BEMIDJI, Minn. – The first stop on the 2022 Classic Bass Champions Tour is in the books with competitors battling it out on Pools 4 and 5 of the Mississippi River. Tommy Parker, 18, of Minnetonka, Minnesota, came away with the victory after finessing 51 pounds, 4 ounces of bass from rip-rap stretches in the single day, split-session event that witnessed Bagley Pro Staffers, along with second-place finisher Ron Mehr, snag four of the top 15 spots on the leader board.
“I’m pretty happy with my performance considering I’m a rookie on this particular tour,” said Mehr, 45, from Paynesville, Minnesota, after coming from behind to take the lead briefly with less than 30 minutes remaining before finishing 15 ounces shy of the top slot with a 50-pound 5-ounce total. “I fell a little short but finishing second in a field that featured some of the best anglers in the country, some might say the world, is something to hang your hat on.”
According to Mehr, the section of river he chose to work had fish in all three stages of the spawn. “I love to target post-spawn smallmouths when they set up on rip-rap, so I was mostly fishing shallow with a Bagley Balsa B1 Squarebill Crankbait. That lure runs shallow, isn’t easy to hang, and draws ferocious strikes when you bang it off rocks. It ended up playing a big part in my success as the bite came alive from the bank out to four-foot depths during the afternoon hours. Anytime I get in a situation where that approach is going to come into play, I know my chances are really good because I’ll have a Bagley crankbait at the end of my line. The saying really is true: ‘balsa is better!’”
While Mehr had his fish right where he wanted them during the afternoon, Bagley pro staffer, Tony Hatten, 48, from Richmond, Minnesota, found the fish more skittish than during his practice sessions when he hit the water for game day. Adjusting on the fly to quickly dropping water levels, he managed to claw his way to tenth place with a very respectable 32 pounds, 15 ounces of Mississippi bronzebacks.
“I had a solid crankbait bite during practice, but with the wind picking up, the sun shining bright and the water level dropping about 18 inches during the event, the smallmouths in my spots were growing increasingly shy by the minute, requiring a switch to finesse techniques,” recalled Hatten. That limited the time his crankbaits saw in the water during contest hours, but Bagley’s Sunny B still played a significant role in his performance.
“I had to probe really slow with tiny swimming jigs, dropping the size as the water levels receded and the fish began nipping rather than striking,” continued Hatten. “Still, I put my Bagley crankbaits to good use locating the fish. In practice, they helped me select my spots and feel confident I knew where the schools were holding. Then, during the tourney, I used them to seek out aggressive feeders and confirm I was right on target before investing time with my jigging approach. All things considered, I’m pleased with my performance, especially since I earned significant Angler of the Year points.”
Finishing in 12th place with a 31-pound 10-ounce haul, Dane Vocelka, 31, of Richmond, Minnesota, attributed at least some of his success to a selectin of Bagley Baits.
“This really was a learning event for me,” admitted the Bagley pro who is a rookie on the tour. “I’ve got to say, though, that my Sunny B and the Bagley Knocker B surface bait really did the job. I was cranking the Sunny B in current seams where most competitors might throw a tube lure. I could roll it from strong current into soft current and get bit in about four feet of water off rip-rap walls or subtle points along the mainland channel and that accounted for the majority of my fish.”
With his bone-colored Knocker B, Vocelka concentrated on shallow areas where he knew some bass were pulling off their beds. “That bait was clutch for me,” he said. “It put my biggest bass in the boat around 11 a.m., and then added two more smallmouths – a total of nearly eight pounds – with 20 minutes to go in the contest. It really helped me make up for a lack of bites in the afternoon sun.”
As for Bagley Pro Staffer Noah Schultz, who finished 14th with 30.9 pounds of bass, a slow morning found him grinding it out with a drop-shot approach, but the afternoon provided a hot crankbait bite with a red crawdad color Sunny B the shining star.
“I was burning that crankbait with the current in seams and around wing dams during the afternoon and managed to make up a lot of ground with the smallies. When that lure is hot, it’s a tough one to beat,” said the 38-year-old from Waseca, Minnesota.
To check out the full line of Bagley’s premium balsa hardbaits, exciting new colors and hardbait kits, visit bagleybait.com. For details on the 2022 Bass Classic Champions Tour, visit classicbass.com.