Big bass of St. Lawrence

Light winds allowed the Elites to freely access the Lake Ontario waters, leading to records galore in the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River.

Light winds allowed the Elites to freely access the Lake Ontario waters, leading to records galore in the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River. Rookie Jay Przekurat held off local favorite Cory Johnston, and both became the first anglers to eclipse 100 pounds in a smallmouth tournament where every angler caught a limit each day. While the average bass was 4 pounds, 3 ounces, the following images in the Jack Link's Hook the Beast gallery show the bigger beasts caught by the 90 pros.
After rough conditions during practice kept most anglers off the lake where the larger fish live, the weather cooperated all four days of the Bassmasters' 23rd visit to the St. Lawrence River, this time out of Clayton. There have been 25-pound bags in recent Elite visits, and with low winds and starting in Clayton just 15 miles from the lake, there was great potential for Century Belts. On Day 1, nine anglers were on pace after they topped 25, including Clark Wendlandt with 25-2. Wendlandt would go on to make his third consecutive Top 10 here, taking ninth and getting inside the cut for an automatic Classic berth.
Brandon Palaniuk, who won the 2013 Elite here, started hot with 25-3. He couldn't get above-average bites the next two days yet finished 25th, increasing his lead in the Progressive Insurance Angler of the Year race. Palaniuk, who won the AOY title in 2017, has 612 points, 41 ahead of David Mullins. John Cox, who came into the event 18 points from the lead, missed the cut and is third, 51 back with two events left on the season.
"Accurate" Ed Loughran had one of the bigger bass on Day 1, a 6-4 that helped him to 22-0. It was among the 61 bags topping 20 pounds, but he couldn't join in on the fun on Day 2, falling to 74th with 14-7. Although Loughran missed the Top 47 cut, he cashed another $1,000 contingency for being most accurate in entering weights on BassTrakk.
Paul Mueller, who battled Chris Johnston for the title here in 2020, caught a 6-9 in weighing 25-9. Mueller slipped on Day 2 with 21-10, falling to 13th.
Kyle Welcher landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day at 6-12, and it held out as the biggest all week to double his bonus to $2,000. Welcher was consistent in the event, totaling 67-1 to finish 23rd. While one big fish certainly could put an angler ahead of the game, the St. Lawrence is more about catching consistently larger bass to build monster bags.
Canada's Cory Johnston, a pre-tournament favorite along with his younger brother, Chris, was the last B.A.S.S. angler to win an event at St. Lawrence. Chris became the first Canadian winner when he flirted with the Century Belt in taking the 2020 Elite title here with 98-7. Cory Johnston was on pace for a belt in winning the 2021 Open in September, totaling 78-0 over three days. On Day 1, he picked up where he left off with 26-3, good for third.
The first morning was slow for Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., but the rookie posted a monster rally on BassTrakk mid-morning. Przekurat caught 5-pounder after 5-pounder, culling to 26-13 to start the event in second place. He would later divulge that, while stuck on two fish, he saw a baitfish being chased and moved in on the action.
Rookie Jacob Foutz of Charleston, Tenn., had a big bass of 6-8 in his limit of 27-15. That total, which was the largest weighed at the venue to date, had Foutz leading after Day 1. He also took over as Falcon Rods Rookie of the Year leader from Joseph Webster, but two subpar days dropped him to 27th in the event. He left New York second in ROY, 11 points out of the lead but well inside the Classic cut.
The fishing dropped off just a little on Day 2, which saw several pros make dramatic comebacks. There were 54 anglers topping 20 pounds and eight over 25, including new leader Przekurat. He weighed 25-8 then 24-12 to go into Championship Sunday with 77-1, the only one on pace to break 100. Austin Felix (above) was on track for a Century Belt after two days of 25-0, but Day 3 ended his tournament at 11th with 70-13. That finish did help Felix, the 2020 Rookie of the Year, climb into Classic contention as he moved up 11 spots to 46th in the AOY standings.
Greg Hackney was Mr. Consistency in the clear smallmouth waters, weighing in 24-4, 24-12 and 24-1 to start the final day in third, just four pounds out of the lead. A slower Sunday of 21-2 left Hackney eighth with 94-3, but he did climb into the Top 10 of the AOY points.
Bob Downey caught a 6-0 that bolstered his Day 2 25-11, moving the pro from Detroit Lakes, Minn., into eighth. Downey had a competitive 22-12 on the first day, but stood 21st.
Drew Benton also recorded a 6-0 on BassTrakk in his 26-0 stringer that moved him from 46th to 15th with a 46-15 total. His limit on Saturday averaged more than 4-8 per fish, leaving him 14th with 70-2.
