1. Ken Mah, who won the APEX Cup on Thermalito Afterbay presented by Garmin Fish & Hunt and DUO International in late August, caught the majority of his Delta fish by punching a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama (Confusion color) on a 4/0 Gamakatsu Super Heavy Flipping Hook with a purple/red G-Money punch skirt and a 1 1/2-ounce Woo Tungsten weight tied to 80# Sunline FX2 Braid. Mah also caught fish on a 1/2-ounce custom vibrating jig with a green pumpkin Big Bite Baits Swimon trailer near deep grass near tule berms. He used 50# Sunline PEX8 braid with a 20# Assassin Fluorocarbon leader.
Difference Maker: Figuring out a tidal window late in the second day enabled Mah to take a more direct approach in the final round. Here, he leveraged better grass visibility for precise presentations.
2. Finishing second, Obedie Williams earned a lot of his bites while punching a green pumpkin Big Bite Baits Yo Mama on a 4/0 hook with a 1 1/2-ounce weight and 65-pound Daiwa Samaurai braid. He also caught fish on a bone colored Whopper Plopper and an Alabama rig with Keitech 3.3 Swing Impact swimbaits in Tennessee shad.
Difference Maker: Williams said his willingness to cover a lot of water and change as scenarios dictated proved essential. Keeping a diverse arsenal of baits on standby made that possible.
3. In third-place, APEX pro Phillip Dutra employed a mix of reaction baits including a Snag Proof Bobby’s Perfect Frog, a Bobby D’s buzzbait and a Toxic Baits wakebait, along with a punch rig comprising a Missile Baits D-Bomb in a craw color with 1-, 1 1/4- and to 1 1/2-ounce weights.
Difference Maker: Running a lot of spots, fishing a range of habitat features and targeting each one during the optimal tide stage was the key to Dutra’s success.
4. APEX Pro Zack Thompson caught his fish on a trio of reaction baits: a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin red Cloutier Custom Baits vibrating jig with a bream color Zoom Speed Craw, a 3/8-ounce underspin with a Keitech Swing Impact (4.8 for windier times, 4.3 for calmer conditions) and and Alabama rig with 3/8-ounce heads and 4.8 Keitech Swing Impact baits.
Difference Maker: Spending only 1 1/2 days of practice, Thompson entered the tournament with a plan, but when he wasn’t feeling it, he scrapped everything and pursued a new set of spots. This bold move earned a top-10 finish.
5. Day-2 leader Jason Austin was all about the punching and his rig of choice was a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama in green pumpkin and Junebug on a 4/0 Gamakatsu Super Heavy Cover hook with 1-, 1 1/4- and 1 1/2-ounce weights. Austin punched with 80-pound Tuff-Line braid.
Difference Maker: Austin found that mats with multiple types of vegetation and blown-in trash on top were the most productive. He surmised that the variety created different feeding opportunities for bass below.
6. In sixth place, APEX Pro and lure maker Nicholas Cloutier threw his 1/2-ounce Cloutier Custom Tackle bladed jig with a Paddletail Yamamoto Zako (green pumpkin and black/blue) and punched a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in the Texas hook color with a Cloutier Custom Baits punch skirt and a 1 1/4-ounce Woo Tungsten weight.
Difference Maker: For punching, Cloutier depended on his 7-11 Phenix Recon 805 rod, which has a softer tip that allowed him to get a good hook set without losing fish. For his bladed jig work, he used a 7-8 Phenix M1. The longer rod helped him handle bigger fish.
7. APEX Pro Juan Acosta got his work done by throwing a 1/2-ounce homemade green pumpkin brown bladed jig with a green pumpkin Berkley Havoc Pit Boss and punching a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in the rhythm and blues color with a 1 1/4-ounce weight.
Difference Maker: Acosta said he intentionally kept it simple and alternated between reaction presentations and punching as conditions dictated.
8. Greg Gutierrez found early success with a Duo Realis 100 suspending jerkbait, but when that bite waned, he switched to a dropshot with a 1/4-ounce Woo Tungsten weight and a 6-inch Roboworm in margarita mutilator and a Frenzy Nail with a 6.9-inch Reaction Innovations Flirt Worm in green pumpkin magic. During sunny times, he caught fish punching a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver with a 5/0 hook and a 1-ounce Woo Tungsten weight. On Day 3, Gutierrez honored Aaron Martens’ memory by switching to magic craw red, Reaction Innovations’ version of Roboworm’s Aaron’s Magic color, and immediately got bit.
Difference Maker: After dealing with short strikefrs on day 1, Gutierrez added a homemade punch skirt and gave his bait a better profile for the fish to target. On Day 3, Gutierrez countered a tough punch bite by downsizing to a Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver and a 3/0 hook.
9. Christian Ostrander used a one-two punch of casting a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer with a green pumpkin Missile Baits D-Bomb and punching a green pumpkin Missile Baits D-Bomb in the rotten tomato color with a 1 1/2-ounce weight.
Difference Maker: Making one last stop on a current-pinned hyacinth mat at the end of Day 2 yielded the event’s biggest fish — an 8.52. Punching into the middle of the mat, Ostrander caught the big fish, made a key cull and headed to weigh ins.
10. Tenth-place Scott Hellesen punched a Missile Baits D-Bomb in the bruiser flash color with a 1 1/2-ounce weight and a 3/0 Gamakatsu Super Heavy Cover hook on higher tide. On lower tide stages, he fished an unweighted green pumpkin Yamamoto Senko on a 3/0 extra wide gap hook.
Difference Maker: Hellesen said he fared best by selecting two key areas of clear water within Frank’s Tract and staying put.
By David A. Brown