The 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series was filled with dramatic finishes from beginning to end. In this gallery we take a look back at the winners, their clutch catches and the tactics that sealed the wins.
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St. Johns River
Bryan New underscored the drama that played out during the season, right out of the gate on the St. Johns River in February. New came from sixth place to win on Championship Sunday, after catching the event’s second heaviest bag, 26-4, and edged veteran Greg Hackney by a wide margin of 9-9. New’s winning weight was 79-7.
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New caught good numbers the first three days. Day 1, which was shortened by a three-hour fog delay, yielded 12 pounds and put him in 22nd place. The second day, he added 20-3 and rose to ninth before securing his Championship Sunday berth with a Day 3 limit of 21 pounds, which pushed him up to sixth.
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New caught most of his winning weight around isolated lily pads, where he could find beds and spawning bass. New’s primary lure was a 5-inch Zoom Zlinky, rigged on a 5/0 Berkley Fusion19 Hook, with a pegged 1/8th-ounce tungsten weight.
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Canadian Jeff Gustafson’s 14-3 limit on Championship Sunday secured his win on a Tennessee River where largemouth played for most of the field. Gustafson won by catching all smallmouth. His impressive winning weight for 20 smallies was 63-7, or just over 7 pounds ahead of Steve Kennedy. This clutch smallmouth weighed on the final day anchored his winning catch.
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Gustafson never intended to target smallmouth, yet the conditions around the canal connecting Fort Loudon and Tellico lakes made the setup ideal. With current pushing through the canal, Gustafson found the bass holding in a mix of hard bottom and rocks in 18 to 20 feet of water.
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A 4-inch Z-Man Jerk ShadZ was the key producer for Gustafson. He rigged it on a 3/8-ounce Smeltinator Swimbait Jig, designed by Bryan Gustafson (not related) and available from Lake of the Woods Sports Headquarters. Clear coated airbrush paint, 3D holographic eyes, textured gill plates and mouth, and a universal ribbed bait keeper are standout features of the jig.
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Bill Lowen turned in an impressively consistent performance on Pickwick Lake, but it was the clutch 8-5 largemouth that buoyed his championship round performance and delivered a winning weight of 83-5.
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The game-changing kicker came from a beneath this boat dock. The tournament was played under high water conditions early in the game, then the water level dropped significantly by the final round. Lowen’s main area consisting of shallow cover near an island was too low to fish effectively on the crucial final day.
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Lowen used a 3/8-ounce LurePartsOnline LOW53 Lowen’s Signature Flipping Jig, with a chunk-style trailer, to catch the winning bass.
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Jason Christie entered the final round with a 15-ounce lead over Brock Mosley and edged him for the win by a margin of 1-6 at the Sabine River. Christie’s winning weight of 43-15 came from far up the Sabine River in a narrow creek featuring a mix of shallow wood and cut banks.
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Christie recognized the competitive advantage in having the area all to himself. Getting there took a treacherous two-hour run through logs, sandbars and other navigation hazards.
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In order to preserve as much fuel as possible, Christie removed almost all of the tackle from his boat to lighten his load. Bringing only the essentials, Christie was locked in with two key baits.
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Christie's main weapon of choice was a 1/2-ounce BOOYAH Covert Spinnerbait with tandem Colorado blades, with a YUM Swim’n Dinger. The bait allowed him to quickly and effectively cover water.
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His secondary choice was a YUM Spine Craw, with a 4/O Lazer Trokkar TK130 Flippin’ Hook, with 3/8-ounce tungsten weight. Christie used that rig when a more methodical approach was needed around thicker cover.
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A 10-pound margin of victory is huge anywhere else but Lake Fork, where the winning bass in a limit can near lunker status. Lee Livesay won with 112-5, and Patrick Walter’s 102-5 tally put them both in the Bassmaster Century Club.
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Clutch fish? If there was one this would be it. Livesay knew the win was his with this catch on Championship Sunday. For Livesay, it was a monster final-day limit that weighed 42-3 and ranks as the third-heaviest, single-day weight in Bassmaster history that sealed the deal.
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Spending his tournament in Little Caney Creek, Livesay rotated among several secondary points where bass were chasing big gizzard shad. His main spot — a bar extending off a small island — allowed him to sneak into range of bass schooling on the opposite side without spooking them. Rocket launching big baits into the school was key.
