Whitaker still in command of ROY

Bassmaster rookie Jake Whitaker is currently leading the Rookie of the Year race, which will carry over into the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship if he qualifies.

And he should.

He’s sitting in 41st currently according to BASSTrakk, with five bass for approximately 8 pounds, 6 ounces. His day started with him in 30th place in AOY standings, which is a good place to be, but to close to the bubble for comfort.

He’s been consistent all year, and it’s safe to assume he’ll stay consistent.

Lester has a difference-maker

Brandon Lester has jumped to the top of the early leaderboard thanks in part to one of those St. Lawrence River difference-makers - a 5 1/2-pound smallmouth bass.

Lester is well on his way to a 20-pounds-plus bag with that big smallmouth and a 4 1/2-pounder in his livewell. With three 2-pounders in his limit, BASSTrakk shows him with 16-12.

It's not just finding and hooking those big smallmouth. Another big percentage in the equation is landing them. Successfully landing one of these big smallmouth bass, muscled-up from constant river current, in deep water on light spinning tackle is no easy feat. It requires skill, patience and a little luck.

"Being able to land those 5- and 6-pounders is the key," said Kevin VanDam. "They're hard to land. They fight and fight and fight."

That has some anglers trying different drop shot hooks than what they'd normally use.

"The first time we came here, I missed a check because of (losing a fish)," said Justin Lucas. "I've been experimenting with hooks this week. The same drop shot hook you might use in an open lake where there is not much current isn't the same hook you want here."

No 'secret baits' this time?

The previous two times the Elite Series has come to the St. Lawrence River, a relatively obscure lure has come into the spotlight. In 2015, when Edwin Evers won with a four-day total of 77-10 on August 2, it was a black hair jig that proved to be key for him and several other anglers. Last year, when Kevin VanDam won with a total of 90-3 on July 23, it was the twin-prop spybait that produced some key fish.

Will there be one of those "last secret bait of the pros" that comes to light this year at the St. Lawrence? Probably not.

"This one is going to be dominated by a drop shot," VanDam said Wednesday. "It's the most efficient way to fish that deep water and to land them once you get them hooked. There will be some caught shallow, but for the most part, it's going to be a deep deal.

"This is much different than the last time we were here. The water is way low. We were here earlier in the year and the water was real high last time. That kept a lot of fish shallow. It's not like that now."

Jacob Powroznik agreed, saying, "I think it's going to be an absolute drop shot, tube and ned rig deal. I think it's the first time in my career I've had seven spinning rods and only one baitcaster in my boat."

So many 4-pounders, it's crazy

I was struck by many of the lofty predictions at last night's anglers' meeting, especially coming from a bunch that generally poor-mouths their prospects before a tournament. But this one from Justin Lucas stood out: "I don't think it's going to take 20 pounds a day to get (a top 50 check), but I wouldn't be surprised if it's 19-something. There's too many 4-pounders biting. It's crazy."

It took Alton Jones Jr. about 30 minutes to put three of those 4-pounders in the boat today. Jones has the early lead, according to BASSTrakk, with four bass weighing 15 pounds, 6 ounces. His bag includes a 4-6, a 4-1 and a 4-0.

Think about Lucas' comment. It might take a 5-bass limit of 4-pound smallmouth bass - two days in a row - just to make the Top 50 cut. And, as Jones has quickly demonstrated this morning, Lucas' comment has some merit.

This should be fun.

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Quick start for Chapman

Brent Chapman is in the Top 4 in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, and with this being the final regular-season event of the year, he’s hoping to make it count.

He made a short idle to the outside edge of the bay where take off occurred. He’s caught three smallmouth so far and a walleye, his biggest smallie likely eclipsing 4 pounds.

A good start for the Kansas angler.

He’s been very consistent all year, and moving on to the AOY Championship in September in this position to win.

And he’s calm and collected.

He won AOY in 2012, so he’s no stranger to the pressure of late- and post-season performance.

Pirch’s practice

If the goal was to tag along in practice with someone who would likely finish high in this week’s Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet, Cliff Pirch of Payson, Ariz., was a good choice. He finished fourth, 25th and 30th in three previous events out of Waddington, N.Y., and he proved he can catch smallmouth by finishing third in the Elite at Lake Oahe last month.

“I would have bet you $1,000 that I would show you a 5-pound-or-better bass today,” he said at the end of our practice session Wednesday. He didn’t. A 3-pounder topped the string of keepers he boated during our windy, wet day on the St. Lawrence. He had a “picture fish” on at one point, but he had to keep his rod down while another competitor ran by us, and the fish broke his line on a straight pull.

Pirch was confident going into the day because of the big smallies he boated on the first two days of official practice. “The big ones are here,” he said over and over, “but they’re just not biting like they ought to.”

The “Golden Ram,” as he has become known, has two big-bass spots he’ll hit now that competition is beginning, but they’re 70 or 80 miles apart. That’s a heck of a milk run.

Dropping boats in early

The 2018 Huk Bassmaster Elite Series presented by Black Velvet Day 1 begins.