knows is historically good. "There are two key pine trees on a point in a spawning cove and that's where I lost that big one," he said, referring to a 9-pounder that slipped away. "I'm not happy that I didn't make the right adjustments. It's a 3-day event and in every multi-day event, you have to make decisions and the correct adjustments." Dating back to last fall, he's posted two wins (Forrest Wood Cup, Bassmaster Central Open) and two other Top-5s (Lake Okeechobee FLW Tour and Classic). "Those are all solid finishes," he said. "If you keep putting yourself in position, that's how you win tournaments. I didn't get this one done. I'm going to (Lake) Hartwell (FLW Tour) next week and it's going to be Classic prep for next year."

Gear:

Lipless crankbait gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Halo cranking rod, Shimano Core 100 Mg casting reel (6.2:1 gear ratio), 14-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, XCalibur Xr50 (royal shad).

Jerkbait gear: 7' medium-action Halo Twilite casting rod, Shimano Core 50 Mg casting reel (7:1 gear ratio), 10-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, SPRO McStick (blue bandit).

Performance edge: "The Lowrance SpotlightScan looks like it'll be a great tool. I used it a little bit only because I had it installed on my boat the day before the tournament."

Classic Patterns 3-5 Bassfan 2/27/14 (Todd Ceisner)