Josh Bertrand moved to spot near Brockville, where he's fished previously this week, and it paid off, according to photographer Gettys Brannon. The flurry began with a nice-sized walleye. Then Bertrand landed three smallmouths on three drifts - all in the 3 1/2- to 4-pound range. That should give Bertrand about 17 pounds and put him in the lead.
Brandon Lester has been here for maybe an hour and has wasted little time getting bites. He has made maybe six drifts along side one of the isltnads he has been fishing. So far, he has two solid smallmouth in the box.
One thing I notice on the drifts he does to ensure quality catches: He usually catches a small fish first and then follows it up with a big bite.
When asked about the Toyota Angler of the Year title yesterday, which he is currently leading, Justin Lucas said, “It’s definitely very much on my mind – every single fish. I was hoping it wouldn’t be between me and a good friend of mine.”
Lucas was referring to Josh Bertrand. He and Lucas have turned the AOY race into a head-to-head matchup this week. No matter what happens today, those two will be separated by about a dozen points or less. Bradley Roy, the leader coming into St. Lawrence, finished 71st. He will be about 50 points behind the two frontrunners going into the Toyota AOY Championship next month.
This Lucas vs. Bertrand battle is particularly interesting because of their friendship. Bertrand, a 29-year-old Arizona native, joined the Elite Series in 2013. Lucas, a 32-year-old California native, came over from the FLW circuit in 2014.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Bertrand said of Lucas. “We were both from the West and younger guys, and we decided to start rooming together when he came to the Elite Series. We’ve become really good friends. We have a lot in common. He’s taught me a lot.”
Both anglers are married with children now, and Lucas lives in Guntersville, Ala.,, but they remain close.
“We still talk almost every day when we’re fishing,” Bertrand said.
It seems the 2018 Toyota Angler of the Year title has come down to this: May the best friend win.
This morning I recorded the details for the fan-favorite lures gallery of the top 12 anglers. Not surprisingly, every photo will include a drop shot rig with these exceptions.
Rick Morris, who likes to stay old school, is continuing that style by using a Carolina Rig as his main rig of choice. These anglers added other lures to their drop shot arsenals. Seth Feider added a Storm Arashi Spinbait, and Keith Combs also used a Strike King KVD 300 Jerkbait.
The most popular soft plastic among the pros is the new 4-inch PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm in use by Justin Lucas, Josh Bertrand and Bobby Lane.
“You got any of that smallmouth crack?”
That was the question asked to Lucas by Lane, who idled up to him to borrow more of the lures, due out in September.
"I am catching smallmouth around other anglers, and a lot of those guys have been asking us them, even those not sponsored by Berkley,” added Lane.
“First thing in a good way is how bad it smells,” added Lucas. "I honestly believe in the science behind it that it makes the fish not let go.”
Coincidentally, Bertrand, Justin Lucas and Bobby Lane all used the Flat Worm at Lake Oahe, the last Elite Series event held in South Dakota.
Bertrand has found a school of feeding smallmouth that has moved up on a current break to feed on a bunch of gobies and is upgrading quickly.
Clearly with the numbers and weights this week, it’s obvious that the St. Lawrence River has shown out.
In a huge way.
We are going to come very close hitting all-time record smallmouth bass weights at the end of the day. It’s amazing, no doubt about it.
What’s made it so great?
My boat driver this week has been Dean Meckes who runs a charter fishing service in the region. He knows his stuff.
He said that the smallmouth bass generally finish spawning in mid July, go into their postspawn funk and are then out of it ready to feed into August/September.
Basically right now they are chowing.
“This year it has been abnormally warm, and we're seeing water temps in the mid to upper 70s,” Meckes said. “At this point in the summer, they like to congregate and set up on deep structure to feed, and they feed heavily.”
He said as the days get shorter and summer temps begin to dwindle, the biggest smallies in the system are susceptible to a multitude of techniques—especially dropshotting and other vertical presentations.
In this part of the country, winter is not that far off, and it lasts quite a while. When you consider that alongside the fact that this river is like a 24/7 treadmill, these fish have to eat constantly to maintain caloric intake in order to survive.
“I truly think this is the best time of year to catch a giant, and the pros are proving me right in his week,” he continued. “And its a satisfying way to catch them. Each bite could be a 12-incher or a 6-pounder, and that what makes it so much fun.
Yesterday, at some time in mid-morning, Bassmaster Marshal Mark Studley sent in the above photo of Roy Hawk bringing in a giant smallmouth bass. If you follow us at all here, you know that we receive a steady stream of Marshal photos, blogs from our writers, galleries and videos, all while putting out six hours of LIVE coverage every tournament day.
So it takes something special to stop me in my tracks. This photo did it.
For the first time this week, I wanted to go hop on a plane and head to Waddington to be there Monday morning when the event was over and find out whatever Roy was throwing and throw one myself. What a wonderful picture that captures why the Elites are coming back to Waddington for 3 more years!
If you were going to handicap today’s Top 12 field, would you favor someone like David Walker, who has never been lower than second place the previous three days? Or would you favor anglers on the rise, like Justin Lucas, who has moved from 16th to 5th to 3rd, and Rick Morris, who was 29th on Day 1, 14th on Day 2 and 5th on Day 3?
Note the fact that Lucas has caught 23 pounds each day. And only two anglers – Brandon Lester and Keith Combs – were able to make the final after a day of weighing less than 20 pounds.
The following is a look at where the Championship Sunday anglers were ranked in the standings and what they weighed each of the previous three days:
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Total
David Walker 2nd - 26-8 2nd – 22-14 1st – 22-15 72-5
Josh Bertrand 4th – 25-11 3rd – 22-14 2nd – 23-9 72-2
Justin Lucas 16th – 23-12 5th – 23-0 3rd – 23-7 70-3
Brandon Lester 11th – 24-4 1st – 25-13 4th – 19-13 69-14
Rick Morris 29th – 22-4 14th – 22-4 6th – 20-15 67-6
Brandon Palaniuk 43rd – 20-15 6th – 25-12 7th – 20-2 66-13
Mike McClelland 12th – 24-1 9th – 21-13 8th – 20-15 66-13
Mark Daniels Jr. 33rd – 21-14 13th – 22-11 9th – 22-3 66-12
Keith Combs 6th – 25-7 22nd – 18-0 10th – 23-1 66-8
James Elam 8th – 24-13 8th – 21-4 11th – 20-7 66-8
Seth Feider 34th – 21-11 23rd – 21-11 12th – 22-5 65-11