BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Hamner completes wire-to-wire Bassmaster Classic victory on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees

March 24, 2024

TULSA, Okla. —

When most anglers win the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing, they at least pretend like it came as the biggest surprise of their lives.

But not Justin Hamner.

The fourth-year Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Northport, Ala., said openly that he “just had a feeling” coming into this year’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors that he was going to win — and in three days on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, he turned that feeling into a hard-core reality.

Hamner completed an assault on B.A.S.S. history with a Championship Sunday limit of five bass that weighed 15 pounds, 13 ounces, and pushed his three-day total to 58-3. He became only the 10th angler in the 54-year history of the event to lead all three days.

“I have no idea what’s been going on, but this past month has been pretty dang good,” said Hamner, who earned $300,000 and the coveted Ray Scott trophy. “I can’t explain it, but I really did feel like I had a good chance to win.”

That feeling wasn’t exactly reinforced during a tough practice when Hamner said the best bass he caught was a 3-pounder. But he started the tournament on the spot where he caught that fish and used a shad-colored, deep-diving jerkbait to put together a limit that weighed 22-6 and gave him the Day 1 lead.

He went back there for Day 2. But, just like in practice, he couldn’t replicate a pattern and was forced to redirect.

“The wind was blowing a ton of bait into the pocket I was fishing,” he said. “When all of that bait got in there, those fish were keyed in on the bait and they wouldn’t bite my jerkbait. I couldn’t make them bite it, and I still can’t really explain it.”

That’s when Hamner relocated again and started using Garmin LiveScope to target largemouth in brushpiles. He quickly caught two 5-pounders that pushed him to a 20-pound limit and helped him maintain the lead going into the final day.

Despite being in the most visible spot a professional angler can hold, Hamner said he never got nervous until around 1 p.m. on Championship Sunday. At that point, he said he lost four big bass, but he couldn’t say if nerves caused him to lose the fish or if losing the fish caused the nerves.

“The first two didn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I still had that calm feeling. But around 1 o’clock, the fish changed and wouldn’t even react. I don’t know what caused what. There’s just no telling what was going through my mind because the pressure was finally starting to get to me.”

Despite his troubles, Hamner’s limit of 15-13 helped him hold off Wisconsin angler Adam Rasmussen who made a hard charge with 18-5 on the final day but finished almost 3 pounds back with 55-4.

“My father taught me not to talk about myself, so it’s gonna be hard for me to get used to calling myself the Bassmaster Classic champion,” said Hamner, who finished 14th and third in the first two Elite Series events of the year in February. “But it’s been an amazing month.”

Hamner said he hadn’t thought about where he’ll put the massive Ray Scott trophy. Instead, he said he’s more worried about moving out of the double-wide trailer he’s living in — something that should be easier to do with the $350,000 he’s won over the past two months.

Something else that will likely be easier for the 33-year-old is promoting his sponsors.

Though he was coy about which brand of deep-diving jerkbait he used this week, he said he added No. 6 Duo Realis treble hooks — and since they were made from a heavy wire, they helped the bait sink a little further. He stuck with Yo-Zuri T7 Premium Fluorocarbon all week, using 12-pound test when he was around lighter cover and 14-pound test around thicker brush.

He used a variety of high-speed baitcasting reels, all on 7-foot Halo Scott Canterbury Series medium-heavy cranking rods.

One of the biggest keys to his success, he said, was adding scent from the BaitFuel Hardbait Stick.

“It’s the new stick that they came out with that you can actually apply to the hard bait,” he said. “I had like six fish follow my jerkbait today. I would stop and put that stuff on and then catch them. There’s no doubt in my mind it makes a huge difference.

“It was like immediate. The whole school would come up chasing it, but they wouldn’t eat it. I put that on there and the first one that would come up would eat it.”

Hamner described his cadence with the jerkbait as “weird.”

“I change it up a lot — so much that my friends make fun of me,” he said. “I let Garmin LiveScope tell me in real time how the fish are reacting to the bait.

“The key, to me, is figuring out what speed they want the bait — and today, they wanted it faster.”

When all the talk of rods, reels and baits was done, Hamner summed up his amazing week with a question.

“What just happened?” he asked. “I always thought this lake set up the way I like to fish. It’s like Lake Tuscaloosa back home. You can’t do the same thing twice on that lake either. Maybe that helped me this week — maybe. I honestly just can’t explain it.

“But, like I said, I had a great feeling coming into the week.”

Florida angler Aaron Yavorsky, who turned 18 last week and now holds the record as the youngest angler ever to take part in the Classic, earned the $2,500 Mercury Big Bass of the Tournament prize with the 6-12 largemouth that he caught on Saturday.

The Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the Week was the 22-6 bag caught by Hamner on Day 1. That earned him an extra $7,000.

Hamner also earned the $20,000 Yamaha Power Pay award for being the highest-placing eligible entrant.

Alabama pro Will Davis Jr. won the $1,000 BassTrakk Contingency Prize for listing his weight for the week as accurately as anyone in the field.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Hamner stays calm and redirects to maintain Bassmaster Classic lead on Grand Lake

March 23, 2024

TULSA, Okla. —

Since practice began last week, Alabama pro Justin Hamner says he hasn’t been able to duplicate two patterns from one day to the next.

That trend continued Saturday, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting him adversely.

Hamner caught yet another five-bass limit that weighed 20 pounds and increased his two-day total to 42 pounds, 6 ounces, to maintain the lead in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.

Hamner, who has seemed strangely calm all week, said his only plan for Championship Sunday is to “win the Bassmaster Classic.” Beyond that, he isn’t sure what he’ll be doing once the tournament resumes.

“The dream is going pretty good so far, but we’ve still got one more day,” said Hamner, who is fishing only his second career Classic. “I had to do something totally different today than what I did on the first day of the tournament. The area I started in this morning had completely changed, and I left there around 10 or 10:30 (a.m.).

“In my new spot, I immediately caught three big ones and left there.”

Hamner had been hoping that increased winds would improve his bite. But on Saturday, he said it actually hurt him and forced him to change his plans.

“Yesterday, when I caught all of those fish in those creeks, there was zero bait,” he said. “Today, the wind actually blew directly into those creeks and the fish were more active. They were feeding on the bait, but I could not get those fish to bite.

“It was the weirdest thing and I have no explanation for it.”

