It's definitely slugfest Saturday

It's common knowledge that if you're fishing Lake Ontario today, you need to swing for the fences. Don't hold anything back because you might not be able to get back, at least with any efficiency, when the wind blows tomorrow.

But Paul Mueller's recent comment on Bassmaster LIVE gives you some perspective on both how good this smallmouth bass fishery is and why today is the day to go big. Mueller has a limit in his livewell that includes a 4-4, two 4-0s, a 3-12 and a 2-12.

"Realistically, I've got to get rid of four fish," Mueller said.

It's rare indeed when you hear an angler talking about culling 4-pound smallmouth bass. But you can't finish with 25-1 in a five-bass limit, like Mueller did yesterday, if you've got many 4-pounders in the livewell. The math is obvious. The point here is that this fishery is really, really special.

Mueller backing off his fish

Paul Mueller learned a valuable lesson about the power of the Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, which allows the angler to literally see the fish within the cone of it's transducer range.

Yesterday, he noticed that for every one fish he caught, there were a dozen more that he saw, but did not catch them. The clue as to why came after he dropped his Berkley Maxscent Flat Worm drop shot rig on their nose.

"I'd see them, watch them get near the bait, and then move off," he said.

Mueller decided to back off the fish, believing the shadow of the boat gave away his fake offering. A clue turned into an answer.

"I have seen this happen before," he explained. "The fish can see the boat from 25 feet of bottom in this clear water, and it causes them to either nip at the bait or just come up, look at it, and ignore it."

The back-off strategy is in play and working. Mueller has also decided to camp out on his spot and hammer it for all it's got, which is probably a good plan considering the change in weather (aka wind velocity) that is coming on Championship Sunday.

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Loughran happy to make cut

Ed Loughran started Day 3 in 26th place, and he’s very happy about that. Loughran‘s first two Elite tournaments have been tough. He finished 55th at Eufaula and 60th at the St. Johns River.

Right when we arrived on him today, Loughran caught a 3-pound smallie.

Ed, who is a lawyer in Virginia, is drifting in the river and targeting fish that are schooling behind rocks or humps to avoid the current.

He did make one journey into Lake Ontario yesterday, a 20-mile run to fish one rock. And it paid off with his best fish of the day, a 4.8.

His first two days here have been consistent, with about 18 pound bags both days.

“I’m happy with that, very happy,” he said. “I’ve struggled to to do well on Day 1 of Elite tournaments, and I don’t have an explanation why.”

“I’m looking forward to Champlain. I’ve fished there a lot with the Opens, mostly targeting smallmouth. I’ll probably do that again.”

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And just like that ... here is Chris Zaldain

BASSTrakk shows Chris Zaldain in fourth place with 17 pounds in the livewell. That's a quantum leap, considering he was in 20th yesterday on the leaderboard.

I went searching for clues and texted Trait Zaldain. She replied that the damage is being done with a spybait. Chris is confident the bait could put 23 pounds in the livewell, and he will need every ounce to stay inside the cut for Championship Sunday.

More importantly, the catch is adding valuable Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. Zaldain has keen interest in qualifying for the 2021 Bassmaster Classic, to be held in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

Gussy on the board

Jeff Gustafson just got on the board. He hooked up and landed a 5-pounder that gives him a great start for the day.

In this ultra clear water he’s telling us there was a “big one” with it.

He adopted a stealth mode stance and is trying to get the fish to bite. I’ve seen this several times in this area. A lot of times these guys see the fish moving around the seam or shoal they are on.

It’s almost like sight fishing without the bed. He just said there were three or four big ones on the edge.

Moments later Gussy hooks up again and reels in a 3-pounder. Now he’s at two with 8 pounds and still seeing fish nearby.

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Slow start for Wendlandt

Clark Wendlandt is sitting in third place with 47 pounds and 13 ounces here on Day 3.

He started out slow this morning fishing in 25 to 30 feet of water, but he has now moved to fishing in 8 to 10 feet of water. Most likely he will limit out here in the next few minutes.

The fish seem to be smaller here than the ones being caught in the deeper water. For now the drop shot is his primary rig.

Did you CATCH that?

