BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Bryan New Notches Victory In Bassmaster Elite Series Debut At St. Johns River

PALATKA, Fla. — Bryan New launched his rookie season in blockbuster form by topping a stout field of well-established finalists and winning the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River with a four-day total of 79 pounds, 7 ounces.

Starting Championship Sunday in sixth place, New trailed Day 3 leader and rising star Patrick Walters by 5-7. Saving his best for last, New posted the event’s second-heaviest bag, 26-4, and edged Elite veteran Greg Hackney by a margin of 9-9. For his efforts, New earned $101,000.

New caught most of his fish out of lily pads, but he found a few keepers over main-river shellbars about halfway between Palatka and Dunn’s Creek, which connects to Crescent Lake. Targeting bars in about 5 to 7 feet, he fished a Berkley Warpig lipless crankbait in the bleeding shiner color with a slow yo-yoing technique.

“That wasn’t a winning-fish deal, but without those fish, I don’t win this tournament,” New said.

The pads that produced the bulk of his weight were located at the lower end of Lake George. Fishing 5-inch black and blue Zoom Zlinky worms Texas-rigged on a 5/0 Berkley Fusion hook with a 1/8- and 1/4-ounce weights, New said he focused on isolated pads.

“I fished dense pads too, but I definitely liked the sparse pads for multiple reasons,” he said. “First, on an isolated target, it’s easier to pick out where the fish are sitting and they have more light penetration. That’s important for the spawning fish I was targeting.”

The key, New said, was a meticulous presentation that maximized every aspect of his target area.

“You don’t just have one target on each cast; sometimes you’ll have 10 targets on each cast,” he said. “You can feel the sweet spots. You can feel a little rough patch on the bottom where there’s a bed or you can feel the hard spot of the root. Sometimes, you can even feel a little depression.

“I’ve always heard that slow and steady wins the race,” New said. “That’s not always my style, but I can do it.”

New caught good numbers the first three days. Day 1, which was shortened by a three-hour fog delay, yielded 12 pounds and put him in 22nd place. The second day, he added 20-3 and rose to ninth before securing his Championship Sunday berth with a Day 3 limit of 21 pounds, which pushed him up to sixth.

Following the Day 3 weigh-in, New said he’d approach Championship Sunday focused on getting the big bites. On Sunday, he caught four in the 5-pound class and another over 4.

New qualified for the Elites by winning the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year title, an accomplishment that began with a win at his first 2020 tournament — the Bassmaster Eastern Open on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain.

Before the St. Johns event began, New stated that his 2021 goals included winning Bassmaster Angler of the Year — not only Rookie of the Year — and winning the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, which is set for June 11-13 on Lake Ray Roberts.

New summarized his Elite debut: “I have a pretty good start!”

Hackney committed his tournament to fishing cypress trees on Lake George’s east side. He caught 12-7 on Day 1 and placed 19th and then rose to third on Day 2 by adding 22-10. He’d improve to second on Day 3 and held that final position with weights of 23-6 and 11-7.

Returning to the Elites after a two-year break, the Gonzales, La., pro caught all of his fish on a junebug-colored Strike King Rage Bug rigged on a 5/0 Hack Attack Flipping hook with a 1/4-ounce Tour Grade Tungsten weight.

“There’s not any cover left in the lake (2017’s Hurricane Irma killed the eelgrass) and this was one of the few areas that had enough depth and enough protection from the elements for those lake fish to spawn on.

“There’s only a handful of docks and cypress trees in the lake and I spent one whole day in practice fishing all the way around (Lake George). I knew this was the area of the lake where the biggest population of fish lived and I knew where they used to spawn. I just looked for anything that was close by.”

Seth Feider of New Market, Minn., finished third with 69-6. He turned in daily weights of 8-3, 18-8, 25-8 and 17-3.

Derek Hudnall of Denham Springs, La., and Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, split the event’s Phoenix Boats Big Bass award of $1,000 for their 9-pound, 8-ounce fish. Hudnall won $1,000 for the big bass of Day 1, while Palaniuk claimed the Day 2 award. Wes Logan of Springville, Ala., won the Day 3 award with his 8-8 and New won the Day 4 award with his 5-14.

2020 Bassmaster Classic champion Hank Cherry of Lincolnton, N.C., took home $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Cliff Prince of Palatka, Fla., earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Late Giant Lifts Washingtons’ Smith To Victory At B.A.S.S. Nation Western Regional On Havasu

February 5, 2021

LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. — Taylor Smith caught only five bass on the final day of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Western Regional at Lake Havasu, and it was the final bite that gave him the weight he needed to win the season-opener on the 2021 B.A.S.S. tournament schedule.

Smith hooked a 5-pound largemouth a few dozen yards from the Lake Havasu State Park weigh-in site with only 45 minutes of tournament time remaining on Friday. The catch rounded out his 15-pound, 13-ounce limit and added to his 18-2 limit on Day 1. Smith finished with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 33-15.

The 35-year-old Valleyford, Wash., resident won $5,000 for topping the boater division. It was part of a $27,200 total purse split between the best of the 177 competitors this week on the 19,200-acre impoundment straddling the Arizona/California border.

Smith is no stranger to success in B.A.S.S. Nation events. He finished second in the Nation Championship at South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell in 2019, which qualified him for the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk held on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville.

Smith’s win at Lake Havasu qualified him for the 2021 Nation Championship, which will be held later this year at a location to be determined.

“I’m jacked,” he said. “It was such a fun time down here. I didn’t have very high expectations. My pre-fishing was terrible. So, I’m elated. To have another chance to fish for a berth in the Classic is unbelievable.”

Smith was in second place after Day 1 on Wednesday, trailing only California’s Matty Wong, who led with 18-8. That’s how standings remained Friday, as Thursday’s competition was canceled due to strong winds in the region. B.A.S.S. officials determined the full field would fish again on Friday, and Mother Nature cooperated with postcard-perfect weather — winds at a much tamer 10 mph, bluebird skies and temperatures in the low 70s.