The forecast for Championship Sunday calls for 20 to 30 mph winds with occasional gusts up to 40 mph. Hamner said he plans to start on the same brushpiles where he caught his best fish Saturday — and if that doesn’t work, he’ll redirect on the fly once again.

“It’s been a weird feeling all week,” he said. “As soon as I get on the water, I’m not feeling any pressure. I’m playing with geese, catching big bass and having fun. I plan to do that tomorrow — and win the Bassmaster Classic.”

Hamner’s closest competitor at the end of Day 2 was Wisconsin pro Adam Rasmussen with 36-15. A famed walleye guide turned bass pro, Rasmussen said the high winds on Sunday could help him simply by making things tough for the rest of the crowd.

“Where I’m from, I certainly know how to hold the boat really well in high winds,” said Rasmussen, who guides mainly on Sturgeon Bay. “I think that could cause some guys to stumble a little bit.”

Rasmussen said he has one point that’s been “really special” all week, and he plans to milk it for all it’s worth Sunday.

“I’ve gone to it four or five times a day, and almost every time I’ve gone back to it, I’ve gotten bit,” he said. “I might roll in there first thing tomorrow morning, and if I get some bites, I might just pole down on it — just sit on it and see what I can do.”

Entering the day with more than a 5-pound deficit, Rasmussen said he plans to “swing for the fences” to try and win the $300,000 first-place prize. He thinks it will take 23 to 24 pounds — and maybe even a little luck in the form of Hamner struggling — but he knows the big weight is out there.

“When I came to pre-practice here, I had a 29-pound day,” he said. “So, I know what lives here. This is Grand Lake; it has giants. I just have to go catch them.”

Missouri pro Cody Huff caught 15-2 Saturday and fell slightly from second place to third with a two-day mark of 36-4. He rests in a logjam of anglers within striking distance, including Brandon Card (34-4), Hank Cherry (33-11), Cooper Gallant (33-3) and Lee Livesay (33-1).

“It was a complete turnaround for me today,” Huff said. “All the areas that had worked really well for me yesterday, the water temperature had dropped like 8 or 9 degrees with that real cold night. The shad weren’t up, the bass weren’t up. It was just a ghost town.”

A third-year Elite who lists Bassmaster legend Rick Clunn as one of his mentors, Huff didn’t have a bass in his livewell at 11 a.m. But he adjusted and kept himself in contention for the Classic trophy.

“I got on another deal and caught what I caught and broke off another good fish,” Huff said. “With my main pattern toasted, I just had to go fishing and figure them out again. That’s this lake. It’s gonna be that way again tomorrow because it’s gonna look like a new lake again.”

Florida angler Aaron Yavorsky, who turned 18 last week and now holds the record as the youngest angler ever to take part in the Classic, had Big Bass of the Day on Saturday with a 6-12 largemouth. He currently holds the lead for Mercury Big Bass of the Tournament.

The Top 25 remaining anglers will take off at 7:15 a.m. CT Sunday from Wolf Creek Park and Boating Facility, with the final weigh-in scheduled for approximately 5:00 p.m. at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa. Door will open at 3:15 p.m., with the Strike King Bassmaster College Classic presented by Bass Pro Shops weigh-in to be held at 3:35 p.m. The winning Classic angler will earn $300,000 and the most-coveted trophy in pro fishing, the Ray Scott trophy.

Click here for a full list of how to watch the event online and on television.

Click here for a full list of Classic events, including the annual Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by GSM Outdoors.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Day 1 Results at Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake

March 22, 2024

TULSA, Okla. —

“I’m leading the Bassmaster Classic,” said Justin Hamner, sounding as much like he was asking a question as making a statement.  

But it was 100% true.  

The young pro from Northport, Ala., weighed in 22 pounds, 6 ounces Friday to take the Day 1 lead at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors. The fourth-year member of the Bassmaster Elite Series found a pattern on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees that placed him just over a pound ahead of Missouri pro Cody Huff and continued the flow of what has been a dream 2024 season.  

“This whole year has just been so much fun,” said Hamner, who opened his Elite Series season with a 14th-place finish at Toledo Bend and a third-place showing at Lake Fork last month. “I’ve just been fishing free and doing what I want to do with no stress. I’m just going back to my roots and bass fishing knowing it’s my only job for the first time ever. 

“It still hits me sometimes that this is the first year that I don’t have to have a side job anymore. This is what I do now — and obviously, I couldn’t be any happier than I am right now.” 

Unlike many anglers who overestimate their weights on BassTrakk — the unofficial real-time scoreboard for B.A.S.S. events — Hamner underestimated his bass Friday. BassTrakk showed him with five fish in his livewell at quitting time that weighed just 19 1/2 pounds. That total would have been good for third place, but it was off by nearly 3 pounds. 

Hamner, who was tightlipped about his techniques, caught keepers steadily throughout the day, putting his first bass in the box at 8:57 a.m. and his last in at 3:06 p.m. The two largemouth that anchored his bag were estimated at 5 pounds each.  

After a practice he deemed “absolutely terrible,” Hamner said he was shocked by the level of success. 

“Every day was so different that I could never duplicate patterns two days in a row,” he said. “So now, I’m going into every day with an open mind. Obviously, I know where I’m going to start tomorrow. But if it ain’t happening quick, I’m just gonna go fishing.” 

One thing Hamner did seem sure of was that increased winds would help his fortunes — and that’s exactly what the forecast is calling for. While Saturday’s winds will once again be at 5 to 10 mph, Sunday’s forecast is calling for 20 to 30 mph winds with an occasional gust over 40. 

“That should be very good for me,” Hamner said. “When it was slick calm this morning, the fish I caught would just have one hook in their mouths, barely hooked. I even lost a couple of good ones because of it. I could have had a sure-enough big bag. 

“But as soon as that wind picked up, they would bite it and have the whole bait sideways in their mouths.”

As for managing the emotions of leading the Classic, Hamner said he didn’t know what to expect since he’s never been in the situation before. He also said he’ll have to figure out the increased presence of spectator boats as he goes. 

“The way this whole year is going, I just don’t feel a lot of pressure,” he said. “I’m just going out there to have fun. The spectators could be interesting because I’m fishing some really tight areas. But I’m not worried about it. I’m just glad somebody wants to come and watch me.”  

Like Hamner, Huff didn’t have the best practice, but his fortunes changed when it was time to go live.  

BassTrakk showed Huff with catches of a 4-0, 4-8, 4-0, 3-8 and 4-0, but some were obviously underestimated, considering his heavier total weight of 21-2. One thing that was completely accurate, however, was that the last bass he caught was weighed in just before noon. 

