the Epicenter of Classic Vibes
March 17, 2023
St. Croix welcomes anglers to the 2023 Bassmaster Classic; fields a seismic trio of Elite-Series pros
PARK FALLS, WIS. (March 23, 2023) – Competitive fishing’s grandest stage is coming to Knoxville, Tennessee this weekend, when the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota kicks off on the Tennessee River. 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 this 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 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.”
Bob Downey is in his fourth season fishing the Elites. He finished the 2022 season with an AOY rank of 23. So far this season, he has placed 54th at Lake Okeechobee and 12th at Lake Seminole, earning 144 AOY points placing him in 24th place.
“I wasn’t thrilled with 54th in Florida, but I’ll take 54th over 85th any day,” says Downey, who was a lot happier with his 12th-place finish in Georgia. “I’m just trying to stay consistent,” he says. “I had one bad tournament last year, but everything else was decent. That’s what it takes to make the Classic. For me, there’s no secret formula. I’m no better than the best local anglers on any water we fish,” he says. “I work really hard but so does everyone else. I guess one thing I do try to do is keep a calm demeanor throughout every day of competition. That means rolling with the punches and keeping a calm head. Do that and more times than not you’ll find something that works. But that can’t happen if you are totally spun out.”
Downey says he’s looking forward to this year’s events at Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River, and Lake St. Clair the most. “Being from Minnesota, those are obviously the venues that set up the best for my style of fishing,” he says. “I really like fishing at lake Champlain.”
Looking ahead to this month’s Classic in Knoxville, Downey says the weather is definitely the wild card. “We could have spawning fish or a solid pre-spawn pattern. Every spring is different. I think a lot of guys are going to be totally focused on largemouth, but I’m going to target both largemouth and smallmouth. There are ways to target those bigger smallies. Gussy (Jeff Gustafson) actually won with them there last year. I think we’ve got four days of practice, so we’ll see what’s happening when the time comes.”
Downey says whoever wins in Tennessee will need some help. “Everybody wants to go and win a Classic, but that’s hard to manifest. You need to work as hard as you can, but you’re fishing against the best in the world. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.”
Rod-wise, Downey says he has been fishing St. Croix’s new Legend Tournament Bass rods almost exclusively. “They did an incredible job with the new upgrades to this series,” he says. “I think it’s their best ever. They are crisp and balanced in the hand and the guide trains and ergonomics are perfect.” Downey says his favorite rod in the series is the LBTS73MXF.
Caleb Kuphall is completely immersed in fishing. When he isn’t fishing the Elites, he works as a fishing guide on his home waters in Wisconsin, as well as part-time in a tackle shop. Kuphall finished his third season in the Elites ranked 19th in AOY points in 2022. Kicking off the 2023 Elite season, he finished 39th at Okeechobee and XXth and Lake Seminole.
Kuphall says making the 2024 Bassmaster Classic is his most important goal for this 2023 season. “I’m just trying to stay on tour,” he says. “It takes consistency. I think that comes from having confidence in what I’m doing – trying to stay versatile and adapt, but having something you can fall back on. For me, that’s jig fishing. I feel like I can go to a jig and it can either bail me out or push me up.”
Kuphall says he’s particularly looking forward to this year’s Elite events at Santee Cooper and Guntersville, both of which will play to his strengths. “I had a good finish at Santee Cooper last year and won on Guntersville in 2021,” he says. “I thought Lake Seminole would be in my wheelhouse, too, until I got there. I’d never fished it before and it had a lot more of a Florida vibe than I was expecting. Of course, everyone likes fishing at Lake Champlain, and being from the north, I feel like I should be able to make something happen there, too.”
With respect to the upcoming Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River, Kuphall says it’s one of his favorite places to fish. “It’ll be interesting to see what the weather does and how that affects the fish and the spawn. I approach the Classic differently because there’s no points attached to it. It’s all or nothing. I’m going to feed them with my strengths; there’s no plan B.”
For Kuphall, that likely means jig fishing. “I’ll probably have a Legend Tournament Bass LBTC71MHF in my hands most of the time at the Classic. It’s my favorite jig rod and the number-one rod on my deck,” says Kuphall, who also gives a nod to the Legend Tournament Bass LBTC72HM. “That’s one of the new reaction-bait models in the series that St. Croix calls iACT with both carbon and glass. I caught every fish I weighed at Okeechobee on that rod, and it’s definitely my new favorite chatterbait rod. One of my other go-to’s lately has been the Victory VTC73MHF. It’s what I’m fishing now for swim jigs and speed worms. It’s really a great lipless crankbait rod, too.”
Follow Schlapper, Downey, and Kuphall at the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota with up-to-the-minute coverage at bassmaster.com.
In addition to the world’s top bass anglers competing for the biggest title and payout in competitive bass fishing, the three-day event is expected to draw more than 100,000 fans and spectators – fishing and outdoors enthusiasts traveling to Knoxville from across the country to cheer on their favorite anglers, participate in the festivities, and attend the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic Expo. The 2023 Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo, held at the Knoxville Convention Center, has grown into one of the largest consumer fishing shows in the country, featuring over 200 exhibitors from around the world on-site and catering to the varied passions of attending outdoors fanatics.
St. Croix Rod invites all anglers attending this year’s Bassmaster Classic to come by its booth (#3501) at the Expo.
In addition to featuring the full line of new Legend Tournament Bass rods, the St. Croix booth will include a variety of fun giveaways, St. Croix apparel, special appearances, and will be staffed by knowledgeable St. Croix Team Members and Pro Staff.
“We’re looking forward to getting down to Knoxville and engaging with anglers for three days amidst all the excitement surrounding the Classic,” says St. Croix National Sales Manager, Dan Johnston. “Anglers have more choices than ever when it comes to fishing rods, so it’s a great opportunity for us to talk with them about all the unique things that make St. Croix special and, ultimately, show them how our handcrafted rods can help elevate their angling experiences.”
St. Croix Rod extends its best wishes and full support to pros Bob Downey, Caleb Kuphall, and Pat Schlapper in this year’s exciting Bassmaster Classic. “We couldn’t be prouder of Bob, Caleb and Pat for making the field, or more grateful to all our anglers for giving us the continued opportunity to make the Best Rods on Earth®,” says St. Croix Vice President of Marketing, Jesse Simpkins. “It’s what our brand and family have done for 75 years now, and it’s our anglers at every level that continue to drive us in that mission every day.”
Follow up-to-the-minute action at the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota at bassmaster.com