Chapman leads AOY halfway through

Brent Chapman continues to lead at the halfway point of the 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. This marked the fifth of nine regular season events, followed by the AOY Championship tournament in September.

It's a long time between now and September. If Chapman holds on and wins the second AOY title of his career, he'll have to hold off an intriguing mix of previous AOY champs, accomplished veterans and one Elite Series rookie, Roy Hawk.

The following is the Top 15 in AOY points following the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at the Sabine River presented by Econo Lodge:

Angler Points
1. Brent Chapman 456
2. Bradley Roy 427
3. Greg Hackney 422
4. Skeet Reese 417
5. Josh Bertrand 413
6. Justin Lucas 405
7. Aaron Martens 395
8, Bobby Lane 393
9. Greg Vinson 390
10. Kevin VanDam 384
11. Cliff Pace 383
12. Andy Montgomery 381
13. Ott DeFoe 379
14. Gerald Swindle 378
15. Roy Hawk 374

Young boy, young boy

If you are a frequent viewer of Bassmaster LIVE you can recognize and appreciate the spectacular flow that Seth Feider walks around with daily. Simply put: the man’s mustache and hair are fantastic.

Yesterday, longtime tournament angler Shin Fukae made his Bassmaster LIVE debut. Fukae, Feider, John Crews and Bradley Roy were fishing the same canal in the Neches River — about three boats wide. Fukae, Crews, and Roy had a silent agreement that since the canal was so slim that each would troll past each other, while fishing, instead of running the outboard.

“The Young Boy,” as Shin referred to Feider, while pretending to flip his flow — as Feider often does — didn’t quite get the message. He ran on pad through the skinny bayou backwater past Fukae.

Shin’s comedic impression of Feider, was so entertaining it became the Power-Pole Replay of the Day.

We have since uncovered an exclusive photo of Fukae from the Japan Bass World Series in 2000, evidence that Shin shared similarities with the Feider.

Thank you to Miyu Fukae for pointing out the irony and history of the Fukae flow.

See for yourself:

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DeFoe's lucky number 13

Ott DeFoe fell one ounce short of the Top 12 cut-weight yesterday - for the third time this year. Technically, DeFoe finished 14th with 28-0, an ounce shy of Brandon Palaniuk and Bobby Lane, who tied for 12th with 28-1. Palaniuk's biggest bag of 12-3, caught yesterday, broke the tie in his favor.

But DeFoe wasn't complaining. If you're going to miss a cut by an ounce on the Elite Series, Day 3 is the day to do it. You get a $10,000 check, some excellent Toyota AOY points, and an early start on the drive home.

So DeFoe gladly accepted his check and headed to the house. But it's starting to feel kind of spooky. In only five Elite Series events this year, DeFoe has finished 13th, basically, three times. He was 13th at Lake Martin in the first event of the season and again at Kentucky Lake in the third event of the season - both times missing the Top 12 cut by an ounce.

In the other two events - at Oklahoma's Grand Lake and Texas' Lake Travis - DeFoe missed the Day 2/Top 50 cut. DeFoe's No. 1 goal this season is to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, which will be held in his home state of Tennessee next year - in Knoxville.

So guess where DeFoe is currently ranked in Toyota AOY points? Why, 13th, of course.

Why you can’t spin out at Sabine

Greg Hackney is cool, calm and collected considering that he’s only got two small fish. He started the day with an 8-plus-pound lead, but if you’ve been watching BASSTrakk you’ve seen that lead slowly evaporate.

I said it earlier, and I’ll say it again: This derby is Hackney’s to lose.

Gerald Swindle is having a solid day and could give Hackney a run for his money, especially if G can catch another big one.

Think about this: What if Swindle loses to Hackney by 2 pounds or less? You’ll recall that on Day 1, he had six fish in his livewell costing him a 2-pound penalty.

Pure anguish.

What are the chances that Hackney doesn’t catch three more fish? Very unlikely, but not impossible. The area he’s fishing has been beat to a froth all week, and these fish have seen it all.