Confident that he had 20 pounds in his livewell, Huff decided to spend the final three hours of the day “trying to catch a big fish” and looking for things that might help him the rest of the event. He caught a few decent keepers — nothing that would allow him to cull, but hopefully a sign of good things to come. 

“My practice wasn’t that great, but it seemed like when I got to some of those areas where I caught them in practice, they were all good ones today,” Huff said. “I hope it stays that way — I hope the big females just keep coming through.” 

Huff said he also had several areas he found in practice that he still hasn’t visited — and since he didn’t see other tournament boats where he fished Friday, he hopes those areas were left alone as well. Like Hamner, now that he’s near the top of the leaderboard, Huff expects a large gallery of spectator boats on Day 2. 

“I’m fishing really, really shallow,” Huff said. “It’s the kind of thing that would really be vulnerable to a lot of boat traffic. But one of the keys to what I’m doing has been slowing down and just picking everything apart.  

“Having a lot of boats following me — that whole element — it might force me to slow down and pick things apart even more. Maybe it’ll be a good thing.” 

After a tremendous career on the Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Huff is now making his third career appearance in the Classic. And while he isn’t sure that his previous Classic appearances will make a big difference in how he handles the pressure of being in contention, he’d rather be living this scenario than the alternative. 

“I don’t think anybody’s ever gonna be comfortable with this situation unless they’re made of brick,” Huff said. “But I’m a lot more comfortable with this than I am with being at the bottom of the pack.” 

Oklahoma pro Luke Palmer brought in the Big Bass of the Day, a 6-5, and took the lead in the Mercury Big Bass of the Tournament race.  

The full field will take off again at 7:15 a.m. CT Saturday from Wolf Creek Park and Boating Facility, with weigh-in scheduled for approximately 5:00 p.m. at the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa. Doors will open at 3:15 p.m., with the Strike King Bassmaster High School Classic taking the stage to weigh in at 3:35 p.m. After Saturday’s weigh-in, only the Top 25 remaining anglers will advance to Championship Sunday for a chance at the $300,000 first-place prize and the most -coveted trophy in the history of the sport. 

Click here for a full list of how to watch the event online and on television. 

Click here for a full list of Classic events, including the annual Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by GSM Outdoors.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

McKinney wins Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Fork with fourth-highest weight ever caught

March 3, 2024

YANTIS, Texas —

Trey McKinney made history, with authority, on Championship Sunday at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork.

The Carbondale, Ill., native, exactly one week removed from his 19th birthday, finished with a four-day total of 20 bass weighing 130 pounds, 15 ounces, outlasting the field of 103 anglers in what was one of the most productive tournaments in the history of competitive bass fishing.

He became the youngest winner in Elite Series history and earned $100,000, while missing the all-time record for total weight in a four-day B.A.S.S. event — set by Paul Elias on Falcon Lake in Texas in 2008 — by just 1 pound, 9 ounces.

“This is crazy to even be up here, much less come that close to setting the all-time tournament record,” McKinney said. “To think, that one more fish and I could have had it. I lost a 7 1/2-pounder yesterday that would have given me 33 pounds and enough weight to break it.

“But I couldn’t be happier. This lake is just awesome. It was stressful and I had adrenaline. I was really spinning out today when I had 28 pounds and didn’t know if I had enough to win. I knew I had to have more.”

McKinney’s total was the fourth-highest produced in a four-day tournament in B.A.S.S. history, trailing Elias and two other angler who each caught more than 131 pounds at that historic 2008 event at Falcon.

The tournament on Lake Fork was only McKinney’s second since qualifying for the Elite Series. The rookie caught more than 30 pounds each day (the only angler to do so this week), posting totals of 33-11, 33-10 and 30-0 before closing with another 33-10 limit to clinch the win on Championship Sunday.

McKinney figured he could get the extra weight in his favored spot of the week, but it was filled with locals when he arrived there Sunday morning, compounding his stress. Then, showing a maturity beyond his age, he slowed down and considered his options.

He settled into a small pocket just a stone’s throw from the Caney Point Recreation Area where daily takeoffs and weigh-ins were held. He noticed the small cove earlier in the week, but didn’t rely on it until the final minutes of the tournament.

What a choice.

“It was just loaded in there,” he said. “I finally wound up catching one more that weighed 7-6 and that put me over 33 pounds overall with 30 minutes left to fish. I had a feeling it was gonna happen right there, and it just worked out perfectly.”

McKinney adjusted to rapidly changing conditions on Championship Sunday, just like every other day of the shootout on Fork. He caught his Day 4 bass using a Strike King KVD Ocho stickbait with 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu line on a St. Croix 7-foot medium-heavy Legend X rod. Earlier in the week, he hooked his biggest bass using a St. Croix Physyx 7-1 medium rod with a Strike King Z Too lure on 10-pound Seaguar Tatsu line.

“The Lowrance ActiveTarget was essential to finding these fish up on the shallow flats, too,” McKinney said. “I started the tournament fishing in 20 to 30 feet of water and then today, I was in 4 feet … They were moving off the timber toward the bank. I had to follow them.”

Each of the 10 Elites who survived the final Phoenix Boats Cutline became members of the Century Club, meaning they caught more than 100 pounds of bass over four days. It was only the second time in history that has happened, with the historic 2008 tournament on Falcon the only comparison. A total of 12 competitors surpassed the 100-pound mark in the Falcon event, which featured a final-day cut of 12 instead of 10.

McKinney, who led here after Day 2 and Day 3, fell from atop the leaderboard early on Sunday, but he regained the upper hand when he hooked a 6-7 largemouth just after noon. Justin Hamner, of Northport, Ala., jumped into second place soon after with a gigantic 11-7 largemouth that pulled him within 18 ounces of the lead.

But then McKinney closed with his 7-13 and pulled away again.

Tyler Rivet, of Raceland, La., finished second with 125-9. Hamner finished third with 124-10 and his 11-7 was the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day and the tournament, earning him an additional $3,000 in prize money.

Rivet’s 125-9 is the eighth-highest four-day weight in B.A.S.S history. Hamner’s 124-10 is ninth all-time and Tyler Williams’ 124-9 is 10th.

Lake Fork has now produced 19 Century Club members, passing Falcon (15) for most in B.A.S.S. history.

With only two of the nine Elite Series tournaments completed, the race for Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year is just beginning.

