Keewatin, Ontario-based Bagley Bass Elite Series pro Jeff Gustafson and Panama City, Florida-based Drew Benton Bagley Baits pro are well versed when it comes to early-season bass. Nowhere was this experience tested more than at the recent Academy Sports and Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk on Lake Hartwell in Greenville, South Carolina. With a three-day total of 54 pounds, Oklahoma pro Jason Christie took the honors at the event. Both Gustafson and Benton fished well on days 1 and 2, only missing the cut for championship Sunday by a couple places.
“There’s just lots of fish everywhere,” says Gussy. “Hartwell is full of ‘em—both largemouth and spotted bass. It’s a matter of getting to the bigger fish which proved a challenge for everyone. I saw a couple big fish laying under docks and had a few follows, but it never quite came together.”
“But I caught a lot of fish. My thumb was bleeding on Day 2. I just couldn’t catch any big fish which were in transition from deep to shallow with the changes in weather. My main plan was using electronics and fishing deep with finesse tactics, but ended up moving shallower, catching a lot of fish cranking windblown stretches in between docks with Bagley Sunny B and Diving Balsa B crankbaits,” notes Gussy.
“Getting to fish the Classic is a pretty amazing experience. I caught a lot of fish, just not the right fish to make the cut for Day 3. Still, I’m proud of myself and look forward to fishing hard in upcoming tournaments to qualify for next year’s Classic, which is going to be in Knoxville where I finished in first place last year,” continues Gussy.
“In terms of baits, the Bagley Baits were constantly getting whacked and are perfect for early-season approaches on a lot of waters. A lot of bigger bass are going to continue moving up shallower and I’ll have the Sunny B and Diving Balsa B on deck for the next couple months at all the events. If the water is below 55-degrees, the Sunny B is my go-to; above that I’ll move to the Balsa B. In March and April, red craw patterns are my recommendation for anglers,” advises Gussy.
Drew Benton Talks Tactics
“On Hartwell you’ve got to wade through a lot of smaller fish to get to the bigger ones, and unfortunately, I spent a lot of my time catching smaller fish…but lots of them,” says Benton.
“In practice I had a perfect plan going with lots of fish on the Bagley Sunny B caught in stained water. Hartwell is clear, so I had to get back in the creeks. I was working up into the stained creeks throwing the Sunny B in a Red Crawdad pattern and catching a limit. I was getting three to four big bites a day. Going into the event that was my gameplan. But on Day 1 I gambled a bit too much and put the Bagley crank down and fished a swimbait for about five hours and didn’t get a bite. I should’ve stayed with the crankbait. So, on Day 2 I stuck with the Sunny B, and I culled 12 or 13 times. It was a fun day. That little Sunny B looks like I dragged it on the asphalt all the way from Florida to South Carolina; it got really beat up with all the bites. That was incredible,” notes Benton.
Gear-wise, Benton threw the Sunny B on 12 lb. fluorocarbon and a medium-power rod, paying close attention to his retrieve, not working the bait too fast given the cooler water. 45-degree rocky banks and points leading from deeper water into spawning flats were key locations for fish.
“I worked the creeks from the water stained all the way to the back and key on those 45-degree banks. That was key on Day 2. For me, it was about 70 percent spots to 30 percent largemouths. I did catch an almost four-pound spotted bass on Day 2 with the Sunny B. That was a good cull,” offers Benton.
Depending on location—how far south or north an angler resides—Benton recommends working spawning flats and those last, little deep banks and other staging areas for the spawn. Benton likes to study maps and find creeks with channel swing banks and any place that’s a good stopping point on a largemouth travel route to the skinny water where they’ll spawn. Laydowns, docks, and rocky banks all come into play and provide a place for the Sunny B to shine.
“The Sunny B deflects off of cover nicely, has a subtle action for cooler water, and just a real, natural action for this time of year,” offers Benton.
Photo courtesy of B.A.S.S.
Bagley introduced the Sunny B in 2015. Made using the exclusive Heat Compression Molding (HCM) manufacturing process, this uniquely shaped baitfish lure is precision balanced to cast easily and run true, whether retrieved fast or slow, with eye-popping vibration. It also provides maximum action when twitched – just like a baitfish darting to escape a predator. The Sunny B is available in size 5 at 2 inches long and 3/8 ounce with a diving depth of 6 to 7 feet. There are 13 bass-catching colors to choose from.
“The Sunny B has a small profile, which is deadly on early-season bass,” says Gustafson. “In waters with crawfish, I mimic those patterns with my color choice. If I was in a situation where I felt like the forage was perch, or some kind of shad, Bagley also has colors that mimic those. The Sunny B been a great fish-catcher. It’s just perfect for that 5-to-8-foot depth range and it doesn’t get snagged. I throw it on 12-pound fluorocarbon with a medium-power rod and 7:1 gear ratio baitcasting reel,” says Gustafson.
This super buoyant, thumping crankbait has a fast dive that gets straight to the fish. Unleash it over a drop-off for suspended fish or crank it along a rocky bottom to draw eager predators to the free lunch.
“Similar to the Sunny B, but more aggressive and with a wider profile, the Diving Balsa B is a great option for grinding around rocks and deflecting off wood and other structure. And it’s really sort of a snagless crankbait. And it comes sharp, modern new colors,” says Gussy.
“Same set up as the Sunny B – I throw the bait on 12-pound fluorocarbon with a 7-foot medium power crankbait rod and 7:1 reel. Some anglers will dial back on the gear ratio, but I do it all manually with the 7:1 reel by slowing down or speeding up,” offers Gussy.
Take Gussy and Drew’s recommendations and you’ll be on your way to more bass this spring. From the Sunny B to the Diving Balsa B, all are superb fish-catchers!