CLAYTON, N.Y. – It has seemed on the verge of happening at several Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments this season, when the combination of bass transitioning and weather conditions hinted at one of those tournaments where almost everyone weighs a heavy limit. But it hadn’t happened.
The perfect storm did happen Thursday on the first day of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River. There were 61 five-bass limits caught weighing 20 pounds or more. All 90 anglers weighed a limit. Never have so many anglers with “only” 25 pounds of smallmouth bass been so ignored when they came off the weigh-in stage. When Jacob Foutz leads with 27-15, Jay Przekurat is second with 26-13 and Cory Johnston is third with 26-3, the guys with “only” 25 pounds tend to get ignored, especially when six of them have 25 pounds.
Current Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year points leader Brandon Palaniuk was one of those guys. He’s in sixth place with 25-3. He provided some perspective.
“Since we’ve been coming here in 2013, it’s been this good,” he said. “I think we hit it at a pretty good time. There’s a lot more shallow fish, which makes it a lot more accessible to a lot of guys. And we have the right weather, which makes (Lake Ontario) accessible. You can run around. We just had a perfect storm today.”
Backing up Palaniuk’s point about the St. Lawrence River being this good for several years, there was a Bassmaster College Series event on June 19, 2019, when 85 bags of at least 20 pounds were weighed. Timing is everything. July’s full moon, which occurred Wednesday, contributed to the perfect storm. And it happened to be the biggest “super moon” of the year, when it’s closest to Earth.
“Smallmouth are notorious for coming shallow when there’s a full moon,” said Foutz, who said he caught his fish in depths of “six inches to five feet.”
“It seems like it’s a little late for that to be going on, but there are some big ones up (shallow),” said Foutz, who is leading the Elite Series Rookie of the Year points race. He said he feels right at home on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River after learning to fish on Lake Erie. He spent his first 15 years in east-central Ohio before his family moved to Tennessee. Foutz said he had his weight by 9:30 and afterwards practiced for the next days of the tournament.
Palaniuk’s depth range was considerably wider than Foutz’s.
“I honestly didn’t think it was that easy,” he said. “I had a great bag, but I didn’t get the feeling that I could go catch them anywhere. I caught them from three feet to 30 feet.”
The weather forecast is for more of the same through the weekend. Most importantly, predictions are for relatively calm winds, which keeps Lake Ontario accessible. Foutz’s tournament leading bag of 27-15 is reportedly the heaviest limit of smallmouth bass in Elite Series history. And that record could be broken Friday.
“I think the weights are going to get a little bit better,” said Chris Johnston, who is in 10th place with 24-10. “I won’t be surprised to see a 28-, 29-pound bag.”
“I’ve never been in a tournament quite like this,” said Scott Martin, who is in 53rd place with 20-9. “We’ve got good weather. It’s going to be record-breaking.”
Now it seems the goal of topping 100 pounds on a smallmouth fishery, never achieved in a Bassmaster tournament over four days with a five-bass daily limit, is possible.
“It will be interesting to see the weights (Friday),” Palaniuk said. “How much did guys beat on their fish? Are the fish going to change and move? It’s probably going to take 23 pounds a day to make the top 10. Maybe more.
“It would be hard for me to believe it would take 25 pounds a day to make the top 10. I find that hard to believe. But it could.”