After his victory, McKinney tied Texas pro Ben Milliken for the AOY lead with 195 points and Patrick Walters of South Carolina follows closely with 194 points.

McKinney and Milliken also lead the race for Dakota Lithium Rookie of the Year.

Japan’s Taku Ito won the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the tournament for his 39-1 Day 1 catch, earning him an additional $2,000.

McKinney earned an extra $4,000 for the Yamaha Power Pay contingency award while Williams earned a $2,500 bonus.

McKinney also earned $3,000 in Toyota Bonus Bucks, second-place Rivet earned $2,000 in Bonus Bucks.

This event was hosted by Wood County Texas.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Another big day puts McKinney on the verge of history in Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Fork

March 2, 2024

YANTIS, Texas —

Trey McKinney already is the youngest angler ever on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Now, he’s only a day away from possibly winning the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork and scratching his name into another chapter of the B.A.S.S. record books.

McKinney, a 19-year-old Elite Series rookie from Carbondale, Ill., maintained his lead on Semifinal Saturday at this 27,000-acre big-bass factory in the northeast corner of the Lone Star State. He caught a Day 3 limit of five bass that weighed 30 pounds even, giving him 15 total bass for 97 pounds, 5 ounces.

BassTrakk had McKinney falling out of first place with only 5-3 caught after 75 minutes of fishing. His confidence shot skyward, however, after hooking a chunky 8-8 largemouth an hour later.

“The nerves were getting to me,” McKinney said. “I was trying to stay calm. When I finally hooked that big one, I said ‘This bass is what’s going to get me through.’ It took the pressure off me and I was able to fish better.”

It’s almost unfathomable that McKinney flirted with the Century mark (a 100-pound total or higher) through only three days of the four-day derby. In fact, the Top 10 anglers who survived the Phoenix Boats Cutline after Saturday’s fishing all are within striking distance of the celebrated Century Club, with the 10th-place angler having 86-5 after three days on Fork.

Still, the tournament appears McKinney’s to win or lose. Only a teenager, he’s displayed wisdom beyond his years in this tournament, making key switches when needed and maintaining focus with the spotlight shining squarely on him.

After calming down with the 8-8, McKinney caught a trio of 5-pounders over the next few hours to build a 7-pound cushion on the field. But Louisiana’s Tyler Rivet hooked a crucial 8-15 largemouth just after 11 a.m. to complete his limit and reel McKinney back to the pack.

Tyler Williams, a 22-year-old Elite Series rookie from Belgrade, Maine, is in second place with a three-day total of 94-11. Williams posted 33-14 on Saturday, following limits of 30-4 and 30-9 earlier in the tournament, and he and McKinney are the only two anglers to catch 30 pounds each day of the derby.

Williams’ 33-14 was the third-heaviest total caught Saturday. He hooked a pair of 7-pounders early and ended with a flourish, catching an 8-5 lunker on his last cast.

“I’m fishing in 40 feet of water sometimes and in 2 feet of water other times,” he said. “The big one today came really shallow. If the water was clear enough, I probably could have seen it with my eyes.”

Williams is covering a lot of water, but he’s doing so methodically. On Saturday, he trolled parallel to the bank and leaned on a 3/4-ounce Greenfish brown jig to boat his best bass.

“I put my trolling motor down about 7:15 a.m. (just after takeoff) and picked it up at about 2:45 p.m. (just before weigh-in,)” he said.

Rivet, a 29-year-old Elite angler from Raceland, La., is in third place with a 92-15 total. He followed limits of 31-5 and 29-13 with a 31-13 stringer on Semifinal Saturday.

“I just keep moving,” Rivet said, responding to how he’s maintained consistency in an event featuring a 40-degree temperature drop to start the tournament, bluebird skies and rapidly climbing temps on Day 2 and steady 15 mph winds on Day 3.

“I’ve been catching them where there’s a lot of timber in a pretty long pocket, and I’m getting new fish every day,” Rivet continued. “I think I can get another big bag. I’m confident.”

Others surviving the Phoenix Boats Cutline were Stetson Blaylock, fourth, 92-7; fifth, Justin Hammer, 91-3; sixth, Kyle Patrick, 90-5; seventh, Justin Atkins, 90-0; eighth, Cooper Gallant, 88-0; ninth, Ben Milliken, 87-3; and 10th, Wesley Gore, 86-5.

Five of the remaining Top 10 are Elite Series rookies (McKinney, Williams, Patrick, Milliken and Gore). Gore still has the Phoenix Boats Big Bass (a 10-9 caught on Day 1), while Milliken caught a 9-10 for the Big Bass on Day 3.

With the remarkable totals on the board, it’s realistic (if not probable) that each of the 10 remaining anglers will crack the 100-pound mark on Championship Sunday. That’s happened only once before in the era of four-day tournaments and five-bass limits — in 2008 on Falcon Lake in Texas when 12 Elites caught 100 pounds or more. Paul Elias caught 132-8 that year on Falcon, a four-day B.A.S.S. record that still stands.

It’s worth noting that the 2008 Falcon event was limited to 12 anglers on the final day of fishing instead of 10. Under similar circumstances on Fork, that record would likely be equaled — and there’s no telling how many 100-pound totals would be caught if the full field fished Sunday.

“Getting a Century belt is just about the coolest thing I can think of,” McKinney said, noting he still has 2-11 to get to that storied milestone. “That’s something you can’t do every day. But this tournament has been something special.

“And if they bite again tomorrow like they have the first three days, it’ll be a fun day. If not, I’ll have to tooth-and-nail them every minute of the day.”

FS1 will have live action from Championship Sunday from 8-11 a.m. There also will be live coverage on from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

This event is being hosted by Wood County Texas.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Another big catch gives McKinney the lead at Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Fork

March 1, 2024

YANTIS, Texas —

Just when you thought the fishing at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork couldn’t get better, it did.

Fifteen of the 103 anglers in the field caught 30 pounds or more on Day 2 of this four-day derby in the northeast corner of the Lone Star State. That was up from a total of 14 who caught 30 pounds or more on Thursday to start competition on the 27,000-acre fishery.

Trey McKinney, the 19-year-old wunderkind from Carbondale, Ill., leads with 10 bass totaling 67 pounds, 5 ounces. He was in fourth place after Day 1 with a 33-11 limit and held steady with a nearly identical 33-10 limit a day later.

