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

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.

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.

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.

Sabine the same as 2015

The first three days of this tournament remarkably resemble the first three days here in 2015. Yes, it's June, not March, like when the tournament was held in '15. And anglers are limited to Texas waters only now, not Texas and Louisiana like they were then. And there's a 12-inch minimum length limit now, instead of 14 inches, like it was then.

Despite those differences, the Day 3 lead was 39-10 in 2015, and yesterday it was 41-0; the 12th place cut was 28-0 then, and 28-1 yesterday, and four anglers who made the Top 12 cut then, made it again yesterday - Greg Hackney, Keith Poche, John Crews and Justin Lucas.

Before the tournament began, Hackney predicted the length limit change, in particular, wouldn't be a factor.

"You still need 14-inchers or better to win," Hackney said at the anglers' meeting Wednesday. "It doesn't change that. To me, the top end (of the standings) will stay the same, and it helps the bottom end. Now a guy can go out there and catch a limit and never catch a 14-inch bass."

Hackney's had a pretty good week - both catching fish and making predictions.

Crews' lure lineup

John Crews just scored a limit and moved into third place in the BASSTrakk standings. You can see his lures soon in the top lures gallery. Until then here’s the lineup.

“It was a little weird finesse fishing with a drop shot in the river but it worked.” He made it using a Missile Baits Fuse 4.4, rigging it to 1/0 Gamakatsu Offset EWG Hook with 1/16-ounce sinker. Crews also used a 5-inch Missile Baits Baby D Stroyer creature bait, rigging it to 3/0 Gamakatsu Offset Round Bend Worm Hook and 1/4-ounce slip sinker.

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Hackney methodically spectacular

If you watched much of "Bassmaster LIVE" yesterday, it seemed like Greg Hackney was struggling. There was that one bright spot at 1:20 p.m. when he landed a 3 1/2-pounder. But it was mostly cast after cast after bass-less cast.

Then came the Day 3 weigh-in and for the third day in a row, Hackney had expanded his lead in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River presented by Econo Lodge. Hackney also had the heaviest 5-bass limit of the 50 anglers remaining in the competition - 12 pounds, 14 ounces.

To put this in perspective, Hackney has yet to "struggle" on the Sabine. He has methodically tightened a choke-hold on the rest of the field. On Day 1, he had a 3-pound, 15-ounce lead over Matt Herren. On Day 2, Hackney upped his lead to 4-8, and Steve Kennedy was in second place. After Day 3, Keith Poche was the new guy in second place, and Hackney was leading by 8 pounds, 7 ounces.

Yes, anything can happen today. But who would bet against more of the same?

A logjam around the cut line

The 50-man Day 2 field will be cut to the top 12 after today's weigh-in, and there's a logjam of anglers bunched from 11th to 14th, according to BASSTrakk. That includes Scott Rook and Justin Lucas tied for 11th with 27-1, Matt Herren in 13th place with 26-14 and Todd Faircloth in 14th with 26-13.

Previous Top 12/Day 3 cuts at the Sabine River were 28-0 in 2015 and 26-6 in 2013.

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