The other Drew made an even bigger move. Drew Cook weighed in a 6-5 en route to a 27-6 bag that catapulted him up the leaderboard from 66th to 17th. He finished 22nd after 20-14.
Last year's St. Lawrence Elite winner, Taku Ito, also made a run. Starting 26th with 22-5, Ito busted 26-1 -- an ounce heavier than his final day bag last year that gave him the title with 90-0 -- to get back in the Top 10. Alas, the Elites were not living on Taku time as Day 3 was slower and Ito dropped to 13th.
Arkansas' Stetson Blaylock grabbed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, a 6-11 that lifted his limit to 27-11. The second-best bag in the tournament moved Blaylock from 32nd into fourth, and 26-2 on Day 4 left him third with 98-15, just 17 ounces from a Century Belt.
Chris Johnston started 10th with 24-10 then weighed in 24-6 to jump up three spots. He was in the hunt to win again on the St. Lawrence, however, like his brother, he slipped on Day 3. There were five limits topping 25 pounds among the 47 semifinalists on Saturday, a day that was not kind to the Johnstons. Although the Johnstons stayed in the Top 10, Chris' 22-10 and Cory's 21-5 -- the smallest two bags of the finalists -- saw each drop more than 5 pounds back of the lead, which is hard to make up in smallmouth. Cory's expression around the weigh-in showed he knew the day might have been his demise.
Mueller busted his second 25-pound bag on Day 3 to reach Championship Sunday in fourth. The Connecticut pro, the winner of two Elites who led the first three days here in 2020, closed out well with 25-12 and 25-6 to take fourth with 98-5.
Texas' Chris Zaldain exhibited his smallmouth prowess with one of the biggest bags of the week. Zaldain, probably making one of the longest runs into Lake Ontario, landed a 6-5 as he posted 27-4, jumping 22 spots to sixth. On Championship Sunday, Zaldain made plenty of noise on BassTrakk, and his 25-15 saw him finish fourth with 98-6.
Bob Downey, who moved into eighth after 25-11 on Day 2, did it again on Saturday. His 6-8 helped him build to 25-10 to take second place. Downey had mechanical issues on Sunday, sending Lee Livesay and Matt Robertson in action to loan him Livesay's boat "just so things would be fair." Despite the big help, Downey couldn't breach 20 pounds and finished 10th with 91-7.
Shane LeHew pulled off the biggest move of the week, starting 69th before 25-9 got him inside the two-day cut at 35th. Behind a 6-11, LeHew weighed the biggest of Day 3 at 27-6 to sprint into ninth, and he finished seventh with 97-7. On the day, the 47 anglers weighed 235 fish totaling 1,001-15, an average of 4-4 per fish. It's crazy to think that average went up on Championship Sunday.
Przekurat, after landing a 6-10 on Saturday in weighing his smallest bag of 24-12, went into the final day leading second place by 3 pounds. Wendlandt, LeHew and Blaylock would each take the lead momentarily, but Przekurat, who landed an early 6-pounder, led from around 9 a.m. on. The 10 anglers caught 50 bass weighing 242-5, an average of 4-13.
Cory Johnston, who began the day 5-2 back of Przekurat, made a valiant run with the largest limit of smallmouth caught in St. Lawrence events. With the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of 6-1, Johnston culled to the VCM Monster Bag of 28-8. That was 9 ounces shy of tying the B.A.S.S. all-time smallmouth weight set by Chuck Economou at Pickwick Lake in 1998. Cory weighed in third on the day, so he is credited with being the first to post more than 100 pounds of all smallmouth, although Przekurat passed that mark on BassTrakk first, which is often advertised as unofficial. Johnston finished second with 100-5, earning $3,000 in bonuses, but he remained displeased with Day 3 and vowed to win a blue trophy the next time at St. Lawrence.
Przekurat started Championship Sunday needing 22-15 to earn a belt, but he was more concerned with the title in his rookie year, a rarity. Przekurat had any tension eased with an early 6-pounder. He passed the 100-pound mark on BassTrakk in late morning and culled to 25-8 on the day for his winning total of 102-9. After Cory Johnston, Przekurat became the 38th angler and 54th instance of 100 pounds in B.A.S.S., and St. Lawrence becomes the ninth different fishery where belts have been earned. It is also the first Elite season in which three events were won with more than 100 pounds. There were two such events in the 2006 and 2007 Elite seasons.
Przekurat, who came into the season targeting Rookie of the Year and qualifying for the Classic, is on track with both. The win is a major bonus. Przekurat, the son of a walleye pro, has 455 points to lead the ROY by 11 over Jacob Foutz, and he's in good standing to be among the top 43 or so in the standings who receive automatic berths to the Classic. Przekurat said, "To get a win this early helps set me up to be able to do this for the long term and potentially make a good career out of it."