McKinney is an Elite Series rookie who qualified for the tour through the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by SEVIIN. After finishing third in the Tackle Warehouse Elite Qualifiers division of the Opens, he’s the youngest angler to ever qualify for the Elites — and he’s already displaying a mastery beyond his years.

Not only does he have the lead at the halfway point of this tournament, but he has the best story of the derby to date, too.

It happened early Friday when a heavy 5-pounder broke off one of his favored jerkbaits. The misfortune briefly dampened the 19-year-old’s spirits. But an hour later, he caught the same bass, adding nearly 6 pounds to his Day 2 total.

He also got his jerkbait back — part of another amazing day for the teenager on this fabled fishery.

“I grabbed his lip and my jerkbait is staring me in the face,” McKinney said, shaking his head in near disbelief. “And I caught him the second time on the same kind of jerkbait. It was crazy. He had two baits in his mouth. He could barely fit the second one in there, but he was determined.”

McKinney didn’t offer specifics about which jerkbaits he’s using, but he did say he’s deploying them in two different ways.

“I’ve got one that sinks and one that suspends” he said. “It just depends on what kind of mood they’re in. You have to read them to know which one to use … It’s a feeling really. For the less active fish, I like to use the suspended one.”

McKinney also said he’s opting occasionally for a Strike King Z Too to excite Fork’s best bass.

Friday began much like Day 1, with temperatures in the 40s. The weather warmed throughout the day, however, and by midday, it was in the mid-60s and Day 1’s stiff winds had dissipated.

“Today, I think the fish were feeling the pressure,” McKinney said. “These conditions have been crazy, so the fish are moving around a lot. They want the bank, but they can’t quite get there. So, these next two days are going to be very interesting. We’ll have to make some changes, no question. Hopefully I make the right ones.”

Matty Wong, who was in sixth place after Day 1, caught his second 30-pound limit in as many days, and is in second place with 63-10. The 36-year-old Honolulu native caught 33-2 on Thursday and was hoping for some of the same cold and blustery weather that aided his bite.

Warmer temps and bluebird skies didn’t hurt his bite one bit, though, as he tacked on a 30-8 limit Friday. A personal best of 9-3, which he caught just before 10 a.m., anchored his Day 2 bag.

“I’m keying on prespawning fish and I think these cold mornings have got them up where they need to be,” Wong said. “These fish are trying to feed up their eggs, and I think I’m cutting them off as they move in … And there are more fish coming. I dumped two really good ones today that could’ve given me 40 pounds.”

Justin Atkins, a 33-year-old pro from Florence, Ala., is in third place with 61-13. He followed a 32-11 total on Thursday with 29-2 on Friday.

“The wind made it harder to fish, but I think it got them more active,” Atkins said of the main difference he saw between the first two days of the derby.

“When you get your bait out there by them, they seem a little more anxious to just get it. But today, I really had to coax them. The biggest one I caught, I bet my bait had been out there more than a minute before it finally bit. The slick conditions today just made them come up, get high on the timber, get on the bed — all the things you want. I’ll take these conditions the next two days, without a doubt.”

Wesley Gore, of Clanton, Ala., maintains his lead for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize with the 10-9 largemouth he caught on Day 1. Rookie JT Thompkins, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., had the big bass on Day 2 (a 9-13 lunker).

Four Elite Series rookies are in the Top 10 heading into Semifinal Saturday, including six of the Top 12. The Top 50 anglers after Friday’s action survived the Phoenix Boats Cutline and will fish on Day 3.

After Saturday’s competition, the Top 10 will advance to Championship Sunday to fish for the tournament title and the accompanying $100,000 prize.

Follow all the live action on FS1 from 8-11:30 a.m. and on from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. On Championship Sunday, watch live coverage on FS1 from 8-11 a.m. and on again from 9-4 p.m.

This event is being hosted by Wood County Texas.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Ito takes early lead as giants emerge on Day 1 of the Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Fork

February 29, 2024

YANTIS, Texas —

Just about everyone expected to see big bags of bass this week at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork.

Few, however, could have predicted the absolute slugfest that took place Thursday on this 27,000-acre jewel in the northeast corner of the Lone Star State.

A whopping 14 of the 103 anglers in the field caught 30 pound or better on Day 1 of the four-day tournament. Taku Ito, of Chiba, Japan, led the way with a five-bass total of 39 pounds, 1 ounce, including a personal best 10-5 lunker largemouth he brought to the stage at Caney Point Recreation Area.

His previous best was a 10-pounder he caught in Japan.

“Today was an incredible day,” Ito said. “I caught the big one about 10 a.m. I was throwing many types of baits — a jighead, a jerkbait, Texas rigs, drop shots. I was in different kinds of water, from 25 feet to about 5 feet.”

It was an unexpected turnaround for the 37-year-old Elite pro, who said he struggled mightily during his practice days on Fork.

“It was terrible,” he said. “I had four fish in one practice. Then I had three fish one day and two on another day. But today, I caught a bunch. Everything worked for me today.”

Ito wasn’t expecting Thursday’s cold and windy weather to help his cause, either, though it certainly did. Temperatures plummeted into the 40s on Wednesday, from the mid-80s a day earlier, and they stayed that way on Day 1 of this derby.

The weather is predicted to slowly warm throughout the the tournament, though Friday morning could be cold and windy again. The rapidly changing conditions make Ito uncertain he can come close to repeating the phenomenal 39-1 he caught Thursday.

“It’ll be hard,” he said. “The weather today helped me. I will go to the same places and try the same things.”

Stetson Blaylock, of Benton, Ark., is in second place with 37-6. He had a strong start, with bass weighing 6-10, 8-6 and 9-10 coming from the same small spot in the opening hours. Blaylock went cold for more than three hours, though, and didn’t catch his fourth and fifth bass until much later in the day.

He said unpredictable weather has him thinking he’ll try something new on Friday. And yes, he realizes it’s not too often you catch 37-6 and change tactics.

“This weather made the fish weird,” he said. “I found that one little area that really produced this morning. I knew it would be good, but I didn’t know it’d be that good … I don’t think I go there tomorrow … Things are gonna flip-flop. With the amount of 30-pound stringers caught today, I know I can go other places in the lake and catch big fish.”

Second-year Elite Kyle Norsetter, of Cottage Grove, Wis., is in third place with 35-8. He too said he struggled during practice, but a midday change of scenery helped him mount a strong Day 1 finish.

“We had about 35 bed fish marked, but I pulled into my first spot, and I only caught a 3-11,” he said. “I thought it was gonna be a decent day. I hit my spots, about six of them, and they were gone … I caught only one bedding fish today.

