Feider starting his day

Seth Feider is starting his Day 1 a lot like he started Champlain last week.

He hadn’t been to his first spot very long before he hooked up with a keeper smallmouth. This one took him to the driver’s seat and as Feider reached out to lip the fish, it came unbuttoned.

That’s the exact opposite of how you want to start a derby where all you need to do is have an average day. As in basically catch a limit.

Last week Feider rebounded fairly well. But as he’s noted a few times the pressure has gotten stronger every day as he makes his run at the AOY title.

Schmitt wins in the final minutes

With only 30 minutes left in the four-day Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain, Bryan Schmitt did not have enough weight to win. After leading the tournament for the previous two days, Schmitt had run out of fish.

He pulled up to a navigation buoy just outside the weigh-in area, and, “On my (Garmin) Livescope I could see two fish on that buoy cable,” he said. “I threw that dropshot in there and just held it. I felt the bite. At first I didn’t think it was a bass.”

It was a bass - a 3 ½-pound smallmouth bass that he landed at 2:35. Check-in time was 3 p.m.

“That fish gave me at least 12 ounces (after culling),” Schmitt said. “Without that fish, I don’t win.”

The 40-year-old, Deale, Md., pro won by 8 ounces over Keith Combs in one of the tightest final days in Elite Series history. Schmitt’s winning total was 78-5; Combs had 77-13. The top six anglers were bunched within 2 pounds, 3 ounces in the final standings.

Schmitt’s Sunday five-bass limit weighed 16-1. Only one other angler weighed a lighter bag Sunday. Schmitt needed almost every bit of the 2-pound, 7-ounce lead he began the day with. 

“I knew I was out of fish,” he said. “I knew it.”

Ultimately, he had just enough.

What if it's a tie?

Two words the Bassmaster tournament staff never wants anyone to say out loud are "fog" and "tie." 

Fog certainly hasn't been a problem this week. But with unofficial weights so close at the top of the standings right now on BassTrakk, it's worth mentioning what would happen if there's a tie for the lead after today's weigh-in. 

It's simple, really.

If a tie occurs, the winner will be determined by a fish-off between the tied competitors. It's a kind of sudden-death overtime that is won by the first angler to land a legal bass of any description.

Both anglers would get the opportunity to reach the spot of their choice before either can make a cast. Tournament officials will accompany them.

The way these smallmouth are fighting on Lake Champlain, trying to land one fast could make for one nerve-racking OT.

Combs: "Nothing better than that bite"

Keith Combs has moved into a tie for the lead on BassTrakk, and he’s had big fun doing so. Combs put two 3-pounds-plus smallmouth bass in the boat on a topwater walking bait in the last hour. “There is nothing much better than that bite,” he said after a 3-10 hit his bait, missed it and came back and hit it again.

Earlier in the day, Combs explained the line setup he uses for walking a topwater lure. His main line is 50-pound test Seaguar Smackdown braid. He adds a 5-inch leader of 20-pound test Seaguar Invisx fluorocarbon leader. The function of that short, stiff leader is to keep the limp braided line from snagging in the treble hooks of the lure, which occurs often when a fish hits and misses. It allows Combs to keep walking the bait after the miss. If you were watching “BASS Live,” you just saw that setup pay off for Combs.

Now it's a 3-hour shootout

Four anglers within a pound of each other - that’s what the BassTrakk leaderboard showed at noon. Austin Felix, Bryan Schmitt, Patrick Walters and Destin DeMarion separated by 15 ounces. And the other six anglers in this Championship Sunday aren’t out of it, especially if the bite turns on this afternoon like it did yesterday. But right now, there’s a lot of head-scratching going on. The overcast skies and wind shift to the south have required some searching for clues.

Bryan Schmitt, who came in leading by 2-5, may have found the best clue. Yesterday he said, “I really feel like my largemouth are barren now. They’re gone.”

At noon on “BASS Live,” after landing a largemouth that helped him a bit, he said, “I feels like my places are reloading. Hopefully I can run all good stuff between now and weigh-in. We need a big bite. I don’t know what anybody’s got, but I know I don’t have enough right now."

