Best In Show 2024

by Chris McCotter

By C.C. McCotter

Each year we scour the aisles at the Richmond Fishing Expo for new stuff to use during our New Product Showcase seminars on the bass tank as well as to recognize with our Best In Show awards. This year’s show had a real bevy of new stuff from lures to boats and everything in between for showgoers to discover. Here are those we found to be the most intriguing heading into the new season.

  An obvious trend we noted at the show is the proliferation of custom-painted lures. Regional artists have found they can order blanks of just about any hard bait and they are using their talents to create one-of-a-kind lures.

      There was no shortage of tackle displayed at this year’s show. Everything from custom-painted plugs (a growing trend) to vintage baits, hand-made spinnerbaits to rods and reels from many manufacturers.

  We’ll need to break this large tackle category into segments: soft plastics, hard plastics, spinners, rods and reels.

   Best in show for vintage tackle was easily awarded to Donnie Bell of James River Tackle Co. He brought an amazing array of Bagley balsa baits that tidal river anglers love. Some serious collectors were spotted leaving Bell’s display with full bags.

      By far the biggest news at the show in the way of baits was found in the Fishing Pro Tech booth. As usual the Dean of Specialty Tackle, Lin Bell brought a product to the first. In this case he was part of the reintroduction of two notable brands: Glamour Shad and Reaction Innovations’ Vixen walking bait.

  Todd Lewis has brought back his Glamour Shad spinnerbait, buzzbait and stand-up jigs and we’ll recognize his incredibly detailed spinnerbait as Best In Show in that category. The baits share the same head design that looks strikingly like a shad with lifelike eyes and raised gill plate. Lewis’ custom skirt colors are legendary and still include the popular blue back herring option. This buzzbait features a unique, low rider design with the hook and head on a lower level than the blade.

   The Reaction Innovation Vixen was unavailable for many years. Yes, similar baits have been created that catch plenty of fish, but there’s only one Vixen and it takes Best In Show for the topwater plug category. Bell had a nice supply on Friday. The bone version was gone within a couple hours!

    In the crankbait category, Heidi and Greg have done it again with the creation of the new Blue Crab pattern on their Tiger Series plugs. This custom painting duo brought us the Hot Cherry Craw last year that remains popular among region tidal river anglers. The Blue Crab pattern sprayed on a Megabass S Crank black is a winner, too!

   Glide baits catch big bass. Just look at the big companies jumping on the bandwagon with new options this year. One booth that caught our eye at the show was that of Hard Turn. Tucked in a corner of Feel The Payne Fishing And Hunting, Hard Turn is the creation of Justin and Alyse Tomes. He’s an automotive painter and has access to some special equipment and paint formulas/clear coats that make his brush tail glide baits shine with a lifelike quality. His work takes Best In Show for glide baits this year.

  The jerkbait category had the usual plethora of competitors, including a number of attractive hand-painted offerings and baits from leaders like Megabass and Lucky Craft. The two we found most interesting were The Nasty, a stand on bottom (SOB) jerkbait and the Pure Fishing KREJ 100 (jerk spelled backward). We were able to see both on the Bass Tub and The Nasty performed well. The KREJ is intriguing with an upturned bill and designed to be fished with forward-facing sonar.

  The Krej defies conventional jerk-baiting by working its way upwards in the water column, only to fall backwards towards its target. This new style of fishing, or “Krejing”, allows the angler to take advantage of being able to see how a fish is reacting on FFS and make a presentation in ways they’ve not been able to before. The angler can then respond to the target’s reactions by working the bait up and away from the fish to better imitate a natural fleeing motion, or through pausing the retrieve backslide the bait towards the fish to trigger reaction strikes. The KREJ is our Best In Show jerkbait.

  The Pure Fishing Finisher was easily the Best In Show for jigging baits. This new lure drove the fish crazy in the Bass Tub with an incredibly erratic and lifelike action that had them darting all over to try and catch it. The bait was actually made for the walleye market but it’s also excellent bass lure. Berkley says it’s “purpose-built for forward facing sonar. The bait has the fast dropping, hard gliding and fish provoking actions of glide baits plus ups the ante to give the angler the control to react to the fish, test its mood and produce a strike with a finishing move! The modern finless double-treble design brings the Finisher to the forefront of modern hard bait design for fit, finish and performance. Other single centered treble glide baits with fins foul up and can’t keep ‘em hooked. When fished with forward facing sonar, the angler can now react and present the Finisher as fast and precise as possible. The weight-forward design allows for precision casts, fast drop-ins and a wide range of actions to draw a strike out of the moodiest fish. We found that subtle wrist snaps produced a medium glide, longer, harder strokes elicited longer darting and gliding actions.

     Now soft baits was a bit of a challenge to select just one Best In Show. Our finalists included the new EVO Frog from B.Y.U. Baits and the Snagler Tackle Co (STC) Standup Teaser Tube.

    Kevin McCall is a young lure design that brought us the B.Y.U. Mad Dog last year – a unique creature bait that caught on locally. This year he has created the EVO Frog a totally unique creature bait that resemble a frog, lizard and a craw depending on the customization you perform on its many appendages that include arms and legs. You can fish it across the surface, as a trailer, pitch and flip it, even use it as a punch bait. The EVO Frog is our Best in Show soft bait.

  Further breaking down the soft bait category we found the Fitt River Darters to be worthy of a Best In Show recognition since one of them was the only bait we saw a fish in the Bass Tub engulf!

  Fitt Premium Lures are based in Pennsylvania. The River Darters have long been popular on the Susquehanna River for smallmouth but anglers everywhere are discovering how good they are for largemouth and striper. With a vertical tail (versus horizontal on other soft plastic jerkbaits), a pliable but durable plastic formula, solid body or split belly options and just three proven colors (pearl, blue glimmer and pearl with chartreuse tail), the Fitt River Darter was welling well beforfe and after that bass tub debut!

   When we visited with our friends at Castaway Sporting Goods we found a unique item in their booth. The Lure Lock products were like nothing we’d ever seen.

  A proprietary gel in the bottom of the trays secures baits and tackle—even when the box is turned upside down and shaken. The durable fishing tackle boxes will protect prized lures, keep hooks sharp and make tackle organization fun and easy. The boxes are tooled and molded in Wisconsin, so anglers can rest-assured the Lure Lock tackle system is made from quality materials that are built to last and environmentally safe.

  There was also a neat Lure Lock Pad we picked up for the W2 boat that you can install and then stick your hot lures to so they remain within reach but out of the way and organzied. Lure Lock is our Best In Show product for the tackle storage category.

  Then there’s the gadgets, everything from fishing glue to siphons, apparel to reel bearings was on hand to tempt the attendees.

    Best in Show for apparel had to go to the boys from the Virginia Tech Bass Fishing Team that set up in the Woods & Waters Magazine booth and promptly outsold every other apparel dealer at the show! Their Hokie Bass caps and shirts were popular with alumni as well as Hokie fans that attended the show.

    In the category of bass boats, the competition was stiff with a fairly high number of boats manufacturers represented at the show. Notably absent was Skeeter, which is arguably the hottest boat in the country.

   Among the bass boat makers present: Bass Cat, Caymas, Falcon, Phoenix, Ranger, War Eagle and Vexus we felt like the Vexus VX 20 was the Best In Show. We based that on a stunning red finish that was an absolute showstopper. Vexus also uses a number of exclusive construction technologies including a vacuum infused hull process that really sets it apart from other bass boats.

  Well, there you have it; our Best In Show for 2024. It was a fun show weekend and we encourage you to attend next year!

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