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Throughout the tournament, Livesay caught fish on a mixed arsenal that included a 3:16 Lure Company line-through Rising Son swimbait, a 3:16 Lure Company Work Horse glidebait, a Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait, a Carolina rig with a Netbait Little Spanky, a 6th Sense Magnum Squarebill and a bone color Heddon Saltwater Super Spook.
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Neely Henry Lake
Neely Henry was a difficult read for most of the 98 anglers who started the tournament on Friday, postponed by a day because of heavy rains earlier in the week.
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The storms sent the water table rising and shot sediment throughout the lake. The Elites scrambled to find stable water, many relying on junk fishing to see which lures and techniques produced the best bites.
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Using local knowledge of how to decipher the complex conditions paid off for Wes Logan, who won the tournament with 57-9.
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A trio of lures worked best for Logan — a 5/8-ounce Dirty Jigs Matt Herren flipping jig (black/blue skirt) with a Zoom Big Salty sapphire blue Chunk; a Dirty Jigs No Jack swim jig with a Zoom Super Speed Craw trailer; and a frog, which he used to fill his Day 3 limit.
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You might say Wisconsin pro Caleb Kuphall clutched the win on Day 1 at Lake Guntersville when he weighed an eye-popping limit weighing 27-10. This limit anchored his winning weight of 85-14. Kuphall’s 17-14 margin of victory is the second largest in Elite Series history.
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Kuphall fished two main areas. The first was a vast milfoil field just outside the takeoff site at Goose Pond. Here, he mostly flipped a Texas-rigged Zoom Z Hog in the green pumpkin and California 420 colors on a 4/0 extra-wide gap hook with a 3/4-ounce tungsten weight. Saturday and Sunday, he also flipped a 1-ounce Dirty Jigs No Jack Punchin' Jig with a forktail trailer.
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When his first area slowed, Kuphall ran uplake. The second spot comprised two large sections of matted grass, with scattered patches of floating weeds. Targeting isolated clumps of the thicker mats proved most productive, but Kuphall said the uplake spot was likely bolstered by a fresh supply of hefty forage.
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It was a 3 1/2-pound clutch smallmouth catch that happened just 15 minutes before the Championship Sunday weigh-in that sealed the win for Bryan Schmitt, whose winning weight was 78-5 at Lake Champlain. The catch mattered because it gave the Maryland pro an 8-ounce winning margin ahead of Keith Combs.
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Using historical knowledge of the massive lake, Schmitt assembled a reliable milk run using a variety of tactics and baits. Buoys were a productive target.
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On a spinning rig he used a Missile Baits Ned Bomb, on a 1/4-ounce jighead.
Schmitt used a Missile Baits D Bomb, in the new Texas Toast pattern, with a 5/0 FPP Hayabusa Straight Shank Hook, and a 5/16-ounce Reins Tungsten Weight. On a casting combo was the winning bait, a Missile Baits Quiver Worm, Cherry Blossom, rigged on a 4/0 Haybusa WRM959 Wide Gap Hook, with a 3/8-ounce Reins Tungsten weight.
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St. Lawrence River
“Taku’s boat like Disneyland for smallmouth.” That comment by Taku Ito signified the storybook ending to the 2021 season. On Championship Sunday, Ito’s boat delivered a 26-pound limit to the scale that anchored his winning weight of 90 pounds at the St. Lawrence River.
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Ito, who placed sixth at last year's St. Lawrence River event, devoted all four days to Lake Ontario. The first two days, he fished rock structures in approximately 20 feet. On Saturday those areas failed to produce, so he relocated to a spot in 26 to 27 feet near Chaumont Bay.
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Arriving at his spot on Sunday, Ito thought his graph was malfunctioning when he saw what appeared to be a false bottom at 13 to 14 feet, leading to a clutch moment in the tournament. To his delight, it was a massive school of Lake Ontario giants. Ito noticed a distinct water clarity difference that attracted the fish there. Gobies were also larger and thus, another attractant to the smallmouth.
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“I was using many different Japanese techniques,” said Ito. Ito made a drop shot with a 4-inch Ecogear Aqua Swim Shrimp, rigged on a 1/0 Ryugi Talisman Hook, with a 1/4-ounce Ryugi Heavy Delta TG Sinker.
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He made a wacky-style Neko rig with a 4.5-inch Nories Latterie straight tail worm, rigged on a 1/0 Ryugi Talisman hook, with a 3/16-ounce Neko hook.