Question: “What are they bitin’ on?”
Answer: “The end of my line.”
Classic fishermen aren’t quick to give up their bass bait secrets.
Aside from asking a fisherman to divulge their honey holes, asking for bait and tackle recommendations is about the next boldest query one can make on the water. When it comes to the Bassmaster Classic, the top competitors’ bass baits become the next year’s hot commodity.
If you’re curious about what the pros tossed to lure bass to the boat, we’ve got all the inside info you need. Here are the baits that the top five competitors used to get the job done at the 2023 Bassmaster Classic.
Gussy Relies on Familiar Tools to Take the Victory
What started as an easy sweep for Ontario, Canada’s Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson at the 2023 Bassmaster Classic turned into a last-minute nail-biter. Gustafson had built an almost 6-pound lead after 2 days of competition. His final day was less than stellar, and the anglers behind him kept their foot on the gas pedal. While Gussy was able to squeak out the charge from the pros behind him, it was a day of mixed emotions for the Classic Champion.
When asked at the press conference following his win how he caught his fish, Gussy quickly summed up exactly what he was doing.
“Same as last time,” he said with a smile.
In 2021, Gussy became an Elite Series champion in this exact body of water fishing, a technique he calls “moping.” Derived in Canada, “moping” refers to fishing a finesse bait above suspended bass, and ensuring that the bass bait stays above the fish as their interest level increases.
The Bass Baits That Won the Classic
Like ice fishing back home on Lake of the Woods in Ontario, Gussy has years of experience fishing with light tackle and working fish in the water column using Humminbird Electronics and MEGA Live Imaging.
“I caught them in 2021 on the Smeltinator Jighead with a 4” Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ, and this event was no different,” said Gussy. “The jig is built with a 2/0 Gamakatsu Hook and I threw it on a Shimano NRX+ 872 7-foot, 3-inch medium-action rod with a Shimano Stella 3000 reel.”
Gussy keeps his line choice simple and opts for a 10-pound Power Pro braided mainline and a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader to toss his bass bait.
In his previous victory, Gustafson utilized a combination of Humminbird MEGA 360 to locate isolated rock and hard-bottom features and CHIRP 2D Sonar to catch his fish. With added pressure on his areas and the addition of Humminbird MEGA Live Imaging, Gussy was able to precisely cast to individual bass to get his bites.
“The addition of MEGA Live this week was key,” said Gussy. “I expected to get on top of them and drop down and catch some, but they got so hard to catch. I had to see them out in front of the boat and pitch past and swim it over their head; once they knew the boat was there, it was game over.”
Schmitt Goes Finesse to Finish Second
Maryland’s Bryan Schmitt has three Bassmaster victories in his career, and two Elite Series wins. The spotlight is never too bright as Schmitt demonstrated last week at the Bassmaster Classic. His weights increased each day, and he was able to work his baits in a shallow pattern to catch his fish.
The Combo That Pulled Second
“This week, it was really simple for me,” said Schmitt. “I fished mostly finesse, and the 1st Gen Fishing 1/4-ounce Jaw Dropper jig head paired with a Missile Baits Mini Magic Worm got most of my key bites.”
Schmitt fished a Fitzgerald Fishing Shakey Head Rod with a Fitzgerald Stunner Spinning Reel in size 3000. He added a P-Line Fluorocarbon leader to a braided mainline and soaked his soft plastics in Baitfuel to get his bites.
“It was such a slow approach,” said Schmitt. “I had to let it sit to get bites, and I added a Floatzilla screw in float to let the worm tail float up.”
Canterbury Power Fishes Into Third
With three casting rods on deck, Scott Canterbury stuck with his shallow gameplan and targeted areas with baitfish activity where he could intercept migrating pre-spawn largemouth bass. Fishing mainly less than 4 feet deep, he employed a combination of a jig, spinnerbait, and bladed jig.
The Third-Place Baits
“Aside from a few bites on a little balsa crankbait, all my fish this week came on those three baits,” said Canterbury. “I fished a ½ ounce Matt Herren Flippin Jig paired with a NetBait Paca Chunk early in the week, but as the event went on, the fish wanted zero action and I changed up trailers.”
When the fish wanted some action, Canterbury threw a Nichols Lures ½ ounce spinnerbait and a bladed jig, both rigged with a NetBait Little Spanky Swimbait trailer. Everything was fished on Scott Canterbury Signature Series Halo rods with Ardent Apex Grand Casting Reels, 7.3:1 ratio, and 17- or 20-pound P-Line Fluorocarbon line.
Benton Targets Green and Brown for Fourth Place
Fishing for smallmouth bass each morning before switching to largemouth, Drew Benton weighed in a mixed bag each day to finish in fourth place. Starting with smallmouth, Benton fished a ⅜ ounce Dirty Jigs Guppy Head paired with a Big Bite Baits Slim Minnow.
Fourth-Place Bass Bait
“I started each morning in the canal and was hoping for two to three bites a day from there,” said Benton. “I only got one each day, and then went largemouth fishing.”
Benton targeted laydowns and other wood cover, and noted the key was finding water with some stain. He flipped a Nichols Lures 3/8-ounce DB’s Finesse Jig paired with a Big Bite Baits Scentsation Quarantine Craw trailer. For his moving baits, he rotated between a Bagley Baits Sunny B crankbait in Cooked Craw color, and a Nichols Lures ½ ounce Pulsator Spinnerbait with a Big Bite Baits Pro Swimmer trailer.
Benton fished with Phenix Rods paired with Seagar InvizX Fluorocarbon on his casting combos, and Seaguar Smackdown Braid with a Seaguar Tatsu leader on his spinning rods.
Cox CrankBaits His Way to Fifth
Probably the most simple approach of all, Debary, Florida, angler John Cox prowled around in shallow water and targeted staging areas where largemouth bass stopped before making their way to spawn. Cox was sharing water with fellow competitor Brandon Card, but Card left the area to Cox on the final day as he was in a better position to compete for the win.
“I fished a Berkley Frittside Crankbait 5 this week,” said Cox. “I tried to mix it up but nothing else was working.”
When he was around cleaner water, he reached for Ghost Morning Dawn, and in dirty water, it was Kentucky Blue bass bait that got his bites.
“Everything came on my Abu Garcia John Cox Crankbait rods; it’s a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy and I fished with a 5.4:1 ratio reel,” added Cox. “I noticed the fish were not reacting to the bait when fished slow, and I switched to a faster 6.8:1 ratio reel and was able to catch a few more.”
Cox fished both baits on 15-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line.
Until Next Year, Classic!
Well, the 2023 Bassmaster Classic is behind us and the Elite Series season will continue at the end of April. Every year, the event brings thousands of people from around the country to experience the excitement of the “super bowl” of professional bass fishing. The world’s best anglers often shine a light on the amazing fisheries that play host to the historic event and unveil ways to find fishing success during a typically tough time of the year.
Watching and learning how each of the top anglers unlocks the potential hidden beneath is both exciting and meaningful to fans of all kinds. Knoxville opened the doors, welcomed a record attendance, and once again made for a great week for the anglers and their families.
Thanks, Knoxville! On to Tulsa in 2024!