Big things could once again be in store for the Bassmaster Elites — there are five fisheries with 100-pound potential on the 2023 schedule.
Last year, there were three Elite events in which anglers weighed more than 100 pounds, the first time that’s been done in the circuit’s 17 seasons. The previous most, in 2006 and 2007, was two.
Four Elites who are members of the B.A.S.S. Century Club were asked about the big weight potential on this year’s schedule. They mentioned five tournaments, with conditions the first and foremost factor on whether that potential can be reached.
“You have to be at the right fisheries at the right times, with the right weather and water conditions,” said Brandon Palaniuk, the 2022 Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Palaniuk was among the eight anglers in 2022 who earned Century Belts at three venues, Santee Cooper Lakes, Texas’ Lake Fork and the St. Lawrence River. The season saw club membership increase by six to 38 anglers with 54 instances, and St. Lawrence’s addition brings the total number of fisheries to nine.
Three 2023 venues have seen 100 pounds in the past — Okeechobee, Santee Cooper Lakes and St. Lawrence River — and anglers said Lake Seminole and Lake St. Clair add to the possibilities.
Drew Cook, who entered the club in 2022, sees the glasses as more than half full.
“I would say obviously, Okeechobee could definitely do it. It’s been done there,” Cook said of Ish Monroe’s 2012 win with 108 pounds, 5 ounces. “Seminole, it would not surprise me. That’s my home lake, and the last time the Elites were there, there was a really big cold front and it still almost broke 100 pounds. We get the right weather and it could definitely happen there.”
In the 2014 Elite on Lake Seminole, Brett Hite won with 97-10, just 2-6 from the mark, but no one else came within 13 pounds of him.
The Elites head back to Santee Cooper Lakes, where Cook won last March with 105-5, and Caleb Kuphall also reached the milestone with 103-1. Cook reasoned it’s possible there in April, and ditto for St. Lawrence in late August.
“It could most definitely happen back at Santee, and obviously, Thousand Islands, it could happen again,” he said. “And maybe the possibility would be there for St. Clair, if you look back at what (Seth) Feider did in three days. If that had been a four-day event, he would have broken 100 pounds.”
Feider won the three-day 2019 Angler of the Year Championship with 78 pounds.
“It’s possible, it all depends on how well St. Clair is fishing,” said Palaniuk, who earned his first belt last year with 102-2 at Lake Fork. “St. Clair seems to cycle a lot, depending on what group of fish are moving through there. Some years there are a lot of 25- to 28-pound bags, and some years St. Clair is only good for 16 or 17 pounds.”
Palaniuk said he believes 100 could happen at Okeechobee, Santee Cooper and the St. Lawrence, while he sees potential on Seminole but has only fished it one time.
“We’re hitting the St. Lawrence at a time I would have bet would be more likely to break 100 pounds than when Jay (Przekurat) did it,” he said. “That time of August is the best odds of breaking 100 pounds.”
Przekurat, who became the youngest Elite winner and first to top 100 pounds with smallmouth, said he was gobsmacked that the wind laid down all four days, which allowed him to fish Lake Ontario.
“If it was not calm every day, nobody would have broken 100 pounds,” he said. “It’s just so hard to get around. It just limits your fishing time.
“The St. Lawrence is definitely a good bet. We’re going to be there later. It could be a little tougher depending on how pressured the fish are, but it could be just as good. You’ve always got to factor in the wind. I highly doubt we’ll get four calm days again.”
The mark topped at Santee Cooper was just as astounding to Przekurat, who said no one would have thought it possible after practice. There were low temperatures in the 30s and an influx of muddying water before “the moon and everything lined up where it got warm.”
Przekurat said there is still a good chance it could be done on Santee, but he’s not too sure about the Florida tournaments unless someone can bag magic with a 30-pound limit. He acknowledged 100 pounds is possible at St. Clair, but he said the late July date isn’t optimal as fish will likely be postspawn and just starting to group on their summer haunts.
Brandon Cobb, who began the four-season streak of 100-pound weights with his 2019 victory on Lake Fork, said he’s excited for the season, and not just because of the chances to earn another Century Belt.
“I love the schedule,” he said. “I’ve kind of become more versatile, but I feel like at least half to three quarters are going to be shallow-water tournaments.”
Cobb said he most Bassmaster tournaments he saw growing up seemed to be sight-fishing events, flipping or frogging, something that’s more rare now.
“Now, I feel like we’re in the middle of the lake staring at front facing sonar the entire time at almost every tournament,” he said. “I know that’s just a more dominant pattern now, but there hasn’t been really great shallow patterns at a lot of our tournaments. I think this year it’s going to be a different type of season.”
That starts in the first tournament at Lake Okeechobee Feb. 16-19. The 730-square mile lake in southern Florida averages 9 feet deep with a maximum depth of 12 feet. However, Cobb isn’t confident the feat can be done there.
“I would have said yes, but I don’t know if it’s recovered enough,” he said. “It was in bad shape. I don’t think we’ll get 100 at Okeechobee because it’s not what it once was, but it’s coming back.”
Cobb said he thinks the shallow waters of Lake Seminole, on the southwest corner of Georgia along its border with Florida, gives anglers a better chance at 100 pounds than Okeechobee.
“Seminole could be one of those sneaky big bag tournaments,” he said. “I’ve actually fished it a bunch in the fall, and it’s not good then, but I know what type of fish it has in it. If we hit it right, just immediate prespawn, and we should, that one could be a slugfest.”
After the Classic taking over March, the Elites reconvene in South Carolina for Lake Murray before a return to Santee Cooper Lakes in April. Cobb said he thinks Lake Murray might be the best fish-catching tournament all year but nothing near 100 pounds.
“There might be a lot of 12- to 15-pound bags, but you’re going to be able to catch fish all day, and there’s going to be a thousand different things going on. It could very likely take 20 pounds a day,” Cobb said. “At Santee, I don’t think the weights will be as big as last time, but I think as a whole, the fishing will be better for the entire field.
“We’re going to have a lot of postspawn fish, which makes them weigh a little less, but I think the fishing is going to be a heck of a lot better.”
Although he likes Lake St. Clair and thinks there will be plenty of catching, Cobbs doesn’t think anyone will reach 100 pounds. Don’t ask Cobb about the St. Lawrence, where he’s been 11th one year but missed the cut badly in three other events.
“I can’t find my way to the water half the time, it seems like,” he said. “I have no idea what I’m doing there. I got nothing on that one.”
Still, expect more big things on the 2023 Elite trail.
2023 Elite schedule
Feb. 16-19, Okeechobee, Fla., Lake Okeechobee
Feb. 23-26, Bainbridge, Ga., Lake Seminole
March 24-26, Classic Knoxville, Tenn., Tennessee River
April 20-23, Columbia, S.C., Lake Murray
April 27-30, Clarendon County, S.C., Santee Cooper Lakes
May 11-14, Shelby County, Ala., Lay Lake
June 1-4, Orange, Texas, Sabine River
July 27-30, Macomb County, Mich., Lake St. Clair
Aug. 17-20, Plattsburgh, N.Y., Lake Champlain
Aug. 24-27, Clayton, N.Y., St. Lawrence River