The Bassmaster Elite Series is headed back to the St. Lawrence River again which has become almost an every-year occurrence for nearly a decade, but yet again the playing field will be slightly different. The field will be launching much closer to Lake Ontario out of Clayton, N.Y., and finally the Canadian waters are back open — both the lake and the river.
We are going to see more anglers focusing on Lake Ontario than in previous events and this should boost the overall high-end weights and potential for the first 100-plus pound four-day total for an all smallmouth bass event. As long as the wind cooperates, we should see our first all smallmouth Century Belt handed out in this event.
The Northern Swing is always an exciting time as it becomes crunch time for all of the point races for Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, Classic berths and Elite Series requalification is all bundled up with big numbers of fish catches.
Be careful about basing all your picks on past results as many anglers historically depended on river-based areas up towards Waddington. With the move to Clayton, it shifts the playing field a little bit. All the waters are still available to the anglers, but run time for certain areas have changed. Technique wise, I think it will be pretty wide open. I believe you will see anglers fishing super shallow to deep, next to the banks and offshore and likely even some late bed fish on Lake Ontario.
BUCKET A: JOHNSTON
This is the age-old dilemma – which Johnston do I take at on their home waters? To be fair, they both are great picks. Chris Johnston is getting the higher percentage because his average finish is better, and he hoisted a blue trophy here in 2020. Let’s not sleep on Cory Johnston, as his average finish would be just as good here if it wasn’t for some freak bad luck with boat stuff in 2019. Also, Cory won the Bassmaster Open here in 2021. My gut tells me Cory is the correct Johnston brother this week.
Not a Johnston
If you like your buckets to stay state side, then the smart play here is Brandon Palaniuk. Palaniuk has won on the lake before. He is always in the mix on smallmouth fisheries, and he is looking to lock down his second AOY title.
BUCKET B: ITO
Don’t over think Bucket B. Taku Ito is a Top 10 machine on smallmouth fisheries. He will likely be in contention for the win here. Just imagine how good those secret baits will be with another year of soaking in his secret homemade smallmouth sauce.
North of the border dominance
The Johnston brothers have been the headliners at 1000 Island throughout the years, but don’t sleep on Jeff Gustafson. He has a string of strong finishes here as well, and he has a great boat for heading out on the lake. The event taking out of Clayton should make it a much easier run for Jeff Gustafson to cash in.
BUCKET C: FEIDER
Seth Feider has never finished worse than 28th in five appearances to the St. Lawrence River and averages a top 20. He is having a solid season, but I am sure he would like to push up a little in AOY standings to cushion is Bassmaster Classic position. He is due for a big event.
Slow and steady pick
If you want a safe pick here to get you some good points, look at Bill Lowen. In six Bassmaster Elite events here, Lowen averages a 36th-place finish. Solid finishes, solid points and $10,000 for Lowen every time the tour stops here.
BUCKET D: SCHULTZ
If you throw out a bomb in 2018 due to mechanical problems, in five visits to the St. Lawrence, Bernie Schultz averages a 21st-place finish with two Top 10s. That kind of consistency is hard to ignore and is pure value in Bucket D. Schultz also catches the smallies up north his own way, typically shallow and away from the crowds.
If you are looking for an off-the-radar rookie value pick, look no further than Jonathan Kelley. He had a Top 10 in the Bassmaster Open last season to qualify for the Elites on this same venue. He is also coming off $10,000 check on Pickwick, so a little home cooking and some momentum should serve Kelley well.
BUCKET E: REDWINE
Pretty sure this is not how Alex Redwine saw his rookie campaign going after a strong 2021 Bassmaster Northern Opens run to qualify for the Elite Series. One of his best finishes of 2021 was on the St. Lawrence, and he has to feel the pressure to notch some checks on smallies when the tour comes north.
He needs it
Last year on his first and only visit to the St. Lawrence River, Justin Atkins finished runner up in the event. If it was not for Smallmouth Disneyland under Ito’s boat on the final day, he would have hoisted his first blue trophy. Now after some up-and-down finishes the last two seasons, Atkins’ back is against the wall. He needs to finish strong in the final three events to requalify for the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge
Now onto Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge. This additional fantasy fishing game not only offers a fresh way to play the game, but a separate prize pool. Drain the Lake is an elimination or survivor-style game where you can only use an angler once all season.
Every event you play, now leaves us all with a smaller pool of anglers to add to rosters and the angler pool is down to about one third the size at this point. My Mercury Bassmaster Drain the Lake Roster for St. Lawrence River:
• Jonathon Kelley
• Jeff Gustafson
• Mike Iaconelli
• Taku Ito
• Chris Johnston
• Cory Johnson
• Seth Feider
• Bernie Schultz