Still, Smith struggled to find bites Friday. His luck changed with the 5-pounder he caught on a green pumpkin football-head jig outfitted with a blue trailer.

“I yelled so loud when I caught that fish, I’m surprised you didn’t hear me up here (at weigh-in),” Smith said of his big catch. “But other than that, it really was a grind out there today.

“A lot of people had fish follow a jerkbait or a spinnerbait (on Wednesday), but I think that just slowly went away. I couldn’t get any kind of reaction bite today.”

Smith believed Thursday’s turbulent conditions made the fishing tougher Friday.

“The wind yesterday changed things for me, so I feel lucky to catch what I did,” he said. “I didn’t think I had (as much weight as I did).”

Steve Lund, who was in fourth on Day 1, climbed to second overall with a two-day total of 32-2. The Glendale, Ariz., resident caught a 16-1 limit on Friday, which was the heaviest bag of the day. Wong finished third with 28-5.

Jake Morrison of Scottsdale, Ariz., caught six bass weighing 12-11 and won $2,500 for finishing first in the co-angler division. Tom Nokes of Riverton, Utah, led the Day 1 co-angler standings and finished second overall with 12-8. Hunter Loveless of American Fork, Utah, was third with 12-0.

The squad from Washington State handily won the team championship portion. Washington anglers caught 76 bass over two days for a total weight of 188-13, and the squad collected $5,600 with the win. Idaho finished second (62 bass, 140-1) and won $3,350, while Arizona (56 bass, 135-15) placed third and won $2,200.

Other states in team scoring included California, fourth, 132-6; Utah, fifth, 131-10; Oregon, sixth, 129-3; Montana, seventh, 128-3; Wyoming, eighth, 127-5; and Nevada, ninth, 126-1.

Jay Evans of Missoula, Mont., won the $500 Big Bass Award with a 6-pounder he caught Wednesday. Scooter Griffin of Hayden, Idaho, caught a 4-12 bass Friday to win the $250 top prize for big bass among co-anglers.

JJ Gibbs IV, who lives in Lake Havasu City, won the Garmin Tournament Rewards prize of $500. He finished fourth in the boater division with a two-day total of 26-3.

The leading angler and co-angler for each state team at the Western Regional qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation Team Championship. Four other regionals will be held in 2021, including April 21-23 at Milford Lake in Junction City, Kan.; April 28-30 at Lake Hartwell in Anderson, S.C.; June 23-25 at Lake Erie/Presque Isle Bay in Erie, Pa.; and Sept. 1-3 on the upper Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wis.


BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

BREAKING NEWS!!! – B.A.S.S. Announces Long-Awaited 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series Schedule

December 3, 2020

B.A.S.S. Announces Long-Awaited 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series Schedule

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — After the shortest offseason break in the trail’s 16-year history, B.A.S.S. officials announced Thursday that the Bassmaster Elite Series will open its 2021 tournament slate Feb. 11-14 on the St. Johns River in Florida.

The season-opener will begin just over three months after the final event of a 2020 schedule that was reworked due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a much later finish than usual.

“We’re as excited about this schedule as any that we’ve ever put together for the Elite Series,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “It features a good mix of venues that have become fixtures for B.A.S.S. and a few we’ve been to before but haven’t visited in a while.”

The St. Johns River falls into the category of a fixture, with B.A.S.S. having visited the picturesque fishery 22 times for major events since 1973, including three times during the past five seasons.

Connecticut pro Paul Mueller won a weather-shortened event in 2020 with a three-day total of 47-6, and events in 2016 and 2019 were won by Missouri legend Rick Clunn. Each of Clunn’s victories allowed him to break his own record for the oldest angler to claim an Elite Series trophy.

Whether the St. Johns weights are eye-popping usually depends on the finicky Florida weather and which stage of the spawn the bass are in. Regardless, big largemouth will be the target.

From Florida, the season will shift north Feb. 25-28 to Knoxville, Tenn., which has played host to two fantastic major B.A.S.S. events the past four seasons, including the record-breaking 2019 Bassmaster Classic. Like that Classic, the 2021 event will take place on the Tennessee River where largemouth and smallmouth will both likely come into play.

“Knoxville was thrilled to host the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2017,” said Chad Culver, senior director of the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission. “It was the first time B.A.S.S. had been here since 1981. That event led to Knoxville hosting the 2019 Bassmaster Classic – the largest in event history.

“Needless to say, we could not be more excited to welcome B.A.S.S. back to the waters of Knoxville and East Tennessee.”

Elite Series action will pause for the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, which is set for March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts near Fort Worth, Texas. Then the schedule will resume April 8-11 on another Texas fishery, the Sabine River in Orange.

Trips to the Sabine often see anglers targeting narrow canals where largemouth are the prize. While the winning weights are sometimes small, the weigh-in crowds are some of the largest B.A.S.S. sees anywhere. The 2013 Elite on the Sabine drew 33,000 spectators — the second-largest crowd in Elite Series history.

B.A.S.S. has visited the Sabine four times for major tournaments, including the 2018 Elite Series event that was won by Louisiana pro Greg Hackney.


“We are excited to continue our partnership with Bassmaster and are looking forward to another great event that promotes both the great sport of bass fishing as well as the great area of Orange County, Texas,” said Orange County Judge John Gothia.

Elite Series pros Brandon Cobb, Garrett Paquette and Patrick Walters each earned a Century Belt — 100 pounds in a four-day event — on Lake Fork in 2019 and 2020 respectively, and more anglers hope to join their ranks when the Elite field heads back to the fishery April 22-25.

After their stops in Texas, the Elites will embark on a midseason Alabama swing, visiting Neely Henry Lake in Gadsden May 6-9, Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro May 20-23 and Pickwick Lake in Florence June 10-13. Though all in one state, each fishery will offer vastly different scenarios.

The trip to Lake Guntersville will mark the 26th time B.A.S.S. has visited the famed fishery, making it the second most popular destination in B.A.S.S. history behind only Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas. The “Big G” has earned its place in sportfishing history, ranking No. 2 on Bassmaster Magazine’s list of Best Bass Lakes of the Decade. Guntersville hosted two B.A.S.S. events in 2020 alone, including the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, which was won by North Carolina pro Hank Cherry.

