Less than 20 minutes after John Cox took the unofficial lead with a 4-pounder, Bill Weidler landed a 4-4 that allowed him to cull up to 21-12 and put him in the unofficial BASSTrakk lead, emphasis on "unofficial." Wow. I've been covering the Elite Series since it began in 2006, and I don't remember another one with an ending as exciting as this. Of course, we didn't have "Bassmaster LIVE" back in the day, so who knows? But we're getting a clear picture of how this one is going down, and it is unprecedented.
John Cox moved to the top of the BASSTrakk unofficial leaderboard with a 4-pounder at 1:30 p.m. He culled a 2-pounder to give him 19-0 on the day. It should be emphasized, it's the unofficial BASSTrakk leaderboard. No one has a clue how this one will turn out as we move into the final hour of this four-day tournament. The leaderboard shows Cox, Cory Johnston and Bill Weidler within 10 ounces of each other at 1:55 p.m. Check-in time is 3:00.
In a tournament this close in its final hours, it bears mentioning how a tie will be broken at today's weigh-in. After riding to Metro Park just now with tournament director Trip Weldon and tournament manager Lisa Talmadge, I got the straight dope.
In the event of a tie for first place, there will be a sudden death fish-off. The competitors will be allowed to go to the spot of their choice on tournament waters. A tournament official will be in each boat, plus a "Bassmaster LIVE" camera operator. An exact start time will be coordinated via cell phone. Then the first angler to catch a legal bass - in this case, minimum 14 inches long - will be the winner.
Jay Yelas apparently has chosen to fish in Anchor Bay’s fast lane: He’s has two cigarette boat run barely more than a cast away from his front deck.
One of the boaters ran past, circled around and made a run even closer, ignoring Yelas waving the driver away.
It hasn’t seemed to affect his bite, but it has to be maddening.
Jay Yelas is in Anchor Bay, fan casting in 4 to 5 feet of water - and he just boat flipped a 4 1/2-pounder.
He caught the fish on a ChatterBait.
My boater, Jerry Doucette, said the flat is covered with grass with specific spots on who smallmouth will hold.
“There’s a lot of sandy spots in the grass, and that’s where fish will be,” Doucette said. “They’ll be right in the middle of those sandy spots.”
The catch pushes Yelas’ bag to an estimated 19 pounds, enough to push him into third place in BASSTrakk.
But he’s only 1-pound behind leader Clark Wendlandt.
Taku Ito continues his amazing rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Bill Weidler has felt he was on a potentially winning area since he found it in practice this week. It had then, and it does now, a bunch of big smallmouth bass. Weidler put one of those game-changing 5-pounders in his livewell at 9:17 a.m. today. He's staying at a campground in Anchor Bay. On the second day of practice, it was a little cool early, so he decided to drift around the bay a bit before running out on Lake St. Clair.
"I'm fishing out from one of the fingers that feeds the bay," Weidler said. "I found a bunch of areas with grass around sand flats. They're roaming in that sand. If I get over the grass, I'm not going to get bit. I have to be in the sand."
Weidler weighs his fish on an electronic digital scale. In practice he landed smallmouths weighing 6-1 and 5-14, and one "a lot bigger than 6" broke him off. Weidler left the spot at noon yesterday after burning through 4-pounder after 4-pounder. He's not leaving today.
"I need a mega-bag," said the Helena, Ala., resident. "I need to catch all fives and some sixes."
That would be a mega-bag alright. Weidler began the day in 8th place, 2-8 behind leader John Cox. With 5-pounders being such a difference maker, it seems as if the man with the most 5-pounders is going to win this tournament. And Weidler's got one now.
Jake Whitaker just boxed his fifth bass, giving him about 15 pounds.
“I have two little ones - just keepers,” he said.
He has spent the entire event bouncing back and forth between two St. Clair River spots, dragging a Ned rig off the bank.
“I’ve caught every one of my fish in 25 to 30 feet of water,” Whitaker said.
Neither the boat traffic nor recreational anglers are affecting his bite.
“I literally have walleye anglers drift right by my boat, and I’m still catching fish,” he said.
There's mutual admiration between John Cox, who has led this tournament the previous three days, and Clark Wendlandt, who is currently leading after posting a big limit already today.
"If I can't win it, I'd love to see Clark win it," Cox said earlier this week. And in one sense, Cox owes one to Wendlandt. He edged Wendlandt by 7 ounces to win an FLW tournament at South Carolina's Lake Hartwell in 2016.
Cox has been an admirer of Wendlandt's much longer than it's been mutual. Twenty years separates their birthdates. Cox was a 15-year-old dreaming of professional bass fishing when Wendlandt was featured on a Kellogg's cereal box after winning the FLW Angler of the Year title in 2000. Cox tacked that cereal box to his bedroom wall.
When they met years later on the pro bass circuit, Cox relayed that story to Wendlandt, and he loves to share Wendlandt's response: "That's a little creepy."
Cox bellowed with laughter after sharing that story. Yeah, I guess when most 15-year-old boys had posters on their bedroom walls of hot female models and actresses, having Clark Wendlandt's Kellogg's cereal box tacked there is "a little creepy."
We pulled up on Jake Whitaker, and within minutes the angler’s rod was bent on what proved to be a 3 1/1- to 4-pounder.
He added that smallmouth to a livewell already holding one 4-pounder and a couple of “small fish.”
He figures he’s got about 11 or 12 pounds with those four.
And he said he was grinning behind his pulled-up neck gaiter.
“I’m all smiles,” Whitaker said with a laugh.
He should be, since his Championship Sunday plan is working like a charm.
“I caught a 4-pounder on my first cast,” Whitaker said. “I literally pulled up this morning, had one boil and I threw a Ned right out and caught it.
“I was like, ‘Catching a fish on the first catch - that’s not good.’ But I don’t care!”