Daily Limit: Elite season should start off with big bangs

Records could fall.

The 2024 B.A.S.S. tournament season opened with weight records, and conditions are favorable to see more over the next two weeks as the Bassmaster Elite Series launches Thursday with back-to-back events at big bass fisheries.

While a top five one-day weight made the record book in 2021, the top 10 for an individual fish hasn’t been breached in 15 years. Elites Greg Hackney and Stetson Blaylock think it’s possible this year. 

“It would not surprise me to see it,” Blaylock said.

“The first two are super lakes that you can catch a 13- to 15-pounder out of each,” Hackney said. “We’re definitely going to see some 10-pounders.”

Hackney and Blaylock, who served as color analysts on Bassmaster LIVE for the first two Opens, were asked to provide a rundown of the nine events, and records were discussed.

Let’s take a look at how the veteran anglers believe the 2024 season will unfold.

Elite rookie Ben Milliken won the 2023 Open on Toledo Bend on pace to top 100 pounds.

Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend

Many, La., Feb. 22-25

Scott Martin posted high marks in winning the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Okeechobee, which sent the Daily Limit looking at the record book. With 33-2, Martin set the one-day record, which helped him eclipse the Opens and all-time three-day marks with 90-6.

In the past year at Toledo Bend, there were 50-plus double-digit bass entered in big bass programs, including a lake record 15.67-pounder. To break into the Bassmaster top 10, an Elite would need a 12-2.

“I think you can,” Blaylock said. “It’s been warm. Things are lining up to see some giant stringers. No doubt you’ll break the Century Club again. I would say we’re going to see some of the bigger bass in the last few years.”

But a top 10? Hackney said it’s a possibility, but a tall order just the same. In his 222 Bassmaster entries, Hackney’s best is an 11-11 from Amistad. He did expect 100-pound totals in the first two events.

Elite rookie Ben Milliken won the 2023 Open on Toledo Bend with 77-14, on pace for 100 pounds. If accomplished this week, Toledo Bend would be the 10th fishery where Bassmasters have caught 100 pounds. A century mark any time this season would set the longest streak of years with 100 pounds at six, eclipsing the Series’ first five years, 2006-10.

Lee Livesay has two belts from Lake Fork, and his 42-3 in 2021 made the Top 5 limits of all-time.

AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork

Yantis, Texas, Feb. 29-March 3

If not The Bend, how about the jewel of Texas’ big bass lakes? Fork has produced Century Club belts in each of the four Elite events from 2019-2022.  

In winning the first Fork Elite, Brandon Cobb weighed the biggest bass in recent years, an 11-1. Lee Livesay, however, broke into the top five heaviest stringers at third when he weighed 42-3 in 2021. It would take 41-12 to get into top five, with No. 1 at 45-2 and second 44-4.

Even if no records fall, Hackney and Blaylock appreciate the shakeup in scheduling. The Elites have started in Florida for years.

“It’s new for us as Elite Series anglers,” Blaylock said. “All of us fish these bodies of water all times of the year. It’s refreshing to see it on the schedule, not go to Florida first. It gives you a different outlook on what it’s going to take to win. These are very good fisheries and we’re hitting them at great times.”

Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake

Tulsa, Okla., March 22-24

Both anglers are qualified in the field of 56 that will fish the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors. This will be the third championship held at Grand Lake, with Tulsa again the host city.

Cliff Pace won a frigid February event in 2013 with 54-12, and Edwin Evers rallied on Day 3 to win in early March of 2016 with 60-7.

“It’s all weather at Grand,” Hackney said. “Grand will be more normal weights, regardless.”

If conditions are right, Blaylock said there could be some astounding weights.

“You’ve got to remember, the last time we were there at Grand Lake, we saw almost a 30-pound bag weighed the final day,” he said. “There’s a lot that could happen there, especially in mid-March.”

Buddy Gross won on the Harris Chain in 2022, his second Elite title.

Lowrance Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain

Leesburg, Fla., April 11-14

More than five weeks after Fork, the Elites hit a back-to-back Florida swing that should provide some twists.

“The majority of us have not fished that late there,” Blaylock said. “I don’t think I’ve fished a tournament in Florida in April.”

It should still be fun, Hackney said, not having to worry about lockjaw.

“That’s a great time of year to be in Florida because chances are there’s no cold front,” he said. “When it’s really warm, those fish bite better.”

Buddy Gross totaled 77-11 in winning the 2022 Elite there in mid-February.

“I don’t feel that’s a big weight tournament because of the time of the year,” Hackney said. “Fish will be skinny, probably most will be postspawn, but I think fishing will be better, as far as being able to get bites, the catch rates.”

Rick Clunn has twice won on the St. Johns, in 2016 and 2019 after a big days.

MAXAM Tire Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River

Palatka, Fla., April 18-21

Palatka will have to wait. The St. Johns River was the season-opening venue from 2019-2022, with winners John Crews, Bryan New, Paul Mueller and Rick Clunn. The field is familiar with the St. Johns, however, not in April, which presents a new dynamic.

“Florida fisheries are shallow, grassy for the most part, that’s where the big ones relate,” Blaylock said. “I’m excited for those two because I’ve never been there that late. I really don’t know what to expect as far as where they’re going to be.

“That time, we’re going to see mostly postspawn, so you’re going to see some different tactics play.”

Again, the bass will be smaller, but the fishing will be good, Hackney said.