“We are excited and honored to host the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series in Scottsboro. We recognize and appreciate the tremendous impact fishing has on our economy, tourism and quality of life, particularly a tournament of the stature and exposure of a Bassmaster Elite,” said Scottsboro Mayor Jim McCamy.

Pickwick is a 43,100-acre Tennessee River impoundment where a mixture of largemouth and smallmouth are often brought to the scales, while Neely Henry is an 11,200-acre Coosa River lake full of healthy spotted bass.

B.A.S.S. visited Pickwick six times for major events in the past — and just this year, the lake was the site of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in November. Neely Henry has hosted B.A.S.S. only three times for major events, including the Bassmaster Central Open that was held on the lake in October.

As warm weather takes hold across the country, the Elites will make what has become an annual swing to the north with a visit to Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt., July 8-11, and a stop in the scenic Village of Waddington, N.Y., for a season-ending tournament on the St. Lawrence River July 15-18.

B.A.S.S. has held 13 major events on Champlain, including four of the last five seasons. Idaho veteran Brandon Palaniuk won the 2020 Elite on Champlain with just over 80 pounds.

The trip to the St. Lawrence will mark the 21st time B.A.S.S. has visited the Upstate New York smallmouth paradise, which took the top spot in 2019 on Bassmaster Magazine’s Top 100 Best Bass Lakes list.

St. Lawrence tournaments always feature big bass — Canadian pro Chris Johnston won the 2020 Elite event there with a four-day total of 97-8 — and big crowds. A 2013 visit to Waddington drew an Elite Series-record 36,200 fans.

“We here in St. Lawrence County and the Village and Town of Waddington are very excited to be part of the B.A.S.S. family,” said Janet Otto Cassada, president of North County Events. “Our area looks forward to holding our next Elite event in July 2021. Our hopes are that we have COVID behind us and can show everyone that Waddington and St. Lawrence County is where the world comes to fish.”

“There are some venues that have become regular stops for B.A.S.S. the past few years, and it’s obvious why,” Akin said. “They are known by everyone as some of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. But it’s also nice to revisit our past a little bit with trips to lakes like Pickwick and Neely Henry.

“It should all make for a fantastic season.”

For the first time in history, all nine Bassmaster Elite Series events as well as the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk will feature live television coverage on the FOX Sports platforms. Visit for more details.

2021 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule

Feb. 11-14, AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River, Palatka, Fla.
Feb. 25-28, Tennessee River, Knoxville, Tenn.
March 19-21, Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, Lake Ray Roberts, Fort Worth, Texas
April 8-11, Sabine River, Orange, Texas
April 22-25, Lake Fork, Emory, Texas
May 6-9, Neely Henry Lake, Gadsden, Ala.
May 20-23, Lake Guntersville, Scottsboro, Ala.
June 10-13, Pickwick Lake, Florence, Ala.
July 8-11, Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vt.
July 15-18, St. Lawrence River, Waddington, N.Y.
Aug. 19-22, Make-up date

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

South Carolina’s Walters Takes Dominant Win On Lake Fork – Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest

QUITMAN, Texas — A late-day decision turned victory into a double-dip of tournament stardom, as Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., notched a dominant win at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department with a four-day total weight of 104 pounds, 12 ounces.

Walters placed second on Day 1 with 25-14 and took over the Day 2 lead by adding 26-14. On Semifinal Saturday, his limit of 29-6 — the event’s biggest catch — sent him into Championship Sunday with a 25-pound lead.

Today’s limit of 22-10 allowed him to surge across the finish line and secure his spot in the Century Club, which recognizes an angler for catching 100 pounds of fish in a four-day event. Walters won with an all-time Bassmaster Elite record margin of 29-10.

“What a week; it doesn’t seem real,” Walters said. “Everyone wants to catch 100 pounds, and it feels good.”

While his victory was never in serious jeopardy today, Walters found himself a couple pounds shy of his second objective with time running out. A 15-minute flurry in his last hour of fishing delivered three fish that elevated him well past the century mark.

Walters attributes his closing success to a gutsy relocation. All week, he had been targeting suspended bass amid main-lake standing timber in 10 to 20 feet. When he realized his spots weren’t firing, he moved to a small pocket and caught his final three fish around stumps in less than 5 feet of water.

“On Day 2, I caught a 4- and a 5-pounder in there, but I didn’t go back in there on Day 3; I said, ‘I’m going to save it,’” Walters said. “I think it was the wind. We’ve had the same direction wind the last three days and it has blown directly into that pocket.

“All the bait is in there and every single day, it has gotten more loaded. Today, my fish in the treetops would not eat my bait. They’d chase it for 40 to 50 feet and wouldn’t commit.”

Walters’ analysis was more than speculation. All week, he relied heavily on his Garmin LiveScope to monitor fish positioning and adjust his retrieves in an effort to trigger bites.

“I could tell something was not right; they were not eating it,” Walters said. “I said, ‘I gotta leave. I gotta go shallow.’

“I knew I needed 10 pounds to safely win, but I knew I needed 18 pounds to get to the Century Club and that was the goal today; to go get that belt.”

Walters caught his fish on a trio of jerkbaits; a Rapala Shadow Rap, a Megabass Vision 110+1 and a Duo Realis bait. Varying the selection and trying different colors was essential to bite generation.

Walters said he was very particular about the standing timber he targeted. Recognizing when and where fish were positioning to feed was the cornerstone of his pattern. Realizing that the plan was starting to fizzle proved stressful today, but Walters said he focused on maintaining faith in Lake Fork’s potential.

“All year long, it’s been about staying calm and know that it can happen in five casts. Don’t spin out. Stay calm, keep your head in the game and fish 8 hours.”

Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas, finished second with 75-2. A limit of 11-7 on Day 1 left him in 39th place, but Combs added 23-14 on Day 2 and rose to 11th. Catching 21-12 on Saturday, he moved up to third before finishing with 18-1 today.

