Three-foot swells, a punishing storm and wild weather changes couldn’t stop Scott Bonnema from executing his multi-species game plan to claim the crown at the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation Tournament of Champions on Lake Vermilion Sept. 4-5.
“It’s an awesome feeling to win against a group of such talented veterans and hot new sticks,” said Bonnema, of Zimmerman, Minn. “I had great co-anglers both days, and was fortunate to get the bites I needed.”
Bonnema brought a total weight of 33.25 pounds to the scale to top the 170-angler field competing in the two-day event. His 10-fish limit included a mixed bag of large- and smallmouth bass. The variety reflected a cornerstone of his strategy, which proved crucial when fluctuating conditions caused a number of competitors keying on a single species to scramble.
“Vermilion has such high-quality fisheries for largemouths and smallmouths, I felt I needed the one-two punch of both species to be competitive,” he said. As a result, he crafted programs for each that ultimately contributed to the winning catch.
On the largemouth front, he avoided heavily fished docks, banks and easy-to-see timber in favor of overlooked sweet spots in reeds and coontail lying in 5 to 8 feet of water. Sunken logs off other anglers’ radar also proved critical.
Bonnema credited his Humminbird 360 Imaging system for revealing many prime lies. “It’s amazing sonar technology that reveals subtle details like logs off to the side of the boat, open pockets and rocks in weeds, and other bass-holding cover and structure,” he explained. “It was also absolutely critical to putting together my smallmouth program, which keyed on offshore reefs with large rocks.”
Indeed, Bonnema found boulder-strewn reefs consistently out-produced barren humps, and the ability to quickly separate the two types of structure helped him efficiently narrow his choices among Vermilion’s numerous reefs.
From a tactical standpoint, Bonnema leaned on California Reservoir Lures’ Grass Poison jigheads tipped with a Trigger X Flappin’ Craw trailer. “These jigs are phenomenal in grass and reeds,” he said. “They come through so clean, you save a lot of time by not constantly fouling the lure.”
Jigs were tethered to stout Sufix 832 superbraid, another key to the presentation. A rod with the backbone to horse beefy bass from thick cover was likewise critical, as was a high-speed Lew’s Tournament Pro Speed Spool casting reel. “The 7.1:1 gear ratio let me get bass up and out of reeds and grass before they could bury themselves in the cover,” he said.
Topwaters literally ruled the waves for bronzebacks. Even in three-foot swells, Bonnema fired walking baits such as Rapala Skitter Walks over the reefs. He noted that sub-surface baits like Rapala’s X-Rap SubWalk triggered strikes from tentative fish that shunned the surface scene. With both types of baits, 14-pound-test Sufix ProMix monofilament got the nod. “It’s a little stiffer than most monos, which makes it very responsive and gives lures a nice walking action with just a flick of your wrist,” he explained.
At times, soft-plastic Trigger X tubes came into play for bottom-hugging bronzebacks, but topwaters remained Bonnema’s offshore mainstay.
The victory was Bonnema’s second B.A.S.S. Nation state title, having won the crown on Lake Pokegama in 1999. He joins the top 12 anglers from the 2014 event advancing to the 2015 B.A.S.S. Nation Northern Divisional, where they will compete against state teams from Wisconsin, Indiana, South Dakota, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio in Minnesota in late summer 2015. At stake is a chance to fish in the B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship and move one step closer to a berth in the Bassmasters’ Classic.
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Image courtesy B.A.S.S.