Ito on the board

Taku Ito is on the board with about a 3 ½-pound smallmouth.

It was good to see Ito battle and win with the fish on Bassmaster LIVE. He is the latest offering from Japan to hit the Elite Series. He’s a rookie this season and it hasn’t been especially easy this season.

Under Covid restrictions and worries it’s been tough on the whole field. Ito, though, traveled back to Japan during the height of the concern to be with his family.

It looked for a while if he might not be able to get back to the states when events started getting rescheduled. Ito, though, was determined.

His whole purpose this season is to win the Rookie of the Year title. It burns in him in a way that it borders on obsession. With travel restrictions worldwide, Ito found a way back to the states from Japan (a story that will likely be worth telling once all the scare is over, but not for now) just to make sure that his goals are realized.

Currently, he’s second in the ROY standings, some 20-plus points behind Buddy Gross, who won the last event. But he’s closing in and today solidifies his obsession.

While a lot of attention is being placed on the battle between Johnston and Mueller, this battle between Ito and Gross bears watching the rest of the season.

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Whatley still alive

Brad Whatley is struggling this morning. But I imagine, he’s looking at the bright side of things, like he’s still alive.

I called Whatley last night trying to get a line on where guys were going or if they were going. The last three days, Whatley has made the longest trip across Lake Ontario boating to the Oswego area, some 100 miles away.

Whatley who is always straight forward and never sugar coats anything, simply said, “No, I’m not going. I would die.”

That sounds drastic. But probably not completely out of the question. He’s finally on the board this morning with likely the smallest fish that has seen his livewell all week.

Earlier we watched as he had a long battle with what Whatley estimated to be about a 4-pound smallmouth. That fish came unbuttoned. But he has to look at that as a positive as well.

He’s not fished in the river so today is a practice day more or less. Getting bit, and even losing them helps you dial in and there’s plenty of time left to make something happen.

And did I mention, he’s still alive.

A break from the wind

Chad Morgenthaler finally gave up in the waters in front of Clayton, making a 10-minute run to a protected channel connecting the U.S. and Canadian channel.

The difference in the wind is dramatic. There’s just a small chop on the waters now.

He connected with three small bass today. He still has only one 2-pounder in the livewell.

With the lake starting to produce some bass - and Brock Mosley catching two quality fish in the river - Morgenthaler has slipped to fifth, according to BASSTrakk.

He’s 14-4 behind leader Paul Mueller.

What Mosley is doing

One of the more interesting parts of this event that can’t be overstated is what Brock Mosley is doing.

With all the chatter and attention on smallmouth, Lake Ontario and nasty waves, Mosley has stuck with a much calmer and serene approach by chasing largemouth around the St. Lawrence River.

It would be a fitting end to one of the craziest, strangest years in the middle of a COVID pandemic if largemouth were to win this event. It’s sort of strange enough that largemouth have put a guy on the final day.

Mosley’s approach, though, is something every tournament angler should keep in mind. Old school guys used to say no matter where you are you should fish to your strengths. Mosley has done that this week. I heard him on the LIVE show equating a boulder to a stump back home. That kind of attitude is paying big dividends for this young pro. While all the Great Lakes anglers are pulling for the lake, all the good-old-boys who spend their days flipping around stumps have found them someone they can relate to.

The other part of that is, after watching Paul Mueller, Chris Johnston and Clark Wendlandt battle the waves this morning, I think it’s a good bet those guys burned more gas in an hour than Mosley has burned in four days. He’s sticking so close to the takeoff there is shades of similarities to George Cochran’s 1987 Bassmaster Classic win, when he chose to spend more time to fish than to run and won one of the toughest Classics ever.

This one isn’t tough in a catching regard. It is tough getting around, though. And if you are from Mississippi (like Brock) or from the deep South, what he’s doing makes more sense than dragging around a little bitty bait around big water on a little bitty rod.