Most of the week, Combs has fished big ridges with a chartreuse/blue Strike King 6XD. Today, that pattern produced three of his best fish and the other two he caught on a shad color shallow running crankbait fished over a shallow bar.

“Another angler had been starting on that shallow spot; I would start on another spot and then hit that spot second but I’d never catch them,” Combs said. “Today, he didn’t make the cut, so I went there first.”

Jay Yelas of Lincoln City, Ore., placed third with 69-14. Sticking with the pattern that has served him all week, he ran upriver and caught limits of 19-2, 19-2, 14-7 and 17-3 around shallow wood.

“I had a few different special spots; some were docks, some were stumps, one was an isolated laydown,” Yelas said. “Every day, I’d go back and fish these same targets. I cycled through them all four days.


“Today, I started on that laydown and caught one. I came back at noon and caught one, came back at 2:30 and caught a 6-pounder. I’d caught six or seven fish off that tree the first three days.”

Noting that this spot had a large amount of shad, Yelas said he quickly realized he could leverage this feeding spot each day. He caught his fish on an MGC Tackle spinnerbait with a chartreuse/white skirt and a 3/8-ounce white/chartreuse Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer with a white Yamamoto Zako trailer.

Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, won the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year title with 680 points, while David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., finished second with 677. Walters was third with 669, Brock Mosley of Collinsville, Miss., was fourth with 669 and Jake Whitaker of Fairview, N.C., was fifth with 663.

Austin Felix of Eden Prairie, Minn., won the Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the Year title.

Seth Feider of New Market, Minn., won the Toyota Tundra Big Bass award of a Toyota Tundra with his 9-9.

Combs also took home $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Mosley earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Livesay Wins First Bassmaster Elite Series Title On Chickamauga Lake

DAYTON, Tenn. — Lee Livesay had options, but he committed to a singular game plan based on patience and execution to win the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Chickamauga Lake with a four-day total of 58 pounds, 2 ounces.

Livesay of Longview, Texas, turned in daily limits of 13-0, 13-3, 16-13 and 15-2. Notching his first career victory, the second-year Elite Series pro won the top prize of $100,000.

On Day 1, three of the fish that made up his 10th-place sack ate a football-head jig — one on a Hiwassee River bluff and two by the Highway 60 Bridge. He caught the other two by fishing a Scum Frog Launch Frog over main-lake grass mats, a technique that accounted for each of his bass the final three days.

“I stayed in between the Dayton Boat Dock and the Highway 60 Bridge the whole time (Days 2-4),” Livesay said. “It was so tough, you had to keep your bait in the water the whole time. That area is where I had the most bites.

“The farther south you went, the more fishing pressure you got; the farther upriver, the more pressure you got. I had a little zone where I was comfortable. Right where that river comes into the lake, that’s where you have the most nutrients, the most fish and you have current flow. That’s where I decided to set up.”

Livesay was particular about the types of mats he fished, with seclusion and current flow topping his criteria. Also, venturing far into the mats’ shallowest reaches allowed him to target bass that see little to no fishing pressure.

“Quiet was the deal for me, so I was push-poling into the area with no trolling motor noise,” he said. “Also, there’s a lot of tiny shad around the outer edges of the mats, but the shallower you got, the fewer shad you’d have. They were eating bream about the size of my frog.”

Alternating between black, white and yellow frogs, Livesay added tungsten weights to the baits to improve casting distance and create attention-getting noise. Most importantly, the additional weight created a deeper impression in the mats and made the frogs easier for fish to track.

“I was making long casts and working my bait fast,” he said. “I’d let it sit for (a few seconds) to let the fish get comfortable, but then I’d start working it fast again. When I’d move it again, I’d want them to be looking for it. It’s all reaction.”

On Championship Monday, Livesay said he knew the afternoon bite would offer his best opportunities, as increasing sunlight predictably positions fish under mats. After catching his first keeper around 9:50 a.m., he steadily compiled a solid limit of 2- to 2 3/4-pounders (estimated weights) before finding one that went about 4 pounds at 1:36. A late-day cull secured his winning weight.

He also kept a swimbait on his deck for fish that he saw busting shad on the edges of mats but ended up catching all of his fish on the frog.

Visibly overcome with emotion as B.A.S.S. emcee Dave Mercer announced his victory, Livesay summarized his tears: “I’ve been wanting this my whole life. That’s 35 years of dreaming and a lot of hard work.”

Mike Huff of Corbin, Ky., finished second with 56-6. Mounting an impressive comeback effort, Huff placed 50th on Day 1 after finding only three keepers for 6-12. Catching a Day 2 limit of 12-3 moved him into 33rd and adding the event’s second-heaviest bag — 19-1 — on Day 3 pushed him up to third. His Championship Monday limit weighed 18-6.

Huff caught his fish on bluffs with a 3/8-ounce Cumberland Pro Casting Jig with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg trailer. He turned in the event’s most exciting performance Monday thanks to a 7-13 largemouth that dramatically changed his outcome.

“I was targeting bluffs with laydowns and current breaks,” Huff said. “That was key; they were sitting right behind those laydowns.”

Jake Whitaker of Fairview, N.C., stuck with his comfort zone, fished a unique pattern and finished third with 49-0. Committing to a marina, he dialed in a few particular boat slips that held a lot of bait and a dependable supply of bass.

Making long skips into the slips with a 2.8-inch Keitech swimbait on a 1/8-ounce swimbait head, Whitaker turned in daily limits of 11-2, 14-3, 11-14 and 11-13.

“After the second day of practice, I hadn’t caught anything, and I said, ‘I gotta do something that I know how to do just to catch a few fish,’” he said. “The second day of practice, I went in that marina and they started schooling.

“I pulled out a fluke, caught two keepers and I said, ‘Okay, there are some keepers in here. But for that place to last for four days, that’s just the good Lord blessing me.’”

Huff’s 7-13 secured Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors.

Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., took home $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Chad Pipkens of DeWitt, Mich., earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., remains in the lead for the Bassmaster Angler of the Year with 623 points, while Austin Felix of Eden Prairie, Minn., follows in second with 618. Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, is third with 607, followed by Whitaker with 594 and Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., with 592.