“So, I ended up switching gears,” Norsetter continued. “I saw something and made a cast, got it. Then I started LiveScoping. From there, everything went right. There were a lot of fish and some really nice fish, too. It was encouraging after having a really tough, draining practice.”

Trey McKinney, of Carbondale, Ill., is fourth after Day 1 with 33-11. Justin Hammer, of Northport, Ala., is fifth with 33-5. A total of 92 Elites had double-digit totals on Thursday and 69 of them caught at least 20 pounds.

Wesley Gore, of Clanton, Ala., caught the Phoenix Boats Big Bass on Thursday — a 10-9 giant he hooked just before 9 a.m.

Big bags are nothing new at Lake Fork. Texas pro Lee Livesay won the past two Elite derbies held here, cracking the Century mark both times — 112-5 in 2021 and 113-11 a year later. There were a total of six Century Club performances in those two tournaments.

The entire field will fish again Friday, with only the Top 50 advancing to Semifinal Saturday. The Top 10 will compete for the blue trophy and $100,000 first-place prize on Championship Sunday.

Bassmaster LIVE will be streaming on all four days, and coverage will also be available on FS1 on Saturday and Sunday.

This event is being hosted by Wood County Texas.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Fujita’s furious comeback leads to Bassmaster Elite Series victory at Toledo Bend

February 25, 2024

MANY, La. —

Kyoya Fujita’s ultimate goal for 2024 is to win the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.

Winning the first tournament of the season is certainly an impressive way to start that campaign.

With 100 pounds, 13 ounces, Fujita claimed the victory at the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend. Along with the coveted century belt — an exclusive award given only to those who catch at least 100 pounds of bass in a four-day event — the Elite Series sophomore earned the $100,000 top prize and a blue trophy.

“I was surprised,” Fujita said with the assistance of a translator. “I am looking to make every Championship Sunday this season. But winning tournaments are really hard things to do. I have been champion in Japan, but I know how hard it is to do. I’m happy with how it worked out. It’s a very good start.”

Entering the day 6 pounds behind Wisconsin pro Pat Schlapper, Fujita made a furious comeback in the final round by catching 28-13 — a bag almost entirely made up of 6-pounders and a total he wasn’t expecting after struggling the previous day.

“I thought there was a chance for me to win if Pat caught only 16 or 17 pounds and I could catch 22 or 23 pounds,” Fujita said. “If I can locate the bass, I am confident I can catch those bass. In my brain, my tactics, my fishing and my heart, I believe in myself.”

This win only adds reinforces his hard-earned nickname “Prince of Japanese Angling.” This is Fujita’s second Elite Series title in 10 events, with the first coming at Lake Champlain last August. Before coming to America, he won four Angler of the Year titles in Japan as well as six major tournaments.

Most of the week, Fujita stayed in one offshore spot in the mouth of Housen Bay and targeted prespawn bass suspended in deep standing timber. As the fishing pressure from Elite anglers and locals began to build, the bite began to suffer.

When that spot began to fizzle on Day 3, he moved to the creek right above Housen and caught suspended bass in 10 feet of water using his forward-facing sonar in the mouth of that creek. That spot produced multiple 6-pounders the final two days, several of which he believed to be postspawners.

“I practiced there and found some 3-pounders, but nothing special,” he said. “I think because of the wind situation (on Day 4), the bass came up there.”

In both areas, Fujita used a Jackall Drift Fry and a Deps Sakamata Shad and rigged them on either a 1/8-ounce or 3/16-ounce Keitech Super Round Jighead. When he located a bass on Garmin LiveScope, he would cast to it and then lightly shake the bait in front of the bass until it bit.

He rigged both baits on a 6-foot, 5-inch medium-light Daiwa Steez Real Control spinning rod paired with a Daiwa Exist reel which he spooled with 30-pound Daiwa braid main line and 16-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Fujita took the lead on Day 1 by catching 31-3 — a five-bass limit that earned him $2,000 for as the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the Tournament. He fell to second after a Day 2 bag of 24-3 and then to third after catching 16-10 on Day 3.

During his Day 3 struggles, however, Fujita caught a late 6-pounder that pointed him in the right direction for Championship Sunday.

Fujita returned to his primary spot to open the final round — and while there weren’t many bass left in the area, he started the morning by landing a 6- and 5-pounder in the first two hours. He caught two more keepers in that area, but he could not manufacture another bite.

“I caught four nice ones at the first main area,” Fujita said. “There weren’t many bass this morning either, but there were less boats. Nobody was fishing around me. So, I was able to see them. When I saw the four big fish, I caught all of them. I didn’t fish for the smaller ones. After I caught those four, I didn’t see anything.”

After mid-morning, Fujita made a move to his secondary spot and landed another 6-pounder to fill his limit. His day only got better from there as he landed several more 6-pounders in the last three hours to seal his victory.

South Carolina pro Patrick Walters caught 29-0, the biggest bag of the final day, to jump into second place with a four-day total of 95-15. He anchored his big Sunday bag with an 8-4 largemouth that claimed Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day honors.

Walters opened the tournament with 19-11 before bringing 30-5 and 16-5 to the scales on Days 2 and 3. While a good start to his season, he had mixed feelings about the way the final day unfolded.

“It started out slow,” he said. “It took all day long. I caught my biggest one on my last cast. It was one here and one there and it took forever. But I had the bites to crack the biggest bag I’ve ever had in my life. I lost two hammers — two absolute giants — and a 4-pounder. I’m happy with the start, though.”

Using forward-facing sonar, Walters focused on a major creek channel and searched for bass in a wide area. The key was keeping the trolling motor down and covering water until he saw something he liked. A 3/16-ounce Damiki rig with a Fluke-style bait and a Neko-rigged Zoom Magnum Swamp Crawler were his key baits.

“I wouldn’t pick my trolling motor up for 5 miles,” Walters said. “I would follow the creek channel and then move to the flat. I would move to wherever I thought they were going.”

Entering the final day with the lead, Schlapper fell to third with a four-day total of 93-8 after landing just 14-14 on Sunday. The Wisconsin pro had three great days, landing 27-4 on Day 1 before adding 28-5 and 22-7 the next two days.

“I knew I was in trouble when I didn’t catch a couple good ones early,” he said. “It is what it is. I ran out of bass and didn’t adjust.”

