AOY Championship a two-man race

Though the picture isn’t in full focus, but the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year championship race is pretty clear after the Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Elite at St. Clair. Now, two general statements can be made: 1) It’s going to be a two-man race between Brandon Palaniuk and Jason Christie; and 2) Jacob Wheeler is the only other angler with a shot to win. Wheeler is a long shot as he will start at Mille Lacs 33 points behind Palaniuk in a 50-man field. Wheeler would have to finish 34 places higher than Palaniuk and 18 places higher than Christie to win.

Here’s a look at how the top five in the AOY standings looked coming into St. Clair and how they’ll be heading into the AOY Championship at Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs on Sept. 14:

After Lake ChamplainAfter St. Clair
1. Brandon Palaniuk     7291. Brandon Palaniuk      811      –––
2. Jacob Wheeler          6892. Jason Christie            796      – 15 pts.*
3. Casey Ashley            6893. Jacob Wheeler          778      – 33 pts.
4. Jason Christie           6864. Casey Ashley            747      – 64 pts.
5. Greg Hackney           658  5. Ott DeFoe                  733      – 78 pts.
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Zona LIVE is now on St. Clair on Wednesday

Zona announced a switch in plans to Wednesday's Zona LIVE show during a segment of Bassmaster LIVE on Sunday. And he even called for spectators to join the fun.

The fishing excursion with Lee is being moved to Lake St. Clair. Lee's largest smallmouth (6-13) anchoring the big bag of the event (25-9) sent him into Championship Sunday with a total of 69-13 and a 3-5 lead over Jason Christie. Zona invited fans to come out on St. Clair Tuesday, and Lee said he might let the closest spectator reel in a fish for him.

Down to the wire with Christie

It's 12:30 as I write this with no idea when and if it ever reaches

I'm hesitant to say it: but the wind is laying down on St. Clair. I like that considering the bumpy ride this morning. But I have no idea what it will do to the fishing.

I know Christie has been wanting the wind. Even though he can't actually see the fish with his eyes, he does think less wind allows the fish to detect his presence easier. He's felt a stronger wind would help him build a bigger bag.

Too early to know if what he has is enough but he doesn't win events by not pushing things to the limit.

He just caught a 4-pound class fish and culled with. But moments before that he had hooked up with a bigger fish and it jumped off. That was the fish he needed. He didn't get it but it must have fired up the school.

After the 4-pounder came in, he caught another. But it didn't cull.

He said the fish he lost was in the same exact spot as the 5-pounder he caught yesterday. And it looked every bit as big.  If he doesn't win this event and loses any spots in the standings, it's a good bet he will think about that fish for a long time.

It's 1:10 and it's been quite a while since we've had any service.

Christie is still hanging around in that 21-pound neighborhood and he's certain he doesn't have enough to win. I base that last assumption on the little things he's said.

We certainly don't know. Every once in a while we run through a pocket of cell service and an email or text will he through. But I've yet to see or hear anything on how the rest of the field is doing in the last couple of hours.

The wind has definitely laid so the conditions are about as easy as they've been all week. And the fish are still biting. The big ones though are tough to come across.

Even Christie is having to change some things. He's spent most of the day throwing a 3/4-ounce tube on a baitcaster. But we occasionally see him pick up a spinning rod and pull a drop shot around.

 I've lost count of the smallmouth he's caught. And I've lost count of the big drum he's caught. For both his equipment is getting a workout. And St. Clair is as calm as I've ever seen it.

One of the interesting things you will see on the Bassmaster Show when it airs is what Christie is doing with the tube.

Earlier he was spending a lot of time on his electronics and casting to targets he could see. Currently, he's having to make long casts because of the lack of wind.

Because of that, he's ripping that tube. Some I assume to get out of a clump of grass. But he's doing it regularly enough that it appears as if he's doing it to initiate a strike.

It's worked a couple times. But it's my guess he wishes the wind was still blowing.

Mercer's Leaderboard Lowdown

Dave Mercer breaks down the Top 12 on Championship Sunday.

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Mosley's limit

Brock Mosley started the day in 3rd place, 3 ounces behind Jason Christie and 3-8 behind Jordan Lee. As of now, Mosley has moved into 2nd place, unofficially, with 18-8. According to BASSTrakk this is how Mosley's limit has filled out.

9:01 A.M.: 3-4
9:15 A.M.: 4-0
9:43 A.M.: 4-5
9:58 A.M.: 3-4
11:23 A.M.: 3-11

BASSTrakk total: 19-1

If the BASSTrakk estimates are right, Mosley is now approximately 1 pound behind unofficial leader Jason Christie. Mosley is in contention for his first B.A.S.S. title.

ROY update

Jamie Hartman is the only eligible rookie fishing today in the race for Toyota Bassmaster Rookie of the Year.

That gives him a solid lead going into the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year finale at Mille Lacs next month.

As of yesterday Hartman had 698 points. Dustin Connell comes in second with 678 and Mark Daniels Jr. is third with 621 points.

"Winning rookie of the year was a big goal for me," he said. "This class of rookies is about as strong as there has been in recent years."

"Fishing against them for this title has been quite an honor."

Indeed. Hartman has five Championship Sundays this season. Earlier this year Connell won the Elite Series held at Ross Barnett in Mississippi. Daniels came with three years as an FLW Tour pro, having qualified each time for the Forrest Wood Cup. Jesse Wiggins, in fourth place, already has a world championship with two wins in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens.

Hartman has another edge. The final event is a smallmouth haven, and those fish fall into the wheelhouse of the New York angler.

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Matt Lee moves to 3rd

Matt Lee upgraded with a 3-8 fish, this puts his unofficial total at 17-6. With a limit over 17 pounds, Lee moves to 3rd place with 80-14.

Lee’s smallest fish is a 2-10 and largest a 4-4.

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Mosley's morning flurry

Brock Mosley was one of the anglers in contention to win at Lake St. Clair and his four fish during the morning portion of Day 4 helped his cause.

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Christie staying put

Jason Christie is primarily making a half-mile drift across this flat. We have to be on somewhere between 20 or 30 drifts in the basic same line.

Why these fish are here is hard to say. It's pretty non-descript. There is a big spawning area (read shallower flat) about 2 1/2 to 3 miles to our east. There isn't an over abundance of anything that you could say with any certainty "this is why these fish are here."

It could be as simple as there's so many smallmouth in this lake that they occupy every inch of this lake and Christie is comfortable enough to just stay here and catch what lives in this half-mile piece of it.

We know that can't be it. But we are having trouble settling on any clues. Still we keep drifting and Christie keeps catching fish, just not the big one.

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Christie's keepers

I have no idea how the catch rate is going for the rest of the field. But Christie is catching a keeper about every 5- to 10-minutes. None have culled yet. But they've been in that 3-pound range.

He's undoubtedly hoping for that 5-pounder to show. He said he needed that type fish to have what he had yesterday.

They've just been really shy for him all week. He still has plenty of time and it's obvious he's staying here regardless. I'm sure he's assuming that he doesn't have a shot at winning without a 5-pound or better in his box. Or even more than one that size.

Not sure that will be the case. But it will be fun if that 5 shows up soon.