By David A. Brown
1. Tournament winner and APEX Pro Tour Angler Alex Klein began each morning throwing a 1/2-ounce Heavy Hitter bladed jig with a Yamamoto Zako trailer. Once that bite stopped, he punched mats with a Big Bite Baits College Craw through mats with a 1 1/2-ounce weight.
Difference Maker: Noting that second-place finisher Ken Mah and Nick Salvucci — both fellow APEX pros — helped him master the punch game, Klein said his success hinged on finding areas where current hit healthy grass that was near deep water.
2. Ken Mah threw a Berkley Choppo prop bait and a D&M Buzzbait in open water and when he came across promising mats, he punched with a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama in the confusion color and a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog in red melon. He also used a GMONEY Punch Skirt in between 1- to 1 3/4-ounce Woo Tungsten weights.
Difference Maker: While he’s usually on a strict tide-related time schedule, Mah said he found himself faring best by “fishing free” and rolling on instinct.
3. After leading days 1 and 2, Obedie Williams had a tough time in the final round’s windier conditions. He fished the perimeter of grass beds with a black and yellow Whopper Plopper and punched with a Big Bite Baits Yo Mama and a Yamamoto Flappin Hog in green pumpkin and crawdad colors.
Difference Maker: The mental game often helps an angler through the challenging times and, after a strong Day 1 came together in good time, Williams endured a frustrating second round. He went several hours without a bite and with only a small limit at 3, he made a move a found a 7 1/2-pounder that sent him to the final round.
4. APEX pro Nick Cloutier alternated between Reaction Innovations Sweet Beavers in the coonasty and sprayed grass colors with Cloutier Custom Baits punch skirts in summer craw with 1- and 1 1/4-ounce Woo Tungsten Never Chip punch weights.
Difference Maker: Cloutier said his Garmin LiveScope played a key role in helping him find key spots. In practice, he watched a fish grab his bait and promptly shook it off. Returning on Day 1, he caught that 6-pound, 13-ounce fish.
5. Taking fifth, Jamond Andrews did all of his work with a big flipping stick in his hand. He caught his fish on a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver and a Gambler Burner Craw.
Difference Maker: Reaching into his target areas, Andrews punched with a 7-11 medium heavy rod, but he downsized to 40-pound line to get more bites. He also used an 8:1 Shimano Metanium reel to allow himself the ability to make as many flips as possible.
6. Tre Dodd had only caught one punch fish prior to this event, but punching a Yamamoto Flappin Hog produced all of his Delta catches.
Difference Maker: Trusting his game to a sturdy Dobyns Rods flipping stick and 65-pound FishKool braid proved productive for Dodd.
7. When Derik Dalton found his main spots blown out, he ducked into protected canals and punched up his fish on a Yamamoto Flappin Hog in the green pumpkin copper color.
Difference Maker: Johnson handled his fish in the heavy cover with a 7-9 Scenko Stix Punchaholic rod and 50-pound Suffix 832 braid.
9. Despite rain and wind the final day, Cesar Laguna committed to “live and die” by the punch bite and caught his fish on a Missile Baits D Bomb in the Calif 420 color with a 1 1/2-ounce Reins Tungsten weight.
Difference Maker: As a former Major League Baseball player, Pulliam understands the importance of proper equipment, so he caught his fish on G. Loomis rods and alternated between Shimano Curado and Daiwa Steez reels.