Schlapper spent most of his time this week fishing the deep edge of a grass flat in Housen Bay. The majority of the bass he caught this week were roaming between 10 and 30 feet of water. While he combed a large area, Schlapper keyed on one particular sweet spot that produced multiple big bites each of the first three days.

“There was a drain that went in, a little gap they were funneling into,” he said. “The majority of the big ones I caught were within a 100 yards of the mouth of that drain. I think those bass were either in the grass or timber and would come out to that edge and sun themselves. All of the big ones I caught were up high in the water column, like 10 feet down.”

He caught almost every bass this week using a Damiki rig with a Queen Tackle tungsten jighead and a minnow-style bait. Garmin LiveScope was an important contributor as well.

Schlapper said he did not see nearly as many bass as he’d seen the previous three days. The quality bass he did see on his forward-facing sonar did not bite. With a small limit and time running out, he punted and moved to a shallow grass flat and caught several nice bass with a bladed jig to salvage the day.

Fujita took the early lead in the Angler of the Year standings with 103 points, followed by Walters in second with 102. Schlapper is third with 101 points, followed by Tennessee rookie Robert Gee in fourth with 100 and Texas rookie Ben Milliken in fifth with 99.

Gee and Milliken sit atop the Dakota Lithium Rookie of the Year standings, followed by Alabama’s Wesley Gore in third with 93 points, Trey McKinney of Illinois in fourth with 92 and Maine’s Tyler Williams in fifth with 85.

South Carolina’s Bryan New earned a total of $3,000 for catching the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament, a 9-8 largemouth he landed on Day 1.

Virginia pro Ed Loughran III took home the $1,000 BassTrakk contingency bonus for most accurate weight recording this week.

Fujita earned an extra $4,000 for the Yamaha Power Pay contingency award while Walters earned a $2,500 bonus.

Oklahoma pro Luke Palmer earned $3,000 in Toyota Bonus Bucks, while rookie McKinney earned $2,000 in Bonus Bucks.

The event was hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Schlapper increases lead on Day 3 of Bassmaster Elite Series 2024 opener at Toledo Bend

February 24, 2024

MANY, La. —

Before this week, Pat Schlapper had never led a day of Bassmaster Elite Series competition. The Wisconsin pro has now led two-straight days of the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend and will hold the pole position heading into Championship Sunday with a three-day total of 78 pounds.

Schlapper caught 22 pounds, 7 ounces on Day 3 to add to his 27-4 and 28-5 marks from the first two days. Japanese pro Kyoya Fujita follows in second with 72-0 and Tennessee rookie Robert Gee is third with 69-7.

“I’m very thankful to have the bag I got. I worked hard for it. I’m happy to be in the position to have a chance,” Schlapper said. “It feels really good. I want to win so badly. It is so hard to get into a position to win.

“Last year, I had one opportunity on Seminole and I had a bad first day. So, I’m trying to concentrate and fish to the best of my ability and win. That is all that’s in my mind.”

Throughout the week, Schlapper has targeted bass roaming offshore on a warming Toledo Bend using his Garmin LiveScope, with one particular spot producing the bulk of his weight. He found that spot during his pre-fishing trip last month and then dialed in an exact pattern during practice this week.

The majority of his bass have been caught on one bait in 15 to 30 feet of water.

“Where I am at, a lot of fish are just passing through there,” he said. “So, every day I see new fish. I don’t think I’ve casted at the same fish in three days. They are constantly moving around, or they’re buried in the grass and then come out.”

Each day has gotten tougher for Schlapper. Not only has the amount of local pressure increased in the area, the bass are also in transition as sunny skies and air temperatures over 70 degrees in the afternoons have warmed the waters.

As the tournament has progressed, though, he has put more pressure on his best area.

“I’ve had a sweet spot the whole time, but I didn’t want people to know exactly where it was,” he said. “But today I had to really saturate it. There were so many high school anglers and competitors out there. I had to hang out there today, which paid off because I got two big ones.

“The majority of my big ones have been in that couple-100-yard area.”

By milking that sweet spot, Schlapper was able to generate bites early on Semifinal Saturday. He filled his limit and caught his two biggest bass, including a 6-pounder, before 9 a.m. From there, the bite slowed tremendously as the fishing pressure increased.

“It started out decent,” Schlapper said. “I was able to get a couple good ones pretty early and secure a decent limit to where I knew I was going to make the cut. From there, I picked one up here and there. I got one key cull at the end of the day and lost a really big one.”

With the idea that new bass are moving through every day, Schlapper will be all in on his primary area on the final day. He has other spots where he feels he can catch a bass, but none that have produced as many big bites.

Although he has a sizable lead, the three-time qualifier for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors feels he needs 25 pounds to secure his first Elite Series victory.

“If that area doesn’t produce, we are going to be hurting,” Schlapper said. “I’m 100% committed and I knew that coming into the tournament. I didn’t want any other thought in my mind. If I’m going to win this tournament, this is what I have to do.”

After leading on Day 1 with 31-3 — the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the Tournament to this point — Fujita caught 24-3 on Day 2 before stumbling Saturday with 16-10. Most of the week, the four-time Japanese Angler of the Year has targeted one area of standing timber. He has caught the majority of his bass on a Jackall Drift Fry using after identifying them on Garmin LiveScope.

On Saturday, Fujita returned to his primary spot but did not see the numbers of bass he had witnessed the first two days. The colder morning, along with an increase in fishing pressure around him, contributed to this tough day.

“Changes in lake condition (also). I find many fish in practice. But today, no fish,” he said. “I went to same area, many boat area, in the morning.”

At 10 a.m., Fujita began searching for new bass and slowly worked his way to a limit. His final bass of the day was a 6-pounder, which came from an offshore area he found during his practice period.

“I hit 10 spots today, but no fish,” he said. “In the afternoon, I catch a 6-pounder in a new area. Six-pounder spot, (I will) try tomorrow.”

With a big deficit to overcome, Fujita believes he needs a minimum of 25 pounds to have a shot at his second Elite Series title.

In his first-ever Elite event, Gee qualified for Championship Sunday with bags of 29-0, 22-10 and 17-13. He has bounced back and forth between offshore areas this week, using a Crock-O-Gator Slide Shad.

“It is wild. I never expected to make (the final day),” he said. “I had a gut feeling I might have a good tournament because before I got down here, everything that could go wrong was going wrong. My trailer messed up on the way down here and I had to fix it for four hours on the side of the highway. But it happened for me (on the water) this week. I hope I have one more blessed day.