The tournament was hosted by the Rhea County Economic Development & Tourism Council. 

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Abu Garcia,Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Skeeter Boats, Talon, Yamaha

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops,Carhartt, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Mossy Oak Fishing, Rapala

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Huk  

2020 Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite At Chickamauga Lake Local Host: Rhea County Economic Development & Tourism Council

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Big Final Day Lifts Palaniuk To Win In Bassmaster Elite At Santee Cooper

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Championships come down to decisions and execution — two things that Brandon Palaniuk mastered en route to amassing a four-day total of 72 pounds, 2 ounces for a dominant win at the Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes brought to you by the United States Marine Corps.

Notching his fifth Elite victory — his second in 2020 (the first at Lake Champlain) — Palaniuk earned a top prize of $100,000.

After leading Day 2, Palaniuk entered Championship Sunday in third place, just 1-3 behind Carl Jocumsen. On Sunday, the pro from Rathdrum, Idaho, added a limit of 22-11 to his previous weights of 21-1, 18-13 and 9-9 to edge Jocumsen.

“This one is so unexpected,” Palaniuk said. “Every single one I won before, I had a good practice and I knew that I would have a shot at the Top 10 and a shot at the win. This one came out of nowhere.”

Spending his tournament in Lake Marion, Palaniuk attributed his final-round success to a prelaunch decision to start in the mouth of the Potato Creek area. Having started there on Day 1, he had a feeling the area was ready to reward him again.

“I was sitting at the dock this morning and something told me to go try it,” Palaniuk said. “With the (warm) weather, the humidity, I felt like I could catch them on topwater, but when I got there, the water was dirty.

“I couldn’t get them to eat it, so I just picked up a 1/2-ounce bladed jig with a 4-inch white X-Zone Swammer. I had not caught a fish on this all week and I caught a 4-pounder and a 3 1/4-pounder.”

Palaniuk caught a lucky break that he exploited when he saw a big fish blow up just out of casting range. Idling toward the commotion, he spotted a brushpile he had not found earlier in the week.

“I tied up a drop shot and caught a giant (7-12) on 10-pound test,” Palaniuk said. “I caught my other limit fish on the drop shot, but I ended up culling them out later.”

Palaniuk’s drop-shot rig comprised a green pumpkin blue flake X-Zone Deception Worm rigged on a No. 1 VMC Finesse Neko Hook with a 1/4-ounce VMC teardrop weight.

Later in the day, Palaniuk returned to the Jack’s Creek area, which produced several of his fish this week. There, he caught two of his keepers by punching a black/blue laminate X-Zone Muscle Back Finesse Craw on a 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook with a 1 1/4-ounce tungsten weight.

“I think it came down to versatility; that’s why I was able to have the kind of day I had,” Palaniuk said. “Without that big one on the drop shot, without those two I caught this morning, I wouldn’t have been able to win.”

Palaniuk overcame a Day 1 penalty of 2 pounds, 4 ounces for inadvertently making a cast with six fish — one more than his legal limit — in his livewell. Palaniuk self-reported the infraction.


“It went through my head about 47 times in the last hour (before weigh-ins),” Palaniuk said. “I kept thinking, ‘If somebody beats me, let it be (more than the penalty weight).’

“One of the things I say a lot is, ‘Control the controllables.’ When I do something like that, it bothers me because it’s something I can control and I knew this event was going to be so tough that 2 pounds is not something you want to be giving up.”

Hailing from Queensland, Australia, Jocumsen took the Day 1 lead by catching the event’s heaviest sack — 25-8. He slipped to second on Day 2 after adding 12-7 and regained the top spot on Saturday with a 4-fish bag that weighed 12-11. On Sunday, Jocumsen missed his limit again and weighed four bass for 13-8 and tallied 64-2.

Each day, Jocumsen started by fishing a grassy depression midlake with a white Z-Man JackHammer ChatterBait with a white Yamamoto Zako trailer. He then moved to grass mats where he punched with a black and blue Molix SV Craw rigged on a 4/0 Owner Jungle hook and a 1 1/4-ounce Woo! Tungsten weight.

“The early spot kicked off like I had hoped it would today,” Jocumsen said. “It was cloudy and dark this morning and they were feeding and I got two good ones.

“After that, I went punching. The sun came out, there was a little bit of wind, everything was right. I had a few opportunities, I had the bites, I just didn’t put them in the boat.”

Cory Johnston of Cavan, Canada, finished third with 61-9. Spending all week in Jack’s Creek, Johnston turned in a consistent performance with daily weights of 17-7, 14-6, 15-3 and 14-9.

“I found the most fish there in practice, so I thought my best bet was to figure out what was going on in that creek day-to-day,” Johnston said. “I caught them flipping a black creature bait, a 3/8-ounce swim jig with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer and a black Spro Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog.”

Palaniuk’s win moved him into 15th place in the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year standings with 493 points. Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, holds the lead with 587, Johnston follows in second with 550 and David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., is in third with 540.

Jeff Gustafson of Keewatin, Canada, won Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 9-7.

Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., took home $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn., earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

The tournament was hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce. 

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Talley Finishes Strong For First Career Victory At Bassmaster Elite Event On Guntersville

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — Frank Talley has dreamed of winning a top-level professional bass tournament his entire life.

But with three small children at home, he kept that dream in his back pocket for two decades in favor of coaching youth sports teams, fishing local tournaments and just being a good husband and dad.

Saturday, at age 45, the second-year Elite Series pro affectionately known as “Frank the Tank” saw his dream come true, weighing in 18 pounds, 2 ounces of bass during the final round to win the NOCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville with a four-day total of 64-3.

Talley earned $100,000 and the cheers and tears of his family, who drove 14 hours through the night Friday from their home in Temple, Texas, to be there for his big moment.

“I was perfectly fine with just raising my kids — that’s why we had kids,” Talley said. “Finally, when my youngest boy got into high school, my kids and my wife kind of had an intervention. That sat me down and said, ‘You’re gonna go do this.’

