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Big bass at Mississippi River

The big bass might not have been as impressive as in previous events, but those at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Mississippi River were just as meaningful, if not more so, for the anglers who caught them. While the average fish for the tournament out of La Crosse, Wis., was a little more than 2 pounds, 8 ounces, Bryan Schmitt was way above average in winning his second Elite with 63-4. Check out who landed the bigs in Jack Link’s Hook the Beast gallery.
Some anglers found Day 1 trying as rains muddied areas. Matt Herren found a cleaner spot and came in with 16-8 to hold second place. Herren, down in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, had great hopes for the automatic berth to the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic that went to the tournament winner. However, a tougher second round of 10-13 knocked Herren down, and with 13-0 on Day 3 he finished 18th.
Like he had the week before at Lake Oahe, Canadian Jeff Gustafson started hot with 16-4 to tie for fourth. Like at Oahe, Day 2 stung him, and he slipped to 26th after two bags under 12 pounds. There were 73 limits caught on Day 1, with the average fish just under 2-8. Finishing 14th in AOY, Gustafson extended his Classic streak to four.
Gerald Swindle, who had easily secured his 20th Classic berth before the event began, started with 15-2 to sit 10th. The G-Man, who was fishing his 306th tournament with B.A.S.S., made fans happy by sticking around for the weekend and finishing eighth. Progressive Insurance sponsored the Angler of the Year race this year with total payouts to 40 places topping $550,000. Swindle earned $10,000 for finishing 11th.
Matt Arey was 5 ounces and one spot ahead of Swindle on Friday, then climbed to fourth with 14-13. A Semifinal Sunday bag of 14-11 kept him in the top five, but he dropped a spot with 12-10 on Championship Monday. The Shelby, N.C., pro enjoyed a great payday, earning $19,000 for finishing sixth in the event and adding $20,000 of AOY bonus after a great season in which he only missed two cuts. His finish at La Crosse moved him nine spots up the point standings, adding $10,000 to spend on his girls and hunting equipment.
Drew Benton started off in third place with 16-5, and the Blakely, Ga., pro reached the final round after bags of 13-1 and 14-12. His worst day and Monday’s lowest of 10-1 knocked him back to 10th, but he still received $15,000. The finish moved Benton up three spots to fourth in AOY and adding $26,000 from the Progressive bonus money.
Chris Johnston’s 3-9 largemouth helped him cull to 16-4 and tie for fourth on Day 1, but the first Canadian Elite winner had bigger plans — specifically becoming the first Canadian with two Elite wins. Johnston took the lead after his 15-10 second round, but he was only an ounce ahead of first-day leader Bryan Schmitt.
Schmitt, who excels at fishing grass, came in with the bigger fish and biggest bag of Friday. He landed a 4-2 in his 17-10 bag that gave the Deale, Md., pro a lead of 1-2. Even if he didn’t win, Schmitt was hoping for a great event as he stood 50th in the AOY standings and needed to climb inside the top 43 for a Classic berth.
Brock Mosley of Collinsville, Miss., also needed a major climb if he were to reach his fourth Classic. Mosley got off to a good start with the Phoenix Boat Big Bass of Friday, a 5-8 that had him standing seventh with 15-11. As low as 82nd in the points early in the season, Mosley came into La Crosse in 53rd, and his Day 1 start put him in 45th, close but not quite there yet.
Bob Downey of Detroit Lakes, Mich., suffered through a 10-6 first day that had him 65th, which disappointed his throng of family and fans at weigh-in. Downey got rousing applause just the same, and he gave them way more to cheer about on Day 2, climbing inside the cut to 32nd with one of the day’s bigger bags at 15-6 that included a 4-0. Another 15-1 on Semifinal Sunday gave Downey a 15th-place finish, and he was 23rd in AOY points to qualify for his second Classic.
On Day 2, there were 12 fewer limits, possibly due in part to an hour delay for a passing lightning storm, but the average weight went up to 2-9. Keith Combs, of Huntington, Texas, had a big bass of 3-13 in his 17-7 limit that was biggest of the day and jumped him to third. Combs, mired deep in the AOY standings, would have liked the win-and-in Classic berth. He made a run, but 15-1 and 15-2 gave him 61-15, good for third and a $30,000 payout. He can still make the Classic through the Central Opens, which include a visit to his home waters of Sam Rayburn.
Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., earned the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 2 with his 4-6, which bolstered the day’s second-best bag of 16-8. Martin, starting the event just outside the Classic cut in 45th, finished seventh to finish the season 38th in points and make next year’s championship on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville. Martin is keen on winning a Classic, which eluded his father, Roland Martin, during a career in which he won AOY nine times.
Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., was comfortable in his home state and going into the event with a 64-point lead for the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year title. The St. Lawrence River winner was 33rd after the first day, then came up big on Day 2, landing a 4-2 in his limit of 15-2 to run away with the trophy and $10,000 prize. With 14-9 on Sunday, he finished 12th, which put him 10th in AOY and adding its $14,000 bonus.
Outside the cut after Day 1, Mike Iaconelli was proud to land this 4-2 that helped him make the Top 47 cut. Ike, suffering through an uncharacteristically poor season, weighed 12-12 to give the Pittsgrove, N.J., angler his third cut of the year. He vows to return back to form that included an AOY, Classic title and eight B.A.S.S. wins, which ties him for second among active Elites.
Bryan New, who won his first Elite as a rookie in 2021, vied for a second Elite title on the Mississippi River. New stayed in the Top 10 each day, finishing fifth with 59-11. The Saluda, S.C., angler made off with $20,000 for his second consecutive Top 10. Two events ago, New was 31st in the points, but his eighth at Oahe and fifth at La Crosse jumped him to 15th in the final standings, earning another $10,000 check courtesy of Progressive.
Chad Pipkens capped off a nice final swing to reach his sixth Classic. Pipkens followed a 24th at Oahe with a 27th on the Mississippi River to move up 10 spots to 39th in AOY. A 4-0 on Day 3 had him smiling with a limit of 14-11 that pushed him up the leaderboard. There were 45 limits caught on Day 3, when the average weight went up to 2-12.
Chris Johnston landed a 4-7 in Day 3 limit of 16-12 that gave him a 1-13 lead over second-place Combs and 2-1 over Schmitt heading into Championship Monday. The big bites eluded him in his 14-6 final day, which left him with 63-0, 5 ounces from winning. Johnston earned $35,000 as runner-up, which ended another solid season. Johnston, second to Seth Feider in last year’s AOY race, made a massive climb up the standings to finish third and gain its $30,000 bonus. Johnston was 12th in points, 129 behind Palaniuk. before three Top 10s, including seconds at Oahe and La Crosse.
Brock Mosley weighed a 3-13 in his 16-0 Day 3 creel, the fourth largest of day. It gave him a 12th-place finish and 500 points on the season. More importantly, others fell so Mosley finished inside the Classic cut at 42nd. Also, his 5-8 held out for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of event, earning another $1,000 bonus.
Josh Stracner, having a far different season from his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2021, narrowly made the cut but moved up some and took the Phoenix daily bonus with this 5-1. Stracner finished 38th in the event, and while well outside the Classic cut, enjoyed finishing strong.
Brandon Palaniuk was expected to breeze through the final two events and wrap up his second Angler of the Year title. However, he lost ground at Lake Oahe and struggled on Day 2 at the Mississippi River. On BassTrakk, he even lost the AOY lead before two late catches, the final 1-4 coming in his last half hour and narrowly putting him in the cut. But he caught them on Day 3, his 15-1 limit sending him up to 25th. Palaniuk finished 2022 with 723 points, 16 ahead of Brandon Lester, in becoming just the 12th angler to win multiple AOY titles. With a new baby, who needs shoes, Palaniuk was pleased to take the top prize from Progressive of $100,000, but he was prouder of his elevated position in B.A.S.S.
KJ Queen made his sixth cut and first Top 10 of the year at La Crosse. He started the event with 15-10 and stayed all the way to Monday, when he added 12-2 to total 55-12 and take ninth. Queen went on a great late-season run, climbing from 61st in the AOY standings to finish 32rd and qualify for his second Classic.
Brandon Lester went on a frogging flurry, catching much of his VMC Monster Bag of 18-7 in 10 minutes, including a 4-11, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day. Lester climbed from 10th to fourth on the final day, taking $25,000, plus $3,000 in bonuses, and topping that with a $35,000 AOY check from Progressive. Lester was the only Elite to make all nine two-day cuts on the season in which he topped more than $300,000 in B.A.S.S. earnings. He started the year with an Opens win and passed the $1 million mark with his Elite win on Pickwick.
On Championship Monday, all 10 finalists landed limits and the average fish was just a skoosh over 2-12. Schmitt continued his assault on the bigger-than-average bass, culling to 16-11 to total 63-4 and win the $100,000 by 4 ounces. It was Schmitt’s second Elite title, the first coming by half a pound on Lake Champlain last year. More importantly, Schmitt came climbed to 40th to earn his second Classic berth, as well as one of the AOY checks ($5,000) that went to the Top 40.