“Hopefully I can bring in 30 pounds tomorrow. That would be cool.”

Day 3 started well for Gee as he caught a limit in the first 45 minutes. From there, Gee went through his rotation of six or seven areas, but only found bass in two or three of them.

“They are definitely leaving where I am fishing,” he said. “I am going to have to make a change,” he said. “It was a pretty tough day, especially this evening. I didn’t see very many and they were hard to hit.”

With bass leaving his areas, and water temperatures over 60 degrees in places, Gee believes he will have to move shallow at some point Sunday to have a shot at victory. He has an idea of where the bass he was targeting early in the week are going next.

Wisconsin’s Jay Przekurat caught the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day, a 7-15 largemouth. But South Carolina pro Bryan New still holds the lead in the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament with the 9-8 largemouth he landed on Day 1.

The Top 10 remaining anglers will launch from Cypress Bend Park beginning at 7 a.m. CT Sunday and return for weigh-in at 3 p.m. The winner will earn a coveted blue trophy and the $100,000 top prize. All anglers are earning points toward the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.

Bassmaster LIVE will be available on FS1 on Sunday from 7-10 a.m. CT before moving to for the afternoon session.

Those wanting to attend will be able to enjoy the “B.A.S.S. on the ’Bend” festival on Sunday at Cypress Bend Park before weigh-in. The festival will feature live music and many local vendors.

The event is being hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Pat Schlapper captures kicker bass to take Day 2 lead in Bassmaster Elite Series event at Toledo Bend

February 23, 2024

MANY, La. —

With the help of an 8-6 largemouth, Pat Schlapper caught 28 pounds, 5 ounces on Day 2 of the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend to jump into the lead with a two-day total of 55-9.

The pro from Eleva, Wis., holds a 3-ounce advantage over Day 1 leader Kyoya Fujita, who is second with a two-day mark of 55-6. Tennessee’s Robert Gee is third with 51-10.

“There were some really fun moments today,” Schlapper said. “It was tougher than yesterday, honestly. I didn’t get that many bites, and the bass are either leaving or getting picked off. I still had three really good bites.”

After finding a rhythm late in the day Thursday, the three-time Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors qualifier returned to one of his most productive areas and targeted roaming bass in 15 to 30 feet of water. He used the same bait he caught the majority of his bass on yesterday with the help of his Garmin LiveScope.

Despite the increase in boat pressure in the area, Schlapper immediately started catching bass and filled out his limit around 9:30 a.m. before landing his biggest bass of the day.

“I saw the bass on LiveScope, but it looked too big. I made a good cast and it came up on it, bit it and I missed it,” Schlapper said. “I cast up there again; the way it came up I thought it was a bass. Then, the way it fought, I knew it was a bass. I was lucky I (that) missed it the first time and then (it) ate it again. It was awesome.”

Late in the day, he returned to that same area and caught another kicker bass, a largemouth that weighed just under 8 pounds.

“I had a good bag fairly early, but then it was a long time before I caught anything else,” he said. “I came back at the end of the day when everyone was gone and caught another that was almost 8.”

Schlapper, however, is a bit concerned about how the rest of the tournament will play out in his primary area. With the weekend starting, boat pressure will likely only increase. He has also noticed the water temperature rising, which could mean the bass will move toward the bank and away from his area.

“There aren’t many bass left there. There were a lot of spectators and other competitors really messing with them,” he said. “If another wave kind of moves through, we might be alright. If not, it might be tough. There’s a chance I can throw (it) in front of five big ones tomorrow. I think there is less of a chance than there was today and the day before.

“But I’m sticking with it.”

After landing the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the Tournament on Day 1 at 31-3, Fujita landed 24-3 to drop into second place. The Japanese pro returned to his primary spot from Day 1 and, while he filled out a limit in the first three hours, he struggled to generate big bites until the afternoon. His biggest bass, logged as a 6-0 on BassTrakk, came after 1 p.m. He caught all of his bass on a Jackall Drift Fry around standing timber in 30 feet of water.

Boat pressure was the main reason for the tougher bite, he said.

“Yesterday in the morning, it was fish, fish, fish, and then in the afternoon, there was fishing pressure and no bites,” Fujita said with the help of a translator. “Today was tough.”

Despite the increased pressure, Fujita still saw plenty of bass on his LiveScope. He plans on returning to the same area in the morning and will evaluate how many other boats are around. If he isn’t liking what he sees, he will move to a different spot on the lake.

Gee added 22-10 to his 29-0 Day 1 bag to increase his two-day total to 51-10. While he lost a 4-pounder early in the day, the Knoxville, Tenn., rookie filled a limit quickly but struggled to find quality.

“I started where I could get a limit early,” he said. “It seemed like the bigger ones were leaving. I didn’t catch any really big ones, and everywhere I went it seemed like fish were leaving me. I feel like they are making a push up shallow with this full moon coming tomorrow night.”

Late in the day, Gee moved to his big-bass spot from yesterday and caught his two biggest of the day.

“I understood what I was doing wrong, so I went in closer to where the bass wanted to be going,” Gee said. “I was still in a basin, so I was in 35 feet of water instead of 50 feet.”

So far this week, Gee has caught the majority of his bass on a Crock-O-Gator Slide Shad and has changed the jighead size based on the depth he’s fishing and the wind speed. Forward-facing sonar has played a big role in his success.

With the bass leaving his areas, Gee feels like he will need to start making a move to the shallows. He didn’t have much success fishing shallow in practice, but he has an idea where his deep bass may move to in the coming days. 

“I’m just going to have to adjust and fish new water,” he said.

Canadian pro Chris Johnston caught a 9-3 largemouth on Day 2 to claim the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day. South Carolina’s Bryan New currently holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament, a 9-8 largemouth he caught on Day 1.

The Top 50 anglers will launch from Cypress Bend Park beginning at 7 a.m. CT and return for weigh-in at 3 p.m. The Top 10 will advance to Championship Sunday to compete for the blue trophy and $100,000 top prize. All anglers are earning points toward the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.

Bassmaster LIVE will be available on FS1 on Saturday morning beginning at 8 a.m. ET through 11:30 a.m. before moving to for the afternoon session.

Those wanting to attend will be able to enjoy the “B.A.S.S. on the ’Bend” festival on Saturday and Sunday at Cypress Bend Park before weigh-in. The festival will feature live music and many local vendors.

The event is being hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office of Tourism.