Morgenthaler’s start

Chad Morgenthaler was sitting in third when he left the dock, and he abandoned his Lake Ontario area because of the wind.

And now he’s bobbing around in the St. Lawrence River dealing with a mechanical issue.

Not the way any angler wants to start Championship Sunday.

Two different worlds

I’m sitting 25 miles from Clayton New York on the edge of Lake Ontario and the weather as forecasted showed up here. Just not in Clayton. It’s like two different worlds.

Yesterday at the end of the day it was bumpy. More than most wanted. This morning it’s worse.

It’s not as bad as I’ve ever seen. Not as bad as I’ve ever been in but rough enough that it won’t be easy for these guys. They will have to want to go in a really bad way.

An Elite win and $100,000 check is a big motivation. But it won’t motivate all of them.

Mueller on verge of a bass triple crown

Paul Mueller has two Bassmaster Elite Series wins, most recently this year on Florida's St. Johns River, known for its largemouth bass. In 2019, the 46-year-old angler from Naugatuck, Conn., won catching spotted bass at Georgia's Lake Lanier. If Mueller maintains the lead he's had for three days on the St. Lawrence River, he'll have the triple crown - Elite Series wins on largemouth, spotted bass and smallmouth waters.

"Wow, I never thought about that," Mueller said Saturday. "The St. Johns thing, honestly, I'd never pick myself to win there. I'll still be uncomfortable when we go back down there. Had we fished four days (high winds reduced it to three days), Cliff Prince would have won. I feel real fortunate about that."

But it's no fluke when Mueller has success on a largemouth lake. He holds the Bassmaster Classic record for the heaviest five-bass limit - 32 pounds, 3 ounces - caught on Lake Guntersville in 2014.

Mueller could really seal his name into the B.A.S.S. history books if he's able to top 100 pounds in a four-day, five-bass-per-day event like this. It has never been done before. He's on pace, with 76-15 after three days. But Chris Johnston is going to have much to say about who wins this tournament. He trails Mueller by only 2 pounds, 3 ounces.

And wouldn't it be ironic if Johnston won this one, after leading the first three days at the St. Lawrence River last year, then finishing second by 14 ounces on the final day.

The frustrations of weather

If you are a tournament bass fisherman there are two things that equally frustrate you on a regular basis.

First is the nature of bass. Why they bite one day and not the next. Or they come and go with no warning.

Second is the forecast of a weatherman.

I’m driving to Cape Vincent where the lake meets the river. The trees that line the road are barely moving. The flags on poles sit still.

The forecast said something like 10 to 20 mile per hour winds with big gusts. There’s nothing like that happening at the moment.

I’m glad for that. Although I believe that wind will eventually show up. I fear the calmness of the morning might change some minds. That could be a good thing. Could be a bad thing.

Of our 10, eight of them qualified today in the lake. A quick poll of those revealed half deciding to stay in the river.

Flags laying on flagpoles could change some minds.

However it plays out. The forecast, accurate or not, has had an impact on this event so far. Hope it doesn’t keep playing a part.

A good case in point on the frustrations of weather: flags are laying down in Clayton but at Cape Vincent, they are standing straight out.

It’s still not gassing like the forecast said it would. But it’s bumpy enough to keep some from going, knowing or expecting it to get worse by the end of the day.

The anglers take off in 15 minutes. I can see some of them talking themselves into making the trip, expecting one thing, only to be surprised to find a completely different place once they get here.

No 10th to first Sunday

Brandon Palaniuk, 10th (59-12)

When Micah Frazier went into the Sunday top 10 final last year at the St. Lawrence River, he was the last man in. But he trailed leader Chris Johnston by only 4 pounds, 10 ounces, and he made the unlikely leap from 10th to first with a 25-pound, 9-ounce five-bass limit on the last day.

That won't be happening this year. It's a testament to what leader Paul Mueller and second-place Chris Johnston have accomplished over the past three days of the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence. Mueller, with a three-day total of 76-15, and Johnston (74-12) have a chance to do something that has never been done in Elite Series history — top the 100-pound mark on a four-day, five-fish-per-day smallmouth bass fishery.

"It would be nice," Mueller said. "It's doable. A lot of big fish live in this place. It's a special, special fishery."

In third place is Chad Morgenthaler, who is seven pounds back of Mueller. The rest of the top 10 is at least 10 pounds behind. 

The answer to who wins this seemingly two-man race and whether anyone tops 100 pounds is literally blowing in the wind. It's predicted to blow all night on the big waters of Lake Ontario, where Mueller and Johnston have caught their fish this week.

"You never know up here," Mueller said. "The wind gets to blowing here and it turns evil pretty quick. I've seen it go in 15 minutes from okay to oh, boy!"

Felix's unwritten code

There is an unwritten code that many anglers follow. It’s not talked about a whole lot, it’s just understood. Alex Felix, one of our rookies, understands that code exactly.

Felix is sitting in 31st place on Day 3, and his number one stop was actually Chris Johnston‘s number two stop. Learning this, Austin decided to go North, fish the river and leave the Big Lake to the Top 10.

Largemouth made Mosley's day

Some guys have caught a bigger five-bass limit than Brock Mosley today. But no one has caught more fish, burned less gas and had more fun. Mosley will be doing it again tomorrow in the Top 10 final. He culled up to almost 19 pounds with a 4-5 at 2:43. Mosley has caught 23 bass today.

"The St. Lawrence River has some largemouth, if you didn't know," Mosley said. "Some dang good largemouth fishing."

Brutal run to weigh-in

After a pretty brutal run from downriver to upriver I knew the guys coming from the lake would more than likely get pounded.

After getting on the trailer, we quickly drove to Cape Vincent. Probably late.

But we did catch Chris Zaldain working his way back to the weigh-in.

DiPalma's adjustment paying off

This morning Greg DiPlama's smile at the boat ramp made me curious. Sure, it was 57 degrees and the sun was shining. But what's up with that?

The smile was a face of confident anticipation of the day to come. Yesterday, DiPalma made a key adjustment late in the day. He made the decision to make a long run downriver. There, he caught three smallmouth in the 5-pound range.

"I think this might be a special place, so I'm going back up there," he said.

My remark back was that DiPalma's quick and decisive decision to make that 180-degree turn is the sign of a maturing pro. DiPalma agreed, adding that this season he is fishing with greater mental confidence.

As of this post, DiPalma was 10th in the BASSTrakk standings, one spot out of Championship Sunday.  

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