A bounty on the St. Lawrence

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Making their way past the check in out and off to their spots.
Justin Brouillard
Making their way past the check in out and off to their spots.

WADDINGTON, N.Y. - The Clemson (S.C.) University duo of Josh Hart and Ben Domingue experienced boat motor problems on Wednesday which cut into the amount of time they could spend fishing on Day 1 of the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at St. Lawrence River presented by Bass Pro Shops.

The Clemson anglers still were on time for the weigh-in, however, and in fact, weighed a limit of five bass a full 30 minutes before the scheduled 1:30 start time. The sack totaled 18 pounds, 1 ounce, which is a very respectable total considering the team spent a good bit of their day putting back to shore.

“Still, there’s no telling what everyone else is going to bring,” Domingue said.

The answer soon became apparent as team after team brought a spectacle to the stage.

How impressive was Wednesdays’ haul? Consider that the 18-1 caught by Hart and Domingue was only good enough to tie for 115th in a 149-boat field competition.

Here’s more to chew on:

*The field caught a total weight of 3,031 pounds, 13 ounces on Wednesday, which is quite possibly a one-day total weight record in a Bassmaster College Series tournament.

*Of the 149 teams, 146 caught a limit. Just about every one of the 738 bass caught were smallmouth, though there were a handful of largemouth in the mix. That proportion (98 percent) of limits to teams entered in a tournament almost certainly has no parallel in college series history

*The average weight per team was 20.3 pounds, which likely is another series record.

The anglers were amazed by the output, as were fans, B.A.S.S. officials and anyone else near Whittaker Park on Wednesday. But all indicators pointed to the St. Lawrence River being primed for such a bounty this week.

The bass season began only on June 15 here in upstate New York, meaning there has not been enough time or angling pressure to spook the bass. The water temperature has been hovering right at 60 degrees too, which has punched the St. Lawrence smallmouth into full spawn.

Water clarity may be the most important factor in the unbridled catch, however. Teams report they are able to spot fish in as much as 12 feet of water, by some estimates, which makes it easier to pick bass of their beds.

“We fish Lake Conroe and Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, and bags of largemouth that go 20 to 25 pounds are pretty normal there,” said Bryton Kurtz of Sam Houston State (Texas) University, who along with teammate Jackson Carrell is in second place with a 25-13 limit.

“Coming here and catching 25 pounds of smallmouth just blows my mind.”

Kurtz was not alone. Angler after angler raved about the St. Lawrence in practice, and on Wednesday, the border river between the U.S. and Canada certainly lived up to its billing as one of the continent’s preeminent bass fisheries.

In fact, the St. Lawrence may actually have been better than advertised on Day 1 of this three-day tournament.
“This place completely exceeded all expectations,” said Logan Parks of Auburn (Ala.) University, who paired with Lucas Lindsay to catch 25-5. The Tigers are in fifth place in the event, thanks in part to the 6-7 monster smallmouth Lindsay boated only minutes after Wednesday’s 5:30 a.m. blast-off.

“Lucas’ previous best smallmouth was 5 1/2 pounds and mine was like 3 1/2,” Parks said. “We knew we would catch some big ones here, but that 6-plus was really impressive. We left two more down there, and one of them is a 5 1/2- or 6-pounder.”

Jacob Louis and Nathan Doty of Illinois’ McKendree University led the Bassmaster Team of the Year rankings heading into the tournament on the St. Lawrence, which is the fourth and final college regular-season event of 2019. The top 10 percent of teams in the four tournaments will advance to the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops when it is held Aug. 1-3 on Chickamauga Lake in Tennessee.

Louis and Doty had a 23-4 limit on Wednesday, which puts them in 31st place on the St. Lawrence. The duo started scouting new fish and new territory by 11 a.m. on Day 1, and they believe they can make a run at another 20-pound sack on Thursday.

“Consistency is what got us where we are so far this year,” Louis said. “You’ve got to stay that way; practice hard, fish hard.”

Doty said keeping a hot hand is easier when you’re on a fishery as productive as the St. Lawrence River was Wednesday.

Louis agreed. “If you have a bad day here, you’re in trouble,” he said.

The West Virginia University tandem of Nolan Minor and Casey Lanier lead the event with a one-day total of 26-6. Minor boated a 6-2 smallmouth on Wednesday.

The full field took off beginning at 5:30 a.m. Thursday, with the Day 2 weigh-in scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET at Whittaker Park in Waddington. The field will be cut to 12 after weigh-in is complete.

Follow all the action on Bassmaster.com.