“We may just not see quite as many 7-, 8-, 9-pounders that we do normally when we’re there during the spawn,” he said.

Drew Benton ralliled from 10th to win on Lake Murray last year.

Minn Kota Bassmaster Elite at Lake Murray

Columbia, S.C., May 9-12

Last year in late April, the Elites had a slugfest with almost the entire field landing limits. Drew Benton rallied to win with 87-0, more than 26 pounds better than the previous Elite there in 2011.

“And we’re going at a good time of year, similar to last year,” Blaylock said. “I really think you’re going to see some nice stringers, and yes, you’re going to see more fish caught there than any other tournament.”

Hackney agreed it will be a fish fest, but the weights will be off a bit because the fish will be near the end of the spawn.

“I don’t think we fished a lake better than it last year,” he said. “We’re going to places with bigger fish, but as far as 3- to 7-pounders, I think that’s the best lake in the country that we go to on our schedule.

“We’re probably going to see some incredible blowups. We should hit that topwater deal right on the head, that herring spawn, even better than it was last year.”

Bassmaster Elite at Wheeler Lake

Decatur, Ala., June 13-16

The most recent of five Bassmaster tournaments at Wheeler Lake ended in May of 2016, when it took 81 pounds to win. Both pros expect ledges to play, but there could be surprises.

“Wheeler has been really good, but they killed a lot of the grass,” Hackney said. “It’s got a huge fish population. It grew up when all the grass was there.

“It will be an offshore deal, shell beds. It will be typical Tennessee River that time of the year. That’s when all the fish get out there. It doesn’t have as much of that as Kentucky Lake and Pickwick … it’s shallower. It’s one of my favorite lakes on the Tennessee Chain.”

Blaylock calls Wheeler the X factor of the schedule. He said everyone knows to fish offshore in the summer, but it might be won off the beaten path.

“Wheeler is a different Tennessee River fishery,” he said. “Somebody finds something different to be successful.”

Jacob Powroznik won the most recent event on Smith Lake, the 2019 Open.

Bassmaster Elite at Lewis Smith Lake

Cullman, Ala., June 27-30

Although there’s been 11 B.A.S.S. events on the clear, deep lake north of Birmingham, Ala., it’s the Elites’ first visit. Not many have been there in the summer, so it’s somewhat of a wild card.

“That one is going to be an interesting tournament, no question,” Blaylock said. “That one will be the toughest events of the year, even though it is full of spotted bass and largemouth.

“I think you’ll see a good number of fish caught, but as far as how great our schedule is this year, I think at Smith, you can be on them or not and struggle.”

Smith is known for pleasure boating, and the tournament ends when Fourth of July revelers should be pre-partying.  

“It’s wakeboard city, an animal on the weekend,” said Hackney, noting boat traffic will affect fishing where targets include docks and brushpiles. But Hackney said there’s an endless supply of shoreline, and he’s hopes it’s 100 degrees every day.

“That tournament could be won knee-deep or less. The hotter it is, the more apt it is to be won like that,” he said. “It’s probably a tournament where you won’t have to catch enormous bags to be OK.

“It doesn’t scare me. Sometimes you worry about those tournaments because in a slugfest, you can’t have a mediocre day or you’re 90th with this group. That place you can catch 8, 9 pounds the first day, you catch 15 the second and you jump 30 places.”

Fishing his first season on the Elites, Kyoya Fujita took the title at Lake Champlain.

Tackle Warehouse Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain

Plattsburgh, N.Y., Aug. 8-11

A return to Champlain is a long ways off, but Hackney and Blaylock think it will be pretty much a rinse and repeat from last year when rookie Kyoya Fujita won with 86-12.

Elites will be watching temperatures through the summer. Last year, the region experienced a number of hot days.

“If cooler, there’ll be a lot more fish shallow,” Blaylock said. “If not, you’re going to see almost identical fishing that we saw last year.”

In some of the previous 15 events, largemouth were the deal, but Hackney believes it will be 99.9% smallmouth again “because of the time of the year we’re going. The smallmouth will be fed up and fat.”

After winning two Century Belts on largemouth, Patrick Walters added a third belt on smallmouth at the St. Lawrence.

Humminbird Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River

Waddington, N.Y., Aug. 15-18

Again the season finale, the St. Lawrence River has had 100-pound winners the past two years, the first times that’s been accomplished with smallmouth. Jay Przekurat was first in 2022 with 102-9, and Patrick Walters’ 105-0 topped four with belts last year.

“I kind of put (Champlain and St. Lawrence) in the same box, because we’ve gone there a lot,” Blaylock said. “We go there because the fisheries are so great.”

It’s the 26th visit there, and it might take less weight with takeoff out of Waddington, 80 miles from Lake Ontario’s monster smallies, Blaylock said.

“I realized real quick if you want to win, you have to get out there in that lake,” he said. “I’m also a guy who doesn’t like to make long runs. I have to figure out between now and August if I’m going to take a chance to run to the lake or play it safe and fish the river.”

Hackney said many made deep runs in the lake to unpressured fish, but that might not be the case anymore. He said he thinks the majority of anglers will most likely stay in the last 10 miles of the river and the first five miles of the lake.

“It depends how much fishing pressure there is before we get there,” he said. “They were catching fish that were not pressured at all. That’s all changing. It’s evolving. It’s like those boys who are using forward-facing sonar in the canal at Okeechobee. This is not new anymore. We know now.”

Records or not, it should be another enthralling season on the Elites.