“That’s what helped me understand it was OK to finally go and chase this dream — and they’re the reason I’m standing here with this trophy now.”

Good fishing instincts also played a role in Talley’s success, especially with a key decision he made before his first cast Saturday morning.

Beginning the final round in sixth place with 46-1, Talley intended to make the same run upriver from the launch site at Goose Pond Colony that he’s been making all week. But he said a “gut feeling” caused him to stop on a small stretch of eelgrass before he reached his trusty spot — and the almost-immediate payoff was a 5-pound largemouth that put him in the lead to stay.

“It just looked right,” Talley said of the spot he started on Saturday. “On the first cast, I caught a 10-incher. Then about six casts later, I caught that 5-pounder. I boat-flipped that fish — I didn’t realize it was that big.

“I fished the entire length of that bank and ended up catching a limit there, which included the second big fish I caught, about a 4-pounder.”

Talley did most of his damage on that early-morning stretch with the same lure he’s been using during the early morning hours all week — a 1/2-ounce Strike King Thunder Cricket in green pumpkin. His trailer for most of the week was a Strike King Rage Swimmer in pumpkin with a pearl belly. But when he ran out of those, he switched to a Strike King Blade Minnow in green pumpkin with the tail tinted chartreuse with Spike-It dye.

He said the bait accounted for 95% of his weight this week.

“I’ve made most of the money I’ve made this year with that Thunder Cricket,” said Talley, who has now made five straight Top 40 cuts on the Elite Series. “Long ago, I was a West Coast guy and I know how to do all of the deep-water drop-shot fishing and all of that. But that’s how I like to fish.

“I like to be up around shallow cover, and that Thunder Cricket gets the job done up there.”

Talley fished the bait on a 7-foot, 3-inch Lew’s Magnum Hammer Rod with a medium-heavy action and a Lew’s Custom Pro 6.8:1 reel spooled with 17-pound Strike King Tour Grade fluorocarbon. He said the reel was “not too fast, not too slow,” which makes it perfect for the motion of the vibrating jig.

When the fishing slowed on the Thunder Cricket — and he wanted a change of pace that might produce a bigger bite — he switched to a white Strike King Sexy Frog that he modified with a plopper-style tail to help it cause more commotion on the water’s surface.

Talley fished the frog on a 7-2 Lew’s rod and a Lew’s Pro-Ti baitcasting reel spooled with 50-pound Strike King Braid.

“I ended up catching several big ones on that frog this week,” he said. “It was the perfect change-of-pace bait when I wanted to go looking for one good fish.”

Talley’s Saturday catch of 18-2 was his best of a week that included limits of 14-3 Wednesday, 16-5 Thursday and 15-9 Friday. Unlike many of the pros who felt like Guntersville was fishing a little tired after a week of pressure, Talley said he thought things were just starting to get right.

“I was just fishing eelgrass walls, and there was no rhyme or reason for why they were on one and not the other,” Talley said. “It could have been bait, could have been current.

“But whatever it is, they’re chomping now. I think they’re finally getting adjusted to this weather, and it’s about to be really, really good.”

The win moved Talley into 26th place in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, putting him in good position to reach the 2021 Bassmaster Classic. His fellow Texan Clark Wendlandt took the AOY lead with 503 points, followed by Japanese rookie Taku Ito (478) and Minnesota veteran Seth Feider (466).

Another Texas pro, Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, earned $1,500 for catching the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week — an 8-6 largemouth he landed on Day 1.

A pair of South Carolina anglers claimed Toyota Bonus Bucks prize money. Brandon Cobb took home $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Jason Williamson earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.


The tournament was hosted by the City of Scottsboro.

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Abu Garcia,Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Skeeter Boats, Talon, Yamaha

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops,Carhartt, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Mossy Oak Fishing, Rapala

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Huk

2020 Bassmaster Elite At Lake Guntersville Local Host: City of Scottsboro  

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Matsushita Rallies For Victory At Bassmaster Central Open On Sam Rayburn


JASPER, Texas — A stellar start positioned Masayuki Matsushita to overcome a Day 2 stumble and mount a final-round surge to win the Bassmaster Central Open on Sam Rayburn Reservoir with a three-day total of 60 pounds, 14 ounces.

Hailing from Tokoname Aichi, Japan, Matsushita took the Day 1 lead with 27-10 — the event’s largest catch — but slipped to second after adding 15-5 on Friday. On Saturday, he rallied and added 17-15 to win by a margin of 1-9.

Speaking with the assistance of fellow angler Calvin Balch of Porter, Texas, Matsushita said he was fishing midlake, just south of the 147 Bridge. He targeted a mix of brushpiles and trees in 20 to 30 feet of water.

“I was fishing fast and (making a milk run) between my spots,” Matsushita said. “My Humminbird MEGA 360 was very important for finding my spots.”

Matsushita caught several of his fish on an 8-inch golden shiner-colored Deps Sakamata Shad Texas-rigged on a 7/0 Owner wide-gap hook. He also fished a Texas-rigged redbug Zoom Ol’ Monster worm.

His key bait Saturday was a Neko-rigged Zoom Magnum Trick Worm in the redbug and green pumpkin colors. This bait produced his biggest bite — an estimated 5-pounder — shortly after takeoff around 7:30 a.m.

“I was staying far away from my spots and made long casts,” Matsushita said.

The tournament’s varying weather patterns factored into his success. Day 1 saw mostly sunny conditions, while Days 2 and 3 brought more of a partly cloudy complexion.

“On Day 1, clouds were very good,” Matsushita said. “Day 2 and Day 3, clouds were not good. Sun was better. Maybe it put fish in the brushpile shade.”

For his efforts, Matsushita won a first-place prize of $50,167 and earned a spot in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, which is scheduled for March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts. His Classic berth is contingent on his fishing the final two Central Opens of the season.

In a moving display of pure triumphant emotion, Matsushita doubled over with his hands on his knees when Tournament Director Chris Bowes announced his victory.

Moments later, the winner held his trophy aloft and let out a triple chorus of victory screams that won over the Jasper, Texas, crowd nearly as much as Matsushita’s moving statement of his lifetime goal.

