Big bass of Grand Lake Classic

Bringing big bass across the big stage at the world championship tournament is the big dream. Justin Hamner lived that dream. The 33-year-old, fourth-year Elite pro from Northport, Ala., won the title with 58 pounds, 3 ounces, his 15 fish averaging just under 4 pounds. Let’s look back at the biggest fish brought to Tulsa’s BOK Center for last weekend’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors.
On Day 1, 54 of the 56 competitors on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees caught five-fish limits, with the average fish weighing 2-14. Jay Przekurat of Plover, Wis., was the first to post a 4-pounder on BassTrakk, the unofficial scoreboard. Przekurat, who led briefly, also posted a 4-8 in building a bag weighing 18-5, good for fifth place.
Third-year Elite Bryant Smith landed one of the biggest fish of the day around noon, a 5-13. That helped the Elite pro from Roseville, Calif., weigh 14-10, good for 21st. Substituting an “average” fish for his kicker, Smith would have been near the bottom of the standings.
Texas’ Lee Livesay had almost half his Day 1 weight in these two bass, which included a midday catch estimated at 5-1. The four-time Bassmaster winner totaled 18-15 on the day, which put him in fourth place.
Oklahoma’s Luke Palmer caught the Mercury Big Bass of Day 1, a 6-5 that earned him a $1,000 bonus. Problem was Palmer’s other four fish averaged just 2-4, and his 15-10 total put him 13th. Things just never clicked for Palmer, who followed with 14-4 and 13-4 to finish 21st.
Adam Rasmussen caught this 5-10 in his third-place limit of 19-5. The walleye angler from Sturgeon Bay, Wis., had joked during Thursday’s Media Day that he drank too much at the Night of Champions banquet, and had “forgotten everything I did in practice,” which he said might have been a good thing in the ever-changing conditions.
Cody Huff from Ava, Mo., was a picture of consistency, landing a 4-8 and then a pair of 4-pounders in a quick span. The protégé of Rick Clunn continued to catch that class of bass in building one of two limits topping 20 pounds on Day 1. His 21-2 total had him in second place, 1-4 out of the lead.
Justin Hamner, who lists his signature strengths as LiveScoping and jerkbait, brought in a pair of bruisers weighing 5-14 and 5-11. They accounted for more than half his weight and gave the Northport, Ala., pro the lead with 22-6. Hamner has been on a roll with a third in the Lake Fork Elite after 14th at Toledo Bend. Going back to 2023, Hamner finished in the top 25 in seven of his last eight tournaments, with three Top 10s.
On Day 2, Bassmater College Classic Bracket champion Easton Fothergill, who famously qualified for the Classic after recovering from brain surgery in the nick of time, climbed from 40th to 15th behind his 17-2 limit, one of the top 10 weights on the day. Definitely thrilled to be competing, the 21-year-old from Grand Rapids, Minn., left with a 16th-place finish, along with a $13,000 check.
Home-state favorite Jason Christie, the 2022 Classic champion, recovered from his 13-1 opening weight with 18-2. Helped by a 5-13, Christie climbed 23 spots to 12th yet he was 11-3 off the lead. The 50-year-old dreamed of replicating the 2016 Classic here, when the largest Championship Sunday charge (29-3) pushed him from the lead to second. Christie caught 13-6 on Day 3 to finish 17th.
Behind a 5-8, Canada’s Cooper Gallant came in with the third-best limit on Day 2. Early catches had him leading early Saturday, and his 19-5 bag catapulted him from 28th to sixth. Sunday’s 14-9 saw the 26-year-old Elite pro finish 12th in his second Classic.
Brandon Card, fishing his seventh Classic, rallied on Day 2. Behind an early 5-8, Card also led briefly on BassTrakk. The 37-year-old from Salisbury, N.C., weighed the day’s best bag at 21-6, jumping from 39th to fourth, 8-2 behind the leader. A slower Day 3 left Card 14th.
Kyoya Fujita, who won the Elite season opener on Toledo Bend, started 52nd at Grand Lake but flew up the leaderboard to 16th with his Day 2 limit of 19-1, which included a 5-12. With 18-2 on Sunday, the 27-year-old finished 11th. He earned $15,000, which lowered his leading average payout in his 19 B.A.S.S. entries about $350 to $21,338.
Takumi Ito, one of three Japanese anglers in this Classic, had his best limit on Day 2, 17-10. His Championship Sunday bag of 16-2 left him 10th for its $20,000 payout, a nice parting gift just five days before his 38th birthday. Told he finished 5 ounces ahead of Fujita, Ito was jubilant, pumping his fists merrily. 
