With the pro-level bass trails wrapped up for the season, itís time to take inventory of winning patterns. Iíve always been a big believer in playing the numbers. Anglers looking for better performance at any level can learn from the best in the business.
At one time, I was concerned about this yearís results. With recent technological advancements, I assumed weíd see tournaments dominated by the down-lookers (my term for anglers who now spend their entire day staring at forward-facing sonar). To my surprise, however, that wasnít a winning recipe.
Letís dive into the Bassmaster Elite Series. This season brought us the return of veteran dominance, mixed with repeat performances from newcomers. A few locals took trophies home, something becoming more common. But the best statistic Ė the most eye-opening for a junkie like me Ė was how many events were won by shallow-water, power-fishing techniques.
Remember flipping sticks? For 2021, the pros dusted them off and got down to business. Spinnerbaits? Yep, still a player.
Letís look at the numbers. As usual, we acknowledge every credited winning lure, and add them all in.
> Flipping and pitching plastic: 3 wins
> Flipping Jig: 2
> Spinnerbait: 2
> Crankbait: 2
> Neko-rig worm: 2
1 each: lipless crankbait, stick worm, shad body on jig, topwater, swimbait, Carolina rig, swimjig, frog, spinbait, dropshot
At first glance, nothing is statistically impressive. Perhaps thatís the key. For the first time that I can remember, a few things happened in our B.A.S.S. report:
1. No single lure dominated
2. Shallow cover fishing was responsible for the majority of wins
3. No winner credited a bladed jig
Each of these details is important. First, it shows that mastering any technique can be valuable, and nearly any angler has a chance at each stop. Here, weíre continuing to see further progression of tournament fishing.
A case in point was Jeff Gustafsonís win on the Tennessee River. Hereís a Canadian guy using a self-admitted walleye technique to take down a national event in the South. But thatís not out of the question, because Gussy is a monster with this method. Heís perfected it, and thatís what it takes to win in todayís game.
Cover fishing up around the bank just makes me smile; we know this. I still believe this is the way bass fishing is supposed to be played. But, in recent times, the offshore pursuit was by far the dominant method. I donít have a hard and fast reason for the 2021 switch, other than the chosen venues, and the environmental conditions at those bodies of water, set up for shallow fishing. Or maybe itís more than that. Review, if you will, Lee Livesayís win at Lake Fork.
Livesay is a Lake Fork hero, guiding there constantly, and perfecting his technique of targeting highly pressured, trophy-class fish. Throughout his win, he used several different lures, from big swimbaits to Carolina rigs, and a few cranks thrown in the mix. Then, on the final day, Livesay switches everything up, digs out a big saltwater Spook, whacks a 40-pound bag and walks away with a hundred grand.
And consider our final stat Ė no winner credited a bladed jig. Is this even possible? Consider that, without question, a bladed jig is tied on the line of more rods than any other lure category on the Elite Series. Iíd wager that not a single angler is without a bladed jig at every event. Also consider more bass are probably caught on this lure than any other category at most tournaments. Yet, none was used to win.
Maybe this is just one of those weird statistical occurrences, like the green ď00Ē on a roulette wheel. Who would bet on that?
Or perhaps itís a sign of something else. Iíve always felt that, while there are lures that catch the majority of fish on any given lake, there are secret baits that win tournaments. A case in point: Here in Florida, a chrome and blue Rat-L-Trap will catch you a bass every day. Yet, I canít remember the last time a tournament was won on one.
Brian New used a lipless bait to start things off this season, but his St. Johns River win was dominated by a stick worm. Big surprise, I know. But it also shows that, sometimes, there is truly a best of the best.
My highlight of the í21 Elite Series campaign was watching a few guys win who I love to cheer for. Bill Lowen deserves it Ė heís the modern-day version of Denny Brauer, playing his strengths no matter the outcome. Taku Ito is poised to be a very influential angler, bringing us all new ideas in the ways of finesse.
And it never gets old watching Jason Christie beat people up with a spinnerbait. Thereís just something right about that.
In any case, the 2021 Elite Series proved that thereís hope for those anglers still happy to run the bank. Weíre seeing more of that. At least for now.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)