WADDINGTON, N.Y. — With several distinct patterns still in play and nine anglers within 6 pounds of the lead, the Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River is setting up perfectly for a dramatic finish on Championship Sunday.
Edwin Evers, who began Saturday’s semifinal round with a lead of more than 3 pounds, retained the top spot with a catch of 16 pounds, 6 ounces that pushed his three-day total to 60-2. But his cushion dwindled to less than 1 1/2 pounds, with Arizona pro Josh Bertrand (58-11), Texas angler Alton Jones (57-8), New Jersey pro Michael Iaconelli (57-0) and a suddenly red-hot Kevin Ledoux (56-5) of Oklahoma trailing close behind.
Evers stayed on top despite some early-morning trouble with his batteries.
“Last night, I set both chargers up at my boat — one for my trolling motor battery and one for my cranking battery,” Evers said. “I hooked up the trolling motor side, but I guess I didn’t hook the cranking side up. The batteries probably would have made it through the day, but everything was real slow.”
The time it took to change the batteries didn’t hurt Evers nearly as much as missed opportunities with fish.
“I lost a little bit of time, not much,” Evers said. “But while they were doing it, I lost a 5-pounder. That hurt me a lot more.”
Evers catch of 16-6 was easily his lowest of the week and the first time in seven rounds of fishing — dating back to his victory last month at BASSfest on Kentucky Lake — that he’s failed to bring in at least 21-2.
If he’s to become the first angler ever to win back-to-back events on the Bassmaster Elite Series, he believes he’ll need more weight Sunday. But between today’s round and the time he was able to spend practicing after he’d caught good limits Thursday and Friday, he believes he’s located the fish it’ll take to win.
“I’ve got a bunch of them found if I can just get them to bite,” Evers said. “I need to do my rotation a little bit different, but I can catch them tomorrow.”
Evers is one of several anglers who has spent most of his week fishing shallow water, targeting smallmouth he can actually see in the gin-clear waters of the St. Lawrence River. He said the fish aren’t spawning, just feeding on the river’s massive goby population.
Others, like Bertrand, have fished a wide range of depths, catching fish as shallow as 10 feet and as deep as 30. He leaned more toward the shallower areas Saturday, catching 18-15 to move from third to second with 58-11.
Wherever he’s been, Bertrand has spent most of his time using a 3-inch Berkley Gulp Minnow in the emerald shiner color pattern on a drop-shot rig.
“I’m not going to stick to the same depth range tomorrow,” Bertrand said. “I’m still going to fish around a little bit, because the fish still seem to be moving around. I think the fish are moving out every day, and there could be some more fish showing up in the deeper places.”
Jones caught 18-14 to move from sixth to third with 57-8. He said his day could have been much better if he could have landed the biggest fish that bit.
“I had a chance today to have the heaviest sack of the tournament, but I just lost fish,” Jones said. “One of them was on a jerkbait, and it was a giant. It was an honest-to-goodness 6-pound smallmouth. Then I jumped off another 4 1/2-pounder and a 4-pounder.”
Jones said getting the big bites and moving up three places in the standings has him feeling good about his chances.
“I’m going to go out with confidence tomorrow,” Jones said. “I definitely feel like I have a chance to win if I can get the right bites and put them in the boat.”
Iaconelli had the biggest limit of the day with five smallmouth that weighed 22-4, pushing him into fourth with 57-0. Ledoux, who has struggled this season after missing all of last season with back problems, caught 18-15 Saturday and made an Elite Series Top 12 cut for the first time in his young career.
The remaining anglers who qualified for Sunday were Skeet Reese (55-14) of California, Brandon Card (55-7) of Tennessee, Jacob Powroznik (55-6) or Virginia, Seth Feider (54-2) of Minnesota, Mark Davis (53-15) of Arkansas, Greg Hackney (53-11) of Louisiana and Keith Combs (53- 5) of Texas.
Neither of the top two anglers in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings made the Top 12. Alabamian Aaron Martens finished 13th with 52-8 but did just enough to maintain an 11-point lead over Arizona pro Dean Rojas in the AOY standings.
The final round will begin at 6:15 a.m. ET Sunday with takeoff from Whittaker Park. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m., with the winning angler taking home $100,000.