With Canadian sensation Chris Johnston nipping at his heels, Paul Mueller’s not going to have an easy job of defending his two-day lead at the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River. But if his third keeper of Day 3 is any indication, things might go his way again today.

At 8:05, Mueller hooked a nice smallmouth that immediately ran toward the stern and closed the angle faster than he could react. The fish ended up wrapping around the motor and forcing Mueller to grab his leader and hand line the fish free from its entanglement before scooping his 4-pounder — while his rod laid next to him.

“That wasn’t the prettiest catch, but we’ll put her in the box,” Mueller sighed.

Eight minutes later, Mueller added his fourth keeper, an estimated 4-4. This catch was far less dramatic than its predecessor, but Mueller’s commentary bespoke the mindset that will likely serve him well today.

“You just have to take your time with these big ones,” he said. “That’s what I told myself today: Just stay calm and take your time.’”

Pretty cool, but moments later, Bassmaster LIVe saw Japanese star Taku Ito execute his own highlight reel moment. When a big fish bit off his starboard bow and ran under the boat, Ito reacted with proper rod posture, but the fish was quicker.

Ito’s cameramen caught a glimpse of the fish close to the surface — on the port side — and advised Ito, who quickly moved to the opposite side. Kneeling to scoop the fish, Ito seemed momentarily confused as to why the fish wasn’t rising high enough for him to reach it.

Then it hit him: the line was still partially wrapped under his bow. Adeptly responding to the potential peril, Ito skillfully dipped his rod under water and wove it back and forth until he was able to reach the 3-pounder.

So, how’s your morning going?

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Mosley's weekend plan

Yesterday, Brock Mosley caught 18 pounds of largemouth early and then went fishing later in the day for smallmouth. The double-dip approach paid off with a weight of 19 pounds, 13 ounces.

Earlier in the week, Mosely became a father (again). Part of his strategy around focusing on largemouth — in this very smallmouth-centric fishery — was to balance the distractions of what was going on at home, with the pinpoint mental focus required to compete. In other words, Mosely went largemouth fishing to clear his head.

Keeping it simple and focusing on the easier-to-catch largemouth, enabled Mosley to not only do that, but to climb the leaderboard. A bladed jig pitched around shallow grass and docks along the shoreline did the trick.

Yesterday, Mosley admitted another reason for the shoreline largemouth strategy.

"In the morning, the shoreline is quiet and there isn't anyone out swimming and creating a lot of noise that can scare the fish in the clear water, and all that," he said.

That explains why Mosely beats the shoreline for all it's worth, before moving out deeper into the smallmouth waters.

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Lake or river?

The last few days there’s been a lot of chatter, even debate on where this derby will actually produce a winner.

Some say Lake Ontario, others say the St. Lawrence River.

Currently in the standings five of the top six are in the lake with a few others who could fight into the final 10. The rest of the 10 are in the river along with a healthy portion of today’s semi-final 40.

If all things stay the same it appears as if the lake would be hard to beat. But the wind is forecast to gas tomorrow, which makes the river seem like a good bet as well. But you’d have to make it to tomorrow to see if that will play out. The one thing I know about these guys, regardless of how big the wind and waves get they will try to make it work. So there are no givens.

The only thing you can be sure of is whoever winds up on top of this event will have fought the fight of his career.

Chris Johnston will 'lean hard' on his spots

Chris Johnston this morning told me he plans to "lean hard" on his fish today. That made sense to me, considering what he's in store for tomorrow.

"We have really nice weather," he said. "The big thing for me is that after making a couple of stops on the river, is that I can run out into the lake if I need to because it's so calm."

Tomorrow will be different. National Weather Service forecasters are predicting southwest winds at 11 to 16 mph, with gusts to 29 mph. What that means is just getting to his spots on the lake could take one hour or more. Then, there is lure execution in the 4-foot rollers.

From my decades of experience covering tournaments here, the wind-driven current makes smallmouth more aggressive, as baitfish get swept about in the current.

"When it gets windy here, your options on the lake get very limited," he continued. "You can only hit two or three spots."

That is why today is going to be so important to avoid any failures in execution.