St. Lawrence Elite Analysis: Day 1

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” 
— late Senator Everett Dirksen 

It’s not unusual to see someone bring in a big bag at the beginning of a Bassmaster Elite Series weigh-in, particularly in the summertime when the possibility of fish mortality is high. Sometimes you’ll see a monster catch or two up front, and then things will revert toward the mean. Today’s mean, however, was beyond exceptional. 

It was so good, in fact, that I started to feel bad for Masayuki Matsushita, who was the 10th angler to weigh in and the first to miss the 20-pound mark. He brought a normally-competitive 19-03 to the scales and looked like someone had kicked his dog. As Dave Mercer later said to Shane LeHew, “Only on this incredible fishery do you weigh 18-13 and say, ‘I’m sorry.’” 

Eventually, though, Masa was the least of my worries. I started feeling a bit sad even for the numerous guys who’d weighed in 20 or 21 pounds and found themselves far down the leaderboard. It must really stink to bring in that many pounds of bronze and find yourself outside of the money cut. I wouldn’t know from experience, but I can pretty much intuit that.

Beyond that, here are my observations from Day 1.

Revenge of the Rookies – Jay Przekurat weighed in early in the process, and for a while his 26-13 seemed unlikely to be beaten. Coming into this event third in the Rookie of the Year race and 36th in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year campaign, I assumed it would help him in both. Later, though, Jacob Foutz showed up with a massive 27-15 limit, which meant he’d actually extend his Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year lead over Prezekurat, which started at 15 points. Both of them came in behind Alabama’s Joseph Webster, but Webster (77th; 17-09) ceded the pole position, at least temporarily.

More Than Just Home Cooking – Foutz is on an incredible run after finishing third at Chickamauga, 28th at Fork, and fourth at Pickwick. Obviously, he earned a ton of points close to home in Tennessee at those two bookend events, but New York is apparently also to his liking. His one prior B.A.S.S. event here resulted in a 17th-place finish in a 2018 Eastern Open on Champlain. In his first Elite here, he’s showing no jitters whatsoever.

Falcon Fades Away – I fished the famous 2008 Falcon Lake Elite Series tournament as a co-angler, and I remember standing at the stage awed as one giant bag after another came to the scales. Kevin VanDam beached his boat and someone asked him how he did. “Only 25 pounds,” he replied sheepishly. Indeed, it was not false modesty. His 25-9 had him in 43rd place. The top 50 cut weight was 24-11. This feels like the smallmouth equivalent of that tournament. Notably, after Day 1 at Falcon 20 pounds was 80th place. Today it was 61st – adjusted for interspecies variances and different growing seasons, I think we’re at least on track to match that level of greatness.

Race for A Hundred – With a remarkable nine bags of 25 pounds or more today, it seems that we’re well on the way to achieving the mythical “Smallmouth Century Belt.” Of course, a lot has to go right for that to happen, including stable and fishable weather. It’s hardly a foregone conclusion, but if it happens the fishing world should take notice. Rick Clunn noted that when he first came here decades ago, it took 14 pounds a day to earn a victory, and that was generally all largemouth.

Kenta Comes Alive – Kenta Kimura’s rookie season on the Elite Series in 2021 was lackluster, resulting in a 69th place finish in the AOY race. His best Elite finish last year was 21st at Champlain, and after that his high mark was 45th. This year, not only has he earned ninth-, 14th- and 10th-place finishes in the Elite Series, but he also has a win and a seventh-place finish in the Northern Opens. He’s therefore currently in the lead in the Northern Open standings and fourth in the overall Opens standings. With 22-15 today, he’s in 20th, and remains on track for a Classic berth. After being a journeyman on the Opens for years and struggling early as an Elite pro, he seems to have found some sort of magic elixir. 

Breaking the Law – Early in today’s broadcast, Davy Hite explained that while the Canadian side of the lake was open this year, that came with certain restrictions. Not only could anglers not go ashore in Canada, but they couldn’t anchor on the Canadian side. That includes shallow water anchors. Later, observing Taku Ito’s special bagged attractant, he offered some legal advice: “Maybe he shouldn’t go over in Canada with that white powder in that bag.” With that guidance, the 1999 Classic Champ may have helped to avoid a three-way international incident. 

Ike’s Pearly Whites – In his return to the Elite Series, Mike Iaconelli has struggled, finishing no better that 35th in 2022 prior to this week. While he may not end up better than that this week – right now he’s barely inside the cut in 45th with 21-01 — for the first time I can recall this season he ascended the stage with a smile. That’s meaningful, because Ike is perhaps better than any other angler in the history of his sport at channeling his emotions for the benefit of his performance. If he’s grinning, things are likely headed in the right direction. 

The Formula – I’ve repeatedly harped on the (2X+1) formula for making cuts. In other words, double the Day 1 cut weight and add a pound. It’s usually within a pound one way or the other. With the cut at 20-13, that would put it at 42-10 this week. Given the fact that a 27-pound limit is possible, that means anyone at 16 pounds or so is within range, which means the top 86. I’m not saying it’s likely, just that it’s possible.

Lester Leaps In – “Every time we come back you think it can’t get any better.” Brandon Lester, who finished third here in 2018, and already has both an Open and an Elite win this year, so he probably knows what he’s talking about.  

Beyond Bronze – “They’re meat nuggets, what else are you going to call them?” Brandon Palaniuk asked early on Bassmaster LIVE. Then he answered his own question, referring to a smallmouth as a “St. Lawrence Sand Slaunch.”

Ginger vs. Mary Ann  Which Johnston did you pick in Fantasy Fishing? Cory’s ranked higher, in third with 26-03, than Chris in 10th with 24-10.