But he’s calmly making precise cast after cast. You just can’t spin out on the Sabine River, especially on Championship Sunday.

On a traditionally stingy fishery, you never know when the next big bass will decide to eat, and that means you have to stay 100 percent on your game.

You can’t miss opportunities here and expect to win.

And Hackney is focused and poised. If he catches three more, or one big one, this is mathematically over.

But miracles happen, and if anyone is due a miracle come-from-behind victory, it’s Gerald Swindle.

And you can bet he’s focused and poised right now as well.

Palaniuk conquers a nemesis

In his two previous Elite Series tournaments on the Sabine River, Brandon Palaniuk finished 90th in 2013 and 101st in 2015. After Day 1 this week, there was Palaniuk, near his usual Sabine River spot in the standings, 80th place.

The fact that he made today's Top 12 final put a big smile on Palaniuk's face Saturday. "This was the tournament I was looking forward to the least on the schedule," he said. "Just fishing (Saturday) was a bonus. Making a Top 12 was even better."

If the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year has a chance to repeat at the end of this season, Palaniuk's rally at the Sabine will have been a key. He made the Top 50 cut after two days, by 4 ounces, in 47th place. Then he made the Top 12 cut in a tiebreaker for 12th place with Bobby Lane, after both finished with 28-1.

At the halfway point in the season, Palaniuk has worked his way up the AOY standings from 72nd after the first event at Lake Martin to no worse than 26th place, and maybe a few places higher, after a Top 12 at the Sabine.

"On Day 1, I burned 9 1/2 gallons of fuel," Palaniuk said Saturday. "Yesterday I burned about 6 1/2 gallons, and today I probably burned about 10. My whole deal was maximizing time. I've made some long runs here before and it bit me. I knew it would be tough, so I just wanted to keep my baits in the water."

Palaniuk is in 7th place at 10 a.m. today with 4 bass weighing 4-12, according to BASSTrakk.

Swindle with a limit

Gerald Swindle has five in the box, with a solid keeper coming just now way back in a slough. While he’s rotating in a popper, his primary pattern has been something a little different for these waters: He’s working a shaky head and dropshot off deeper ledges.

“I don’t like to do what everybody is doing,” he said.

Basstrakk shows him in second place, just less than 2 pounds behind leader Greg Hackney.

Stout Top 12 at Sabine River

Every event we state the fact of how stout the Top 12 group of anglers on any final day is and the Sabine River is no different this week. Between the Top 12 anglers, there are 5 Toyota Angler of the Year crowns, 17 Elite Series victories and a Classic title. One-third of the Top 12 consists of original Elite anglers from the 2006 season. Those would be Greg Hackney, Steve Kennedy, Skeet Reese and Gerald Swindle The other eight anglers are a solid mixture of veterans and younger. Two first-year Elites are fishing on Championship Sunday, the first of their Elite careers and those are Shin Fukae and Jake Whitaker.

Historically, this group of 12 has a stout resume of Top 12's for their entire Bassmaster careers, totally 344 Top 12's.

Career Top 12's
Greg Hackney59
Keith Poche 15
Shin Fukae5
Steve Kennedy 31
Bradley Roy 10
Skeet Reese -82
Brock Mosley 5
Justin Lucas -20
Jake Whitaker 2
Gerald Swindle 63
John Crews  27
Brandon Palaniuk 25

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Kennedy vs. Crabs

Steve Kennedy made a lure switch not by choice but by the prey choosing to eat his lure.

The Alabama pro began the week using a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko, rigged to 3/0 straight shank hook and 3/16-ounce weight. Later in the week the supply ran short. Blue crabs nibbled on the plastic, rendering the action worthless.

Kennedy switched to the Reaction Innovations Small Beaver 3.5, using the same size hook and weight. After running short on that choice, and the crabs were the reason why, he switched yet again to a 4.2-inch Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver.

“I’m about out of those, too, and am having to mend what’s left together to get me through today,” he told me this morning at the dock.

Mend-It Softbait Glue is the last resort, and Kennedy hopes what lures remain in his boat can stay glued together until weigh-in.