Fifteen pounds is always money at La Crosse

LA CROSSE, Wis. — In the four previous Elite Series tournaments on the Mississippi River at La Crosse, an average of 15 pounds a day has been good enough for a fourth-place finish or better. It may take less than that for similar results this week when the four-day season-ending Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at the Mississippi River begins Thursday.

“I think it will take 14 ½ a day to win,” said Brandon Palaniuk, who enters this event with a 37-point lead in the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. “Twelve pounds a day will probably be top 30, top 25.”

“Anytime you get to 14 pounds a day here you’ve had a pretty doggone good day,” said Brandon Lester, who is in second place in the AOY race. “There will be a lot of fish caught, a lot of twos and two-and-halves. Those better three-pounders are what you’re looking for.” 

“Fourteen-and-a half to 15 pounds a day and you’ll be holding the blue trophy,” said Jacob Powroznik, who finished second the last time the Elite Series was here in 2018. Ish Monroe won it with 65-7. Powroznik’s total of 64-12 would have won the three previous Elite Series stops here in 2016, 2013 and 2012.

The Mississippi River is lower than most of these 90 anglers have ever seen it. While that seemingly might concentrate the fish, no one is admitting to finding the motherlode in practice, of course.

“There has got to be some concentrations of fish somewhere,” said Jason Christie, who has competed here “five or six times” over his career. “I’ve never fished it at this water level. You would think it would make it better, but it darned sure hasn’t for me.”

Both largemouth and smallmouth will be in the equation. Both must be a minimum of 14 inches long. Because of the low water level, the smallmouth bite may be more of a key than usual.

“I’ve been burned by the smallmouth here in the past,” said Lester. “They are very temperamental here, not like they are in the Great Lakes, where they bite every day. That being said, I’ll probably fish for smallmouth some. There are some big smallmouth here.”

As far as the AOY race is concerned, Lester knows it’s a longshot to catch Palaniuk. He’s had a career season no matter how it shakes out with a win in a Bassmaster Open at Florida’s Kissimmee Chain, a first-ever Elite Series win at Pickwick Lake and the fact that he’s the only angler to have made the Day 2/Top 47 cut in all eight previous Elite Series tournaments this season.

“I don’t expect Palaniuk to leave the door open two weeks in a row,” said Lester, referring to Palaniuk finishing by far a season-worst 66th last week at Lake Oahe. “I’ve just got to go do my job.”

The drama will be heaviest in the first two days of this event. For example, if Palaniuk were to miss the Day 2 cut again, then Lester, Chris Johnston, who is third in the AOY standings, 46 points behind Palaniuk, and David Mullins, who is fourth, 50 points back, might have a shot at the title, depending upon their making the cut, of course.

But the guaranteed drama is going to be for Bassmaster Classic berths, which now include the top 43 in final AOY points. That number could grow depending on winners of the final Bassmaster Opens. There’s also a Classic berth awarded to the winner of this tournament.

Bill Lowen, an 11-time Classic qualifier, is one of those anglers fighting for a Classic berth. He’s currently 47th in AOY points.

“I’ve been here a lot,” said Lowen, who has finished as high at 7th here, in 2012. “I know a lot of places. It seems like every one of them has some fish on it. I can see smallmouth begin a big player in this one. They’re setting up where largemouths should be, and they are good ones.”

Lowen explained his simple plan for success and a move up the AOY standings into a Classic qualifying berth, saying, “I’m going to put a couple of flipping rods, a couple of swim jig rods and a frog rod on the deck, and we’re going fishing.”