CLAYTON, N.Y. — Jacob Foutz said he’s a big fan of smallmouth, especially when they do the things that allow him to tally a big limit like the 27-pound, 15-ounce bag that leads Day 1 of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River.
With mild and mostly sunny conditions, Thursday yielded a Bassmaster Elite Series record 61 bags of 20 pounds or more. Foutz, a rookie from Charleston, Tenn., heads into Day 2 leading fellow rookie Jay Przekurat, of Stevens Point, Wis., by 1-2.
“That’s my biggest bag of smallmouth, and that’s the biggest bag I’ve weighed in a tournament, as well,” Foutz said. “It’s pretty cool to do it with smallmouth.
“That’s my favorite thing in the whole world. I grew up in East Central Ohio fishing Lake Erie, so I feel at home out here. This place is so much fun. I love catching smallmouth and this place is unreal.”
A productive morning saw Foutz target shallow shoals along a 200-yard stretch near the river mouth where he secured his weight within three hours of takeoff. Noting that he caught his fish from 6 inches to 5 feet, Foutz said his smallmouth were mostly postspawn, but he’s not discounting possible spawning activity.
“I think the full moon (on Wednesday) has a bunch of fish up shallow,” he said. “In practice, I managed to catch a few shallow and then go deep, but today I never had to go deep.
“I caught most of my weight by 9:30 and then went and messed around the rest of the day. I really went and practiced for three-quarters of the day. Hopefully, I found a few places that will help me (going forward).”
Foutz was understandably guarded with his bait details, but he said he caught all of his bass on one traditional smallmouth finesse bait. While he’s confident with his game plan and execution, Foutz also expressed appreciation for some astronomical alignment.
“I got lucky to catch 27-15,” he said. “My two biggest ones followed my bait all the way back to the boat and pretty much hit their noses on my trolling motor. They turned around and started swimming away, I flipped to both of them and caught both of them.
“Stuff like that doesn’t happen. It was just one of those days when everything goes your way.”
Foutz said he plans on repeating his general game plan on Day 2, but he might expand his area. He believes this week’s full moon phase might pull more fish shallow.
“I feel comfortable fishing for smallmouth; they’ve always been good to me,” Foutz said. “I feel like I’m at home this week; I feel like I’m on Erie. The good thing about this lake is that the fish are bigger and there are way more of them.”
Putting himself in position to capitalize on seasonal movements of smallmouth allowed Przekurat to leverage a steady stream of fish that were coming to him. This strategy yielded a second-place limit of 26-13.
“I’m just fishing normal smallmouth stuff for this time of the year,” Przekurat said. “The fish are (mostly) done spawning and they’re making their way out to that deeper stuff in Lake Ontario.
“I’m focusing on that mid-depth range. They’re not out in that 30- to 40-foot range yet.”
Using a mix of drop shots, tubes and Ned rigs, Przekurat fared better than he had anticipated. Getting his work done before noon, he leisurely made his way back to the weigh-in while exploring new areas.
“I actually stumbled on a different school today that I did not find in practice, so I’m looking forward to getting back out there (on Friday),” Przekurat said. “The first hour, I caught a couple of small fish, then about 9:30 or 10 o’clock, I realized that the big ones had moved to a smaller spot.
“I was done around 11:45 and then I made my way back. I didn’t want to risk anything because I had a pretty big bag.”
Cory Johnston of Cavan, Canada, is in third place with 26-3. Johnston, who won last year’s Bassmaster Northern Open on the St. Lawrence River, started his day at the river mouth, where he checked a flat known for random roamers.
When that spot yielded nothing impressive, Johnston devoted the rest of his day to Lake Ontario. Splitting his time between U.S. and Canadian waters, Johnston caught his bass on a trio of finesse baits in 10 to 25 feet.
“There were no surprises today,” Johnston said of his main area’s dependability. “I stayed away from it in practice for obvious reasons. I made one quick pass through there, saw a few and got out of there.”
Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., is in the lead for overall Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-12. He earned $1,000 for the daily Big Bass award.
Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 631 points. John Cox of DeBary, Fla., is in second with 581, followed by David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., with 549, Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn., with 514 and Chris Johnston of Otonabee, Canada, with 498.
Just as they’re battling at the top of the tournament standings, Foutz and Przekurat are running neck and neck in the race for the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year title. Foutz moved into the lead with 470 points, while Przekurat jumped into second with 454. Joseph Webster is third with 397, followed by Cody Huff with 389 and Josh Douglas with 351.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET at the Antique Boat Museum. The weigh-in will be held back at the museum at 3 p.m., with only the Top 47 anglers advancing to Semifinal Saturday. Complete coverage can be streamed on Bassmaster.com.