“My dream has always been to fish the Bassmaster Classic,” he said. “This tournament made that happen.”

Josh Douglas of Isle, Minn., improved from third place on Day 2 by adding a final-round sack of 17-6 to finish second with 59-5. Douglas also buoyed his performance with a big Day 1 weight of 22-5. He weighed 19-10 on Day 2.

Douglas targeted brushpiles in 8 to 22 feet. Throughout the week he caught most of his bass on a Texas-rigged 10-inch Biospawn ExoRibbon Worm. On Saturday, his top baits were a drop shot with a Roboworm in redbug and morning dawn colors and a Keitech swimbait on a 3/4-ounce swim jig with the skirt removed.

“The depth range changed for me and as the tournament progressed, I started catching them better in the shallower range, like 15 and under,” Douglas said. “I don’t know if that’s because the water’s coming down a little, but those 17- to 20-foot spots got a lot of pressure and those bigger fish were just sliding out.

“I was just fishing areas like The Canyons, the Deer Stand and Jackson Hill; areas (where) I know fish want to live shallow in the grass. But with the dropping water, they were just coming out to me.”

Kris Wilson of Montgomery, Texas, saved his best for last and finished third with 57-11. After placing 11th on Day 1 with 18-5, Wilson improved to seventh on Friday by adding 19-6. On Saturday, he weighed in 20 pounds — the final round’s heaviest catch.

Noting that he has approximately 3,000 waypoints on Rayburn, Wilson came into the event with a preselected set of offshore targets. Running as many of his spots as possible in practice helped him dial in the productive ones.

“After two days of practice, I figured out that I couldn’t get bit deeper than 20 feet, so I started concentrating on everything less than that,” Wilson said. “I caught my fish on a 6th Sense C-10 crankbait in a shad color and a Texas-rigged 11-inch hand-poured purple worm.”

Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., took the lead in the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings with 547 points. Gerald Swindle of Guntersville, Ala., is in second with 543, followed by Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., with 541, John Hunter Jr. of Simpsonville, Ky., with 505 and Randy Blaukat of Joplin, Mo., with 484.

Albert Collins of Nacogdoches, Texas, won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize for his 9-7 largemouth. Shaine Campbell of Brookeland, Texas, who placed sixth overall with 51-12, won the $500 Garmin Tournament Rewards.

Hayden Heck of Lufkin, Texas, won the co-angler division with a three-day total of 28-5. Overcoming a slow start, which found him placing 51st with a Day 1 bag of 5-11, Heck rocketed into fourth after adding 13-11 on Friday.

Weighing 8-15 in Saturday’s championship round pushed him across the finish line by a margin of 1-12.

“Drop shotting and dragging a 10-inch worm and a trick worm out deep did it for me,” Heck said.

William Young of Livingston, Texas, won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize in the co-angler division for his 9-0.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Palaniuk Comes From Behind To Win Bassmaster Elite Event At Lake Champlain

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Turning in his best performance of the week, Brandon Palaniuk leveraged a blistering afternoon bite to sack up 21 pounds, 6 ounces and win the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain with a four-day total of 80-1.

This is the fourth B.A.S.S. win for the 2017 Angler of the Year from Rathdrum, Idaho. He earned a first-place prize of $100,000.

After a strong start yielded a pair of 4-pound-class fish by 8:30 a.m., Palaniuk continued catching quality smallmouth throughout the day. A key move and a heads-up response led him to the gold mine that produced a 4-4, a 4-6 and a 4-8 between 12:10 and 1:56 p.m.

“I had one boulder and I shut down before I got to it and as I came off pad, I see a dot on my (Humminbird) Down Imaging and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, that looks like a giant smallmouth,’” Palaniuk said. “I grabbed my rod, threw my bait back before I even dropped my trolling motor.

“The boat’s drifting away, I drop my trolling motor, I pick up and my line’s swimming off. I set the hook and a 4 1/2-pounder goes airborne — way back there. After I caught that fish, I rolled up to the boulder and they were stacked on top of it. Then, every single boulder on that flat in 28 to 32 feet of water had a 4-plus-pounder on it.”

Sticking with what produced the majority of his bites this week, Palaniuk caught his final-round fish on a drop shot with a green pumpkin/blue fleck X Zone Finesse Slammer. He used a No. 2 drop-shot hook and a 3/8-ounce VMC tungsten teardrop weight.

After three days of mostly calm conditions, Championship Sunday brought strong winds, clouds and occasional showers. Noting that the wind likely moved schools of baitfish into the areas he fished, Palaniuk said his game plan came together as well as he’d hoped.

Keeping himself within striking distance all week, Palaniuk placed eighth on Day 1 with 19-12, slipped to 11th on Day 2 with a limit of 18-10 and made the final Top 10 cut on Day 3 by rising to fifth with 20-5.

“It was just one of those days where everything worked out,” he said. “All week long, I said, ‘Just give me a shot,’ because I looked at the weather and I knew we were going to get that windy weather we got in practice.

“I had a really good practice and I felt like I could literally drive around, look at my (Humminbird) LakeMaster charts, pull up on a spot and catch big ones. I think the wind this morning helped push those baitfish up and it moved a lot of those fish up. Those fish aren’t resident fish; they chase schools of bait.”

Spending his day targeting flats with scattered rock and boulders within the Inland Sea (Champlain’s northeast section), Palaniuk said his pattern was so reliable he actually moved with the bait schools. He started on a likely spot and drifted with the wind until he no longer spotted fish on his Humminbird 360.

“When I started not seeing them, I’d jump to the next place and catch another big one,” Palaniuk said. “I hit one magical school this afternoon and every single boulder I could see on with Mega 360 (Imaging) had a big one on it.

“I literally started laughing while I was fighting them, because it was that good.”

Seth Feider of New Market, Minn., finished second with 78-14. After mixing it up with largemouth and smallmouth for three days, he focused on the latter Sunday and caught a limit of 19-14 to go with his previous bags that went 20-1, 21-7 and 17-8.

