“Crabcakes and football. That’s what Maryland does.”
Bryan Schmitt may have something to add to that pairing. With his win today, he seemingly shocked the fishing world, including himself.
“I’m just blown away, blown away right now,” he told Dave Mercer.
The only greater winners were the local Chamber of Commerce and tourism boards, because if you’re an angler and you watched today’s footage and it doesn’t make you want to go to La Crosse for your next vacation (ideally not in December or January, but rather when the duckweed is unfrozen), you need to get your pulse checked.
I checked in when I could today, and here’s what I heard, saw and thought:
Deuces Wild — It has been a profitable but disappointing summer for the Johnston family in what is normally their prime time. First, brother Cory weighed in over a hundred pounds of smallmouths at St. Lawrence, but still finished second, which is kind of like angling’s equivalent of kissing your sister. Then Chris led after Day 2 at Oahe, only to see Austin Felix grab and then hold the lead, leaving him again in 2nd. This week he led again on Days 2 and 3 but fell a little bit short on Day Four. It probably doesn’t help them now, but there’s a long line of great anglers who’ve suffered similar fates, including the late, great Aaron Martens. Notably, Jason Christie had a bunch of near misses in Classics before claiming victory earlier this year.
Someone Not on Stage Just Got Really Happy – With the “win and you’re in nature of this tournament,” Schmitt apparently just added another Elite Series pro to the 2023 Classic field.
My Generation – AOY Brandon Palaniuk is almost 35 years old. Brandon Lester is 34. Chris Johnston is 33. All of them made headlines for the right reasons this week. I don’t think that’s entirely coincidental – they all have lots of tournament experience and success behind them but they’re at the point where the axis of experience and axis of physical fitness meet most productively – many top pros seem to peak in their late 30s or early 40s. That should worry the rest of the field because they still have lots of runway in front of them.
A Loaded Bullpen – “Combs is one of the best closers when he sniffs one,” Mark Zona said early this morning. Unfortunately for the well-traveled Texan, the only member of today’s field who needed the win to qualify for the Knoxville Classic, he was surrounded by a cadre of Mariano Riveras. Schmitt, of course, closed out the deal, followed by Johnston, another proven winner. Brandon Lester, who more than demonstrated an ability to close this year – at both the Open and Elite level – had not only the big bag of the day, but the biggest of the tournament today.
Late Inning Heroics – Brandon Lester saved the best for last – a massive 18 pounds 7 ounce limit – but not everyone was happy about Day Four. Six of the ten qualifiers turned in their worst weights of the week.
Soundalike, Son! – If you just listen to Scott Martin, it’s eerie how much he talks and emotes like his father Roland.
Super Shallow – For all of the frogging excitement we watched this week, it was also as fun to see Matt Arey go super shallow punching today. With each singing-braid hookset we didn’t know whether it would be a big bass, a little bass or a toothy critter. Just like frogging, it’s effective, but also a game where the occasional painful loss is to be expected.
More Kudos – Wisconsin doesn’t only have great beer, great cheese and great fishing – they also make it easy on the anglers to do their jobs. “Best lockmasters in the world,” Combs said. “They are here to help us out.”
Where Does the Grass Grow Greenest? – Is there one area that produces the best grass anglers? Today we watched Mid-Atlantic tidal river grass expert Bryan Schmitt claim the title. Behind him were anglers including Chris Johnston (natural Canadian grass lake fiend), Keith Combs (East Texas grass addict) and Scott Martin (Florida grass-packed bowl-shaped lakes). Sprinkled in between were others who seem to have culled the best of the best and made it their own.
Time Change – After whacking bass after bass after bass early on Sunday morning, Bryan New could have slept in today. Despite a 7am blast off, he didn’t drop his first Mississippi River keeper of the day in his livewell until 10:53am. He ended up with 14-06.
Play Like a Champion Today — Lester ended his season not with a period, but with an exclamation mark. While he had no chance of gaining the AOY title today, he was still fighting for status (and award money) in that race. Title or not, money or not, he closed out the year like a champion. His career has been marked by quiet excellence, but not much fanfare. Now the word is out. Ignore him going forward at your own peril.
Random Question – Do you think Carl Jocumsen has picked out his Classic walk-up music yet?
Watch Out, Overstreet – Just prior to weigh-in Dave Mercer called newly-crowned Angler of the Year Brandon Palaniuk to the stage. It took a few moments because Palaniuk was off shooting pictures with a lense that appeared bigger than him. Apparently, in his copious free time he’s picked up another hobby. No doubt he’ll master that, too.
“Grind” Count – Only heard the word once. Thanks Drew Benton for keeping the streak alive.