It was a great first Classic for Kyle Patrick, a 26-year-old from Cooperstown, N.Y. Riding a Century Club belt from Lake Fork, the first-year Elite was consistent with 15-13 then 15-8, which was bolstered by this 6-7. Patrick topped his week off with 17-15, rising to finish seventh for a payout of $21,500, about half of what he earned in winning the Lake of the Ozarks Open to qualify for the Classic.
The youngest angler to ever fish a Classic, Aaron Yavorsky of Palm Harbor, Fla., brought in the Mercury Big Bass of the event. This 6-12 on Day 2, almost half his 13-9 limit, helped the Team Champion finish 44th. Yavorsky, who qualified at 17 and celebrated his 18th birthday on March 15, the first day of practice, added Mercury bonuses of $1,000 for the day’s best and $2,500 for biggest bass of the 2024 Classic.
Rasmussen, who qualified by winning the 2023 St. Croix Open on Wheeler Lake, wasn’t done. The 39-year-old guide brought in 17-10 to take over second place on Day 2 and stand 5-7 off the lead.
Hamner had a feeling it was his time. You know. Before the event, he predicted victory. With two bass approaching 5 pounds, Hamner had 20-0 on Day 2 and was well on his way. With two of the four bags topping 20 pounds, he went into Championship Sunday with a healthy lead of 5-7.  
Bryant Smith, who had squeaked in to Championship Sunday at 24th after 14-10 and 14-11, found a big bass early. This 5-14 anchored his limit of 17-4 that gave him a total of 46-9, good for 13th in the 33-year-old’s first Classic.
Shane LeHew, a sixth-year Elite from Catawba, N.C., caught the Mercury Big Bass of Championship Sunday, a 6-7. The 35-year-old weighed 18-15, the second largest of the day, to finish ninth, his best in five Classic appearances. With the bonus, LeHew left with a check of $21,500.
Hank Cherry, who won back-to-back Classics in 2020-21, was in the hunt with 16-8 and 17-3. The Lincolnton, N.C., pro, who lost the potential winning fish in the 2013 Grand Lake Classic, started Day 3 8-11 off the lead. His 15-9 total had him land in eighth. Cherry, 50, left Tulsa appreciative for his fourth top finish in eight Classics and hinted at retirement in the next few years.
Cory Johnston, who moved from 38th to 20th on Day 2 with 16-9, was on the move again. Posting three quick 4-pounders on BassTrakk, the Canadian built Championship Sunday’s best bag at 19-14. The 38-year-old, who has twice taken 11th in Classics, had his best finish at sixth, earning $22,000.
Livesay, who fell to seventh after Day 2 with 14-2, caught 16-10 on Day 3 to total 49-11, good for fifth and its $25,000 payday. It was the 38-year-old’s best finish in four Classics, all of which were 15th or better.
Pzrekurat, who was overtaken this year at Lake Fork as the youngest Elite winner, fell on Day 2 with 14-2, but his final day charge of 17-10 has him occupy the Yeti Hot Seat a good while. His 50-1 total, which earned him $30,000, has the 24-year-old showing out in Classics after a seventh-place last year.
Huff, who turned 24 on March 17, fell off from his first day with 15-2 then 14-3. He took over the hot seat with 50-7 to finish third. The third-year Elite, who was competing in his third Classic, earned $40,000, his best payday with B.A.S.S.
Rasmussen remained the surprise finisher of the Classic. Fishing 27 Opens starting in 2021, the 39-year-old guide made a threatening run on Championship Sunday, catching a 4-6 in his limit going 18-5. He finished with 55-4, just 3 pounds from quadrupling his previous B.A.S.S. earnings. While it’s said second place is rarely remembered, Rasmussen will certainly have Classic week stick in his mind, along with the $50,000 payout.
Hamner, who regained the lead at 8:41 a.m. on Day 2 and never lost it again, had a steady Championship Sunday. Saying he slept like a baby, he went out on the final day with one goal, “win a Bassmaster Classic.” The former grass cutter for the University of Alabama grounds weighed in 15-13 to win the 54th Classic with 58-3.
Hamner is the 43rd different angler to hoist the Ray Scott trophy in its 54 years. With the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of 22-6 on Day 1, Hamner was given a $307,000 paycheck from B.A.S.S., while taking the $20,000 Yamaha Power Pay bonus. “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,” he said. “But it’s been an amazing month.”