Feider caught his bass on a flat with a grassline point in 12 feet. He used a medium-diving crankbait and a Carolina-rigged Zoom Speed Craw.

“It’s where I’d been starting every day and then leaving and going largemouth fishing (around marina docks),” Feider said. “I knew with the cloudy skies my largemouth bite was out today, so I leaned on it as hard as I could.

“I got really lucky and caught two great big ones that gave me a chance. It just wasn’t enough.”

Jamie Hartman of Russellville, Ark., finished third with 78-5. Hartman took the lead on Day 1 with 22-1 — the event’s biggest bag — and held the top spot for two more days with bags of 20-3 and 17-8. He added 18-9 Sunday.


Focusing on a rocky point with grass, Hartman caught his fish on a Carolina rig with a craw bait and a 3/8-ounce peanut butter and jelly color Riot Baits Lil’ Creeper jig with a twin-tail trailer. Today’s dim weather seemed to stifle the hot morning bite he had experienced the previous three days.

“The bites were slow; very spaced out — it took me until 11 before I had a decent weight,” Hartman said. “The mornings had been slow, but when the sun would come up, it was like a light switch and they started eating good. We didn’t get that today.”

Feider won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with a 6-6 largemouth he caught on Day 2, earning an additional $1,000.

Hartman took home $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Jason Williamson earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

The tournament was hosted by the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau, City of Plattsburgh and Clinton County with support from the Office of the Governor of the State of New York.

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Abu GarciaBerkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Skeeter Boats, Talon, Yamaha

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops,Carhartt, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Mossy Oak Fishing, Rapala

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Huk

2020 Bassmaster Elite At Lake Champlain Local Hosts: Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau, City of Plattsburgh, Clinton County 

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Hartman Maintains Lead At Bassmaster Elite Series Event On Lake Champlain


Reversing his game plan, Day 1 leader Jamie Hartman of Russellville, Ark., added 20 pounds, 3 ounces to Thursday’s weight of 22-1 and retained the top spot in the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain with a two-day total of 42-4.

Hartman ended Day 1 by stopping on a rocky point close to the tournament site and catching a 4-pounder 10 minutes before the 3 p.m. weigh-in began. Friday, he started on this spot and quickly lit up the BASSTrakk leaderboard by securing a solid limit of smallmouth in less than two hours.

“I took a lot of pressure off this morning in the first hour and a half, I had 18 1/4 pounds,” said Hartman, a New York native who moved away from his home state to pursue a career in professional bass fishing. “Then I figured I only needed two more 4-pounders, but it took all the way to the last two hours to do it.

“That spot was on my way to a big flat I wanted to fish in the lake’s north end, so I just said I’m going to start there and see if the fish were there, and they sure were. Hopefully, they’ll reload and I’ll get on them tomorrow morning.”

Having fished this spot in years past, Hartman said his nearly immediate bite on Day 1 told him the point held greater potential than he had anticipated. With Friday’s calm, clear conditions contrasting Thursday’s partly cloudy and increasingly breezy complexion, he started Day 2 expecting fireworks and the bass mostly cooperated.

Hartman caught those early fish on a Carolina rig with craw bait on a 3/0 Owner extra-wide gap hook. He used a 1-ounce weight and a 3-foot leader, which helped him keep his bait above the grass.

“The spot had scattered grass and rock, so the Carolina rig was absolutely perfect, and my hookup to landing ratio is really good,” he said. “I said I was going to put it in my hand this week before we started because I lost so many fish last week [at the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite on the St. Lawrence River]. I said I’m going to swing with the big one this time.

“I was using a steady retrieve and whenever I’d come through a patch of grass, I’d pop the rig to snap it out of that grass. They’ll whack it every time when I do that.”


By midmorning, he decided he was not going to upgrade on his starting point, so he made a move to avoid burning up too much of the spot’s population. Heading to his northern flat, he focused on scattered grass in about 10 to 15 feet.

“I didn’t want to keep hammering my starting spot,” Hartman said of his plan to manage the bass. “I didn’t even go back to it on the way in. I didn’t want to catch another one off that spot; I need them for tomorrow.”

When the Carolina rig failed to produce, Hartman went to a 1/2-ounce Riot Baits Lil’ Creeper jig with a swimbait trailer. He was again targeting smallmouth but ended up making a key cull with a largemouth around 2:30 p.m.

Seth Feider of New Market, Minn., is in second place with 41-8. After anchoring his fourth-place Day 1 catch of 20-1 with a 5-4 largemouth, Feider added a limit of 21-7 Friday that included another huge largemouth that went 6-6.

Feider caught Friday’s big fish by targeting boat docks with milfoil and flipping a 5/8-ounce Outkast Tackle jig with a chunk-style trailer. While largemouth on marina docks produced most of his Day 1 weight, today told a different tale.

“I did most of my damage this morning on smallies; I ended up weighing four smallies and one buckethead (largemouth),” Feider said. “My smallmouth spot was a grass point in 10 to 12 feet on a big flat. I caught two on drop shot and two on a crankbait.”

Koby Kreiger of Alva, Fla., is in third place with 40-1. After posting 18-1 Thursday, he added 22 pounds on Day 2. Noting that a Heddon Super Spook Jr. and two jerkbaits — a Lucky Craft Pointer 100 and a Megabass Vision 110 — produced his fish, Kreiger said today’s calm, sunny conditions plus a cleaner performance yielded a better sack.

“It slicked off, which made it easier for me to see the fish and for them to see my bait,” Kreiger said. “Yesterday, I jumped off a couple and today, I fished clean.

“I’m fishing a great big flat in 10 feet with isolated rocks and isolated grass patches on it. I can see them pretty far out with my Humminbird 360; that shows me what’s in front of the boat when I’m drifting.”

Feider is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-6 largemouth.

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. ET at Plattsburgh City Marina. The weigh-in will be held at the marina at 3 p.m.

Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at with simulcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Check local listings for ESPN2 times.

The tournament is being hosted by the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau, City of Plattsburgh and Clinton County with support from the Office of the Governor of the State of New York.