PARK FALLS, Wis. – Competitive fishing’s most prestigious tournament is just over one week away; the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota is coming to the Tennessee River in Knoxville, March 24-26.
St. Croix pros Caleb Kuphall of Mukwonago, Wisconsin; Bob Downey of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota; and Pat Schlapper of Eleva, Wisconsin are among the 55 elite anglers competing for the biggest title and payout in competitive bass fishing.
Wisconsin’s Pat Schlapper is entering his third season in the Elites. The St. Croix pro finished the 2022 season with three top-20 finishes and an AOY rank of 36. So far in 2023, he has placed 26th at Okeechobee and 4th at Lake Seminole, earning 180 points and 7th place in the Progressive Elite AOY standings. All eyes are on the “Northern Ninja” to see if he can carry the positive vibes and momentum from a top-5 finish into next week’s Bassmaster Classic.
“Before I started fishing the Elites I was a really good smallmouth angler, sight fisherman, and jerk bait angler. I was also confident in my ability to have success fishing deepwater isolated structure,” Schlapper says. “Coming up through the Bassmaster Opens, I had a lot of success fishing offshore. I tried to continue that success in the Elites, but didn’t do as well, because I guess I fell into a pattern where I was trying to force it.”
Schlapper says he’s made a conscious effort to get back to his roots of fishing shallow well again, which means committing to it. “I still fish deep but try not to force it,” he says. “I invested a lot in throwing chatterbaits, swim jigs, and flipping shallow last year and did a lot better. Now, coming into this season, I’ve got my confidence back where it needs to be with both shallow and deep presentations.”
Schlapper says he’s really looking forward to this year’s Elite event at Lake Champlain. “It’s my favorite lake,” he says. “There’s lots of great smallmouth and largemouth there and it’s just a really good fit to my strengths. I feel like I can have a really good tournament there.”
With respect to the 2023 Classic in Knoxville, Schlapper says it’s his turn to win. “That’s everyone’s goal, right? I like the Tennessee River this time of year and I’ve spent a lot of time there. After not making the Classic last year, I’m super excited to be back for my second, says Schlapper, “especially with Caleb and Bob (St. Croix teammates, Caleb Kuphall and Bob Downey) competing there, too. We’re kind of the northern tribe and all run together on tour. The fact that we made the field together this year is super cool. Weather will be the biggest variable. You could be 20-30 degrees or 65 degrees. Those temps will totally dictate what happens.”
The chatterbait is one of Schlapper’s confidence baits and he says he was immediately drawn to the LBTC72HM RIP-N-CHATTER rod, which is the heavy power rod in the new Legend Tournament Bass iACT lineup – a series of three reaction-bait rods which includes both carbon and glass materials. “I caught a lot of my fish on Chickamauga last season on that rod,” he recalls. “It’s so much thinner and lighter than my 72HM glass rods. I love the smaller diameter handles and the balance. It’s hard to find a great chatterbait rod… one that’s forgiving enough to feed them the bait with enough power to set the hook. It can’t be too soft. The new iACT carbon and glass version has the perfect balance of backbone and parabolic action. I usually like to skip a chatterbait with a carbon rod, but normally want a more parabolic moderate action. Not all HM rods are the same. This one has everything. And its lighter than any comparable rod I’ve used in the past.”
Schlapper says the new LBTC74MHM POWER GLASS CRANKER has also become his go-to for midsized cranks like DT6’s and DT10’s. “I still love my Legend Glass 74MHM but gravitate towards the Legend Tournament Bass iACT version because it’s thinner and feels even better in my hands,” says Schlapper, who says he also used the rod to add weight to his tournament bag at Lake Fork throwing a spook. “It’s really an impressive topwater rod. It’s very parabolic but has plenty of backbone and is surprisingly responsive, which makes it easy to walk a spook on braided line.”
Follow Pat Schlapper at the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota with up-to-the-minute coverage at bassmaster.com.
About St. Croix Rod
Headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has been proudly producing the “Best Rods on Earth” for nearly 75 years. Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled craftsmanship, St. Croix is the only major producer to still build rods entirely from design through manufacturing. The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls and Fresnillo, Mexico. With popular trademarked series such as Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Victory Avid®, Premier®, RIFT, Imperial®, Triumph® and Mojo, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers from around the world.