The Felix bait lineup

You can see the photos early this week, but here are some details about the baits in use by Austin Felix.

I share this intel because after working with him in the past, it's obvious that he is a lure tinkerer, down to the minute details. The Ryugi hooks are a case in point. Fellow Bassmaster Elite Series pro (and lure tinkerer) Taku Ito shared those with him. Now, Felix uses them on all his baits, claiming they are of lighter, but stronger wire.

Felix is mixing things up with a spybait, weightless wacky rig and a drop shot.

He makes the drop with a 4-inch Yamamoto Senko, rigged on a No. 2 Ryugi Fog Shot Drop Shot Hook, with a 1/2-ounce Swagger Tungsten Weight.

He's using the same size hook and Senko for the weightless wacky rig.

Felix also uses a Duo Realis Spinbait Spybait, switching out the hardware with No. 5 Ryugi Pierce Treble Dagger Hooks. 

Mixing it up might pay off with the ever-changing status of the BassTrakk scoreboard.


The 4-pound shuffle

Chris Zaldain has just finished his limit. This one goes in the well at 2-pounds and it appeared to be a legitimate 2 pounds. 

According to BassTrakk that gives him 12 pounds and change, which is closer to accurate than the 8 pounds with four fish he showed earlier.

He’s now 2-pounds away from the lead, sitting in sixth. And everyone above him has tightened up this thing in a big way.

Austin Felix caught a 5-pounder and sits atop the board. 

Destin DeMarion sits in second with one close to 4- pounds. There’s only been two 4-pound class fish recorded at this point. Obviously the bite has shifted and with that shift is a focus on where the next 4-pounder comes from.

Any of those is the Top 6 and the leaderboard shuffles. So the rest of the day will be all about the 4-pound shuffle.

Weights are just estimates

These guys have been off all week on BassTrakk. While the whole field is the best bunch of sandbaggers in the world, the real issue is how difficult it is to judge the weights of the fish.

Looking at BassTrakk now it has Zaldain at 8 pounds and change. I think that’s very light. But again judging these fish is harder than you think.

Zaldain might have closer to 10 than 8 in my estimation but that’ll get you nothing at the bank.

But we have seen him catch and release at least three that appeared to be 2-pounds. Any of those would fill out his limit and have him in second. But he’s showing a 1-12. And none close to 4 pounds.

I believe he has a 4-pounder. And nothing under 2. But I’m looking through a lens 100 yards away.

I think Zaldain is in second any way. One big one and he turns up the heat on Schmitt.

So while this morning has seemed slow, at least to me, there seems to be some drama brewing that won’t come to a head until the weigh in.

Will this one matter?

At his 14th stop of the day, according to trailing photographer Andy Crawford, Bryan Schmitt lost this fish he estimated to weigh 3 pounds.

Schmitt played the fish, moved around to the stern to bring it aboard and lost it.

Close behind, and what would make any leader uncomfortable, are two hot Texas sticks that are nearing his lead. The BassTrakk scoreboard shows Schmitt in the lead with 73 pounds, 4 ounces. Keith Combs is second with 70-6 and Lee Livesay next with 70-2.

Will that lost fish matter? It might, considering the level of competition, their varied tactics, and most importantly, this is Championship Sunday.

The Largemouth vs. Smallmouth decision

Catching both Largemouth and Smallmouth are decisions anglers have to make when they come to Lake Champlain. The Top 10 has shown both flavors this week, but it’s telling how important smallmouth are on this body of water. Of the 150 keepers weighed by the Top 10 this week, 40 have been largemouth and 110 have been smallmouth.

Keith Combs, Chris Zaldain, Patrick Walters, Austin Felix and Justin Hamner have exclusively caught smallmouth.

Meanwhile Bryan Schmitt (8-7), Lee Livesay (10-5), Seth Feider (10-5) and Destin DeMarion (8-7) have had at least half of their keepers being largemouth.

Caleb Sumrall has a 4 largemouth to 11 smallmouth ratio.