Johnston in the weeds

We picked up Cory Johnston just as he was leaving an offshore reef in the Goose Island area, but he was pulling his trolling motor. 

He’s now made three stops, pitching a jig into shallow grass beds. 

He’s caught one throwback and swung on a couple of bass since we’ve been following him, but he admitted he’s not having a stellar day. 

“It’s been tough,” Johnston said. “I’ve got two good fish and three small ones.”

Two-man race

This event has slipped into a two-man race. On the shoulders of the bigger fish (4-plus pounds) Seth Feider and Jamie Hartman are starting to distance themselves a bit.

That basically means those trailing have to boat 5-pounders or better to make a run at this. 

We’ve know all morning this would be how it would come down. We just weren’t sure of the horses that would be involved. 

Make no mistake. It’s still anyone’s ballgame but in the 7th inning stretch it’s Feider and Hartman that can survive on hits.

The others need home runs and it’s getting late. But Dave Mercer tells me the 5s and 6s are really likely during this time of the day.

It’s just more drama and more reason to keep an eye on the game.

Loughran's plan coming together

Ed Loughran’s plan is coming together. After his typical slow start, he now has a limit in the 16-pound range.

That’s been his timeline virtually everyday, slowly build to a big sack. With the decrease in wind it will help him get back to his first two days in this derby. 

He weighed in consecutive 19-plus pounds on those days then fell off the pace to 17-15 yesterday. 

If regains his 19 pounds today he will be right in the middle of the “ounces away” club that seems to be growing every hour.

 

Winds are dying down

If you are watching the Live show then you’ve seen a stark difference in the wind from two hours ago. 

It looked rough and forecast to get rougher. Now, though, it’s almost calm.

The wind is expected to blow again later in the day. But these guys may be done by the time it really moves.

That’s good news for the guys in the inland sea. It plays right into the hands of Jason Williamson, who already has had an incredible start. But it will also help Brandon Palaniuk, who will be able to move around.  The same for Taku Ito and Ed Loughran.

Some of these guys must have spent a little extra time praying for less wind.

Feider: Don't put the crankbait down

 Both David Mullins and Seth Feider landed smallmouth bass on crankbaits recently. That's always an adventure. It's easier for these Lake Champlain smallies, which almost always put on an aerial show, to throw the hook of multiple-treble-hooked crankbait. Between two fish catches, Mullins got his heart broken by a 5-pounder that jumped and threw his bait.

But half the equation is hooking 'em. And the crankbait bite is on. "Okay, don't put the crankbait down the rest of the day," Feider told himself.

Big fish have made an appearance

As expected the big fish have made an appearance but just a short glimpse.

Mullins just had on what he said was a 5-pounder. He knew it was big the moment he set the hook.

He actually thought it was a big walleye. This one made a big jump at the front of the boat and came unbuttoned.

The next cast he finished his limit. And now he’s inching closer to the ounces-out club.

The big one he lost would have put him there. But it seems as if he’s onto something special.

Hartman with a limit

Jamie has just finished his limit and is back near the top of the leaderboard where he’s accustomed to being.

The big thing about that final fish is it might have tipped him off on where the school has moved.

These schools are notorious for packing their bags and moving. In this case they haven’t moved far according to Ken Golub who is on the water with Hartman this morning.

Hartman was catching them in 16 feet of water. The last one bit much shallower.

We will see if that skinnier water produces what he needs.

Hartman's fifth fish tightens the race

It took until 10:30 a.m., but Jamie Hartman put his fifth keeper in the boat and put himself back in the thick of the race for the title. BASSTrakk shows leader Seth Feider, second-place Hartman and third-place Brandon Palaniuk within a pound of each other.

Hartman caught his last fish on a Riot Baits Lil' Creeper jig. "It was a reaction bite," he said. "He hit it on the drop."

Approaching the midway point

We are approaching the midway point of this final day and it’s starting to look like we expected in terms of weight.

There are 5 or 6 guys who are poised to change the outcome of this event. And it could happen any minute.

Obviously Seth Feider is in the driver’s seat. He’s got a couple of 3-pounders that could be replaced to distance himself. A big one and he really does it.

Then there’s Brandon Palaniuk breathing down his neck. Like Feider he has some 3-pounders to get rid of.

Following them is Jamie Hartman, who you know will finish his limit. He has four for about 13 pounds with some 2-pound class fish in his well. He gets on a flurry and he’s back in the driver’s seat. He has a lot of room to grow fast. He just finished his limit and is within ounces.

Then there’s Jason Williamson who is out of sight. Out of service. And we expect he has the largest bag of the day. He’s right there with Hartman now.

Mix in Koby Kreiger who is almost 8-pounds off the pace. He only has three at the moment and his next two could put him within ounces of the rest.

Plus Mullins who has a peculiar lock on catching more than 19 pounds every day.

From this point forward 4-plus pounders will be the stars of the show. They will be the deciders. And they will show up as sure as the wind will blow.

Feider, Palaniuk battling it out

Seth Feider and Brandon Palaniuk have been atop the BASSTrakk leaderboard for a while now. The fish catching, overall, has slowed in the last hour. But Feider and Palaniuk both landed smallmouths at the top of the 10 o'clock hour, but neither helped them.

Palaniuk's plan today centered on efficiency. He doesn't want to be running around in these wind-swept waters. So he's been bobbing along, staying in contact with a school of smallmouth below him. And he's got a "secret weapon" in his game plan.

"I think I might be able to catch a big one on a glide bait," Palaniuk said. "After I get 17, 18 pounds, then I'll go try to catch a 6-pounder or a couple of them."

BASSTrakk shows him with 16-8 now, just 1-1 behind Feider.

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