Another day, another leader.
Robertson to Benton to Fujita may sound like a dominant double play combination, but more than anything it shows the volatility of this event. The first day leader ceased to be on ‘em and fell out of the cut altogether (29th), while yesterday’s pacesetter barely managed to survive, hanging onto the 10th spot.
Survival to fish another day is the name of the game, because there’s plenty of water with huge potential here.
“A lot of guys have been around the winning fish this week,” Greg Hackney explained.
Less than 5 pounds separates 1st from 10th, and less than 2-pounds separates 3rd from 10th. In other words, it’s still anyone in the Top 10’s tournament to win.
Here’s what I think I saw during today’s whirlpool of activity:
Windows opening – Per BASS Trakk, at noon Mike Iaconelli was the only angler with 20 pounds in the livewell, and he had that amount exactly. A few moments later Bernie Schultz caught an estimated 4-12 to climb past 20. Going into the tournament, we expected the first hour or two to be the key window, but there’s also been a (perhaps better) one from 1 to 3 pm each day. After the full field weighed in 16 bags over 20 pounds on Day One and 15 more on Day 2, today’s reduced field of 50 anglers brought 13 of them to the scales, despite the comparatively slow start.
Consistency – Tournament leader Kyoya Fujita is the only angler who has topped 20 pounds all three days.
You win some, you lose some – Yesterday we watched Hunter Shryock make a near-miraculous catch when a 4-pounder wrapped him around a dock piling and required some quick thinking and dexterity – along with a little luck – to end up in the boat. Today he wasn’t so lucky with a 6-pounder on lighter tackle. “You weren’t going to get that fish out of there if it wrapped around that post,” he said after it came off. “I just did not want to do the rodeo that we did yesterday.” In order to claim his first Elite title, Shryock will have to win more of those battles than he loses, or perhaps win all of them from here on out. He caught a weekly-personal-worst 18 pounds, 5 ounces today and finds himself 1-5 out of the lead. That one fish would’ve added at least 2 pounds to his catch.
Downstream economic impacts – When a new tackle trend comes along, the manufacturers and distributors of key products clearly benefit, but so too do others. For example, the Alabama rig necessitated all sorts of jigheads and swimbaits to be effective. But the biggest secondhand beneficiary of the forward-facing sonar craze has been jerkbait manufacturers. Today we saw anglers including Jake Whitaker and Patrick Walters using them a month or two after most anglers would have put them away in the past. “Jerkbait 365 days a year,” said LIVE Mix commentator Clent Davis when asked to choose a single lure to be his ride or die.
Kimura keeps on keeping on – The Ironman of the Elite Series, Kenta Kimura (currently 4th), who also fished the Classic and every 2023 Open to this point, continues his hot streak. He’s made eight of the last ten Elite cuts, and with this Top 10 finish, he’s been in the top 20 in six of them. Over 2022 and 2023, he’s also notched seven Open money finishes, including six in the top 20 and five in the top 10. While he’s done better in Opens, including last year’s win on the James River, his best Elite finish to date has been a 9th at the Harris Chain.
Getting better – John Cox is the only angler in the top ten who has seen his weight get better every day – from 18-13 to 21-2 to 21-9.
Dropping, but still happy – Patrick Walters and Brandon Cobb are the only anglers in the Top 10 who have seen their weights get worse every day.
Thumbs up – Handling lots of fish comes at a cost. “If Band Aid is watching now, I’m looking for a sponsorship from Band Aid,” said Mike Iaconelli of his beleaguered thumb. “I’m a little upset because my career as a hand model is gone.”
Ike’s long wait – Soon-to-be-inducted Bass Fishing Hall of Famer Mike Iaconelli got knocked out of the top ten by two 26 pound bags at the end of today’s weigh-in. Luckily he made it in the last event at Seminole, his first final day appearance the Elite Series regular season since he finished 10th at Lake Dardanelle in June of 2017.
Lucky seven – Despite the incredible catches, we hadn’t seen a 7-pounder at the scales through two days of competition. Today Matt Arey (25th_ changed that when he weighed in a 7-11, which he said fought past a barrage of smaller fish to get his lure. “I promise you that was the biggest bass on the point and there were 60 or 70 of them up there,” he said onstage.
Texas rigged – Lee Livesay (13th) mentioned that Lake Murray reminded him of Lake Fork, his home waters. That triggered my memories of the late David Wharton, who called Sam Rayburn home, and twice won Bassmaster Top 100s on Lake Murray (in 1991 and 1993). In the latter of those two wins he beat out runner-up (and fellow Texan) Zell Rowland by nearly 11 pounds. David Fritts, Larry Nixon, Mark Menendez, Bernie Schultz and Rick Clunn, all current Elite Series pros, also fished that event. Of course, Murray has changed since then – the grass is mostly gone, and the bluebacks have arrived – but if you watch the old YouTube videos of Wharton’s wins you can see how he applied his Texas grass fishing experience to a lake nearly 900 miles away.
Home cooking – Three Palmetto State anglers – Patrick Walters (3rd), Jason Williamson (8th) and Brandon Cobb (9th) made the Top 10. Pre-tournament Fantasy Fishing favorite Bryan New finished a disappointing 87th.