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Balsa Baits Help Wheeler Win BPT On Eufaulap

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Balsa-body Rapala® crankbaits helped Jacob Wheeler win and Ott DeFoe finish third in the first Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour tournament of the year. Wheeler put himself into the championship round with Rapala DT-14's and DT-16's. DeFoe caught much of his weight on a prototype new Rapala flat-sided crank he called "OG Slim.

Wheeler caught 24 bass weighing a combined 68 pounds in the championship round of MLF's Bass Pro Tour Stage 1 on Alabama's Lake Eufaula. Much of that weight came out of a school he first determined was hungry during practice, when he caught one off the spot with a DT-14 in the Caribbean Shad color pattern. "I made one cast [with it], cranked it down there, caught a 3 1/2-pound largemouth," Wheeler recalled.

"DT" stands for "dives to." A DT®-14, a round-lip crankbait, dives to a max depth of 14 feet. "Caribbean Shad" is a chartreuse-and-teal "Ike's Custom Ink" color pattern designed by Rapala Pro Mike "Ike" Iaconelli, a Bassmaster Classic champ, Bassmaster Angler of the Year and current MLF Bass Pro Tour competitor.

Built of balsa wood, Rapala's signature material, DT crankbaits twitch, quiver and wobble with lifelike action on the retrieve. When paused, the real magic happens – they hover almost in place, rising ever so slowly. That often, in itself, will trigger a bite. They also deflect off cover uniquely to trigger bites.

You can see Wheeler catch his 3 1/2-pound practice bass at the 17:25 mark in this Eufaula-highlights video on his YouTube channel.

"I have me this spot right here," he says in the video. "I feel like they were on it pretty good, but I couldn't for sure tell, so I'm going to throw this crank a little bit and see if I can get a bite. …There was a couple of them down there, so I figured I'd pick up my DT-14 and see if I can't catch me one."

Moments later, his rod bows up and he's hauling in the 3 1/2 pounder on his DT-14. "Yep," he says with a satisfied nod. "Crankin'. DT-14."

When the school in that spot heated up for Wheeler in the first day of his group's Qualifying Round, a Caribbean Shad DT-14 got the party started. First he caught 4-pound, 4-ounce largemouth on it. Then a 2-pound, 14-ouncer. He added a third, at 3 pounds even.

"DT-14 doing some work!" Wheeler exclaims in a highlight-reel video of the day featured on his YouTube channel.

Not much later on the same spot, Wheeler caught a fourth big largemouth on a Caribbean Shad DT-14, this one weighing 4 pounds, 4 oz. At the end of the day, he was leading his 40-angler group, having caught 15 bass weighing a combined 51 pounds, 6 ounces.

In addition to the DT-14, Wheeler's other "big-fish bait" on the day was a DT-16, also in the Caribbean Shad color pattern. "All I was doing was cranking those little hard places, and that was the main key," he says in his Day 1 Qualifying Round highlights video. "I caught the biggest fish on this, for sure."

Wheeler throws DT-14's and 16's with a 7-foot, 11-inch medium-heavy baitcasting rod. For the DT-14, he spools up 12-pound-test Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon on a 5:1-gear-ration baitcaster. He retrieves the DT-16 with a 6.8:1-gear-ratio baitcaster.

In the championship round, Wheeler went again to his DT-14 hot spot, but found that the school there preferred a 1 oz. spinnerbait on that day. He took the lead in the spot and never looked back. When "lines out" was called, he was the winner by a long shot, having caught 27 pounds, 5 ounces more than the runner-up.

DeFoe gives exciting sneak peek at Rapala® "OG Slim" flat-sided crank

Based on the sneak peek DeFoe gave the bass-fishing world of a new bait he's been helping develop, expect crowds at the Rapala booth at this summer's ICAST convention, where the "OG Slim" will be officially unveiled. Anglers will want to get a closer look at the new balsa crankbait with which DeFoe absolutely blasted shallow bass on Eufaula.

At one point in the competition, MLF announcers noted, DeFoe caught off one spot six bass weighing a combined 21 pounds, 7 ounces, moving him up from 15th to second place. Five of those catches came on his home-made, shad-colored "OG Slim" prototype.

"Ol' Slim's been what's been working for me the best," DeFoe said in the MLF Now! live webcast of the competition, shortly after that flurry of catches. "It's a good, good-running little bait."

DeFoe described for the MLF Now! audience the spot on which he caught his OG Slim fish as a "kind of a sandy, nothing-looking point" within the mouth of a small bay and featuring "a little bit of brush and stuff around it." A south wind blowing onto the spot created "a nice current break" loaded with bass, he explained.

"That's the way fish should be this time of year," he told the MLF Now! audience. "You should be able to find them grouped up like that and catch multiple fish in one place."

Additional fish DeFoe weighed en route to his third-place finish in the field of 80 of the world's best bass anglers came on a No. 5 Rapala® Shad Rap®, a DT®-6 and a DT®-10. Each is a balsa-body crankbait.

"Crankbaits were my deal," DeFoe told MLF. "I used shad and red craw colors."

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