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The lake seems to be winning

Besides the pain and agony that the wind and waves have created for all the competitors, Chris Johnston and Paul Mueller are exchanging body shots at a regular pace.

This event looked like it was a two-horse race at the end of yesterday. But the wildcard was if the leaders could actually get to their spots in the lake.

Expectations were that those in the river had a chance to make up ground with a real chance the lake anglers wouldn’t make it back.

The lake remains violent and it’s getting worse. At present, it appears as if the lake is winning the day. Of the 14 catches at this point in the day, five of those are between Mueller and Johnston.

The remaining nine keepers are scattered around the seven anglers in the river.

At this point, the lake seems to be winning. But in events like this, especially in conditions like this anything can happen.

You can almost expect something to happen. I can remember several years ago when Aaron Martens won his last AOY title on Lake Erie, competing out of Detroit. He locked up that title on Saturday. Sunday he has the event won but was unable to get back to the weigh-in. A motor mount connecting his engine to his transom broke while battling the brutal conditions.

He scored a zero on that day after having to release 20 pounds plus into the lake.

It bears reminding, every fish caught doesn’t count until they get to the scales.

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Photographer group text

Part of the unseen things that go on around these events is the group text among photographers on the water. Trust me it’s a good thing they stay unseen.

But I think it’s worthy of offering a glimpse.

It started this morning when we woke up to basically calm conditions in Clayton.

Shane Durrance, our very-talented shooter from Georgia, let everyone know that “The weather has changed.”

He followed that with an all caps “SWEET.” Obviously that didn’t last long.

Once Durrance got to Cape Vincent, his next text: “Please scratch what I said about the wind today. The weatherman can kiss my @#%. We already have 6 footers. And it’s only 7:15.”

It was sometime before the chatter picked up after that. Andy Crawford, one of our veterans from Louisiana added, “Glad I’m not in the lake. It’s rough as a cob in the river.“

Seigo Saito, our Japanese photographer, followed with, “Oh it’s not that bad. It’s just 12-footer one after the other.”

Crawford responded: "How many waves did you spear, Seigo?”

To which Seigo said, “Don’t talk to me. I’m fighting against waves. Haha, but I can still text in 8-footers now. Glad I’m on walleye boat today.”

Admiration and pride

I have two opposing thoughts on a day like this.

One is you have to admire those willing to take the risk while getting pummeled by wind and waves. It takes a set to eat that and fight toward a goal. It’s the American way.

The other side of me, the one who has eaten his share of waves and rollers and has the back pain as a reminder is proud of those who decided that staying in the river is the better part of valor.

That’s what happens when you reach a certain age. Natural aches and pains along with memories overshadow hopes and dreams.

It’s why I’m overly impressed with Wendlandt. Of the three in the lake, he’s reaching that age where Advil is a daily routine.

I said it a day or so and will say it again. Whoever wins this, regardless if they are in the lake or river, will have fought the fight of their careers and pulled off an incredible game plan.

That’s the American way as well. And playing out in front of us today.

Morgenthaler back in the game

Chad Morgenthaler has figured out his equipment issues and is back in play.

He’s working the river right out of Clayton, working main richer humps.

He’s landed two smallmouth, but they were throwbacks.

Into the teeth of the giant

So far four of our 10 have raced off, or actually bumped and jumped, into the teeth of the giant.

Paul Mueller, Chris Johnston, Taku Ito, and Clark Wendlandt are bouncing their way into Ontario at the moment. All of them, along with their cameramen are soaked at the moment.

Cory Johnston came for about a mile and turned and headed back to the lake. Surprising that Brandon Palaniuk has come through yet. He’s normally the biggest daredevil in the field.

We are still at Cape Vincent and now Taku Ito appears to have turned and is heading back to the river. He had to have gone several miles before giving in to the pain and agony of the ride. Or giving into the realization that his efforts were futile.

Undoubtedly there will be some of these places that produced so well the last few days that aren’t fishable.

The beast of Ontario and wind continues to growl.