PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Despite a potentially disastrous impediment, Jamie Hartman of Russellville, Ark., held on to his lead at the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain with a three-day total of 59 pounds, 12 ounces. After taking the Day 1 lead with 22-1 — the event’s heaviest bag — Hartman added 20-3 on Friday and followed with 17-8 Saturday.
Hartman, who leads second-place angler Dave Mullins by only an ounce, lost an hour and a half of late-morning fishing time to a mechanical issue. A service technician identified a battery problem and a replacement got Hartman back on his way around Noon.
“I tried to shake it off on the way in and said, ‘Okay, let’s go get this done, get back out here and catch up,’” said Hartman, a native New Yorker who moved to Arkansas two years ago. “I tried to do that, but mentally it just spins you out.
“I’ll take what I have, but I had a little fish in my bag that I couldn’t cull. But I’ve made it to Championship Sunday, so I’ll try to make these New York home-state people proud.”
Fortunately, Hartman enjoyed a fast start to his morning with a 15-pound limit by 8:30. He caught all of his fish on the point where he ended Day 1 and started Day 2.
Hartman caught one of his five smallmouth on a drop shot when he spotted the fish on his electronics. A Carolina-rigged craw with a 1-ounce weight produced his other keepers.
“It was all kinda different today; the fish weren’t on the end where they were [on Days 1 and 2] where it sets up perfectly,” Hartman said. “They moved to the middle where there’s more moss, so it was really hard to work the bait through there. They had to hit it right away because I wasn’t getting to drag it much.”
After returning to the water, Hartman went back to his starting spot. But he couldn’t improve on his last upgrade, which he made at 9:47 a.m. Moving to “The Gut” — a popular area between Champlain’s northwestern branch and the Inland Sea — he tried various presentations over an area with shallow rock and grass.
After fishing flawlessly the first two days and most of Saturday, Hartman suffered a costly loss toward the end of the semifinal round when a broken wacky rig leader cost him a solid fish that looked like it would have helped his cause.
“I hadn’t retied that leader after yesterday and it broke right at the knot,” Hartman said. “I know it was a good one; I know what lives there. That one good fish would have been a difference-maker.
“It was just an all-around frustrating day. I just had a rough, rough day. It was just one thing after another.”
With cloudy, rainy conditions and southeast winds of 10 to 20 mph forecast for tomorrow, Hartman said he believes his heavily weighted Carolina rig will still produce. He also believes the rough water will limit the weekend recreational traffic.
Mullins, who hails from Mt. Carmel, Tenn., improved from fifth place to second by adding 20-10 to his previous weights of 19-13 and 19-4 for a three-day total of 59-11.
Depth, he said, was the key variable today.
“The first two days, I caught them all shallow cranking,” Mullins said. “But today, I started deep because the shallow bite hadn’t started turning on until about Noon. I caught four 4-pounders and lost one big one.
“Then, I went shallow for about three hours and never got a bite; but I went back out deep with about an hour left and caught another big one.”
Mullins caught his Day 3 fish on a drop shot with a goby-style bait over rock structure in 30 feet.
Koby Kreiger of Alva, Fla., is in third place with 59-2. He missed several fish on the Zara Spook that produced his first two days’ weights of 18-1 and 22-0, but he made a key adjustment and added 19-1 Saturday.
“The difference between yesterday and today was that yesterday, I caught everything that bit and today, I had a chance at a 22-pound bag and it just didn’t happen,” Kreiger said. “Yesterday, when I’d catch a fish, it would come up with what I call ‘friends’ with it. But today it was just singles. Maybe there wasn’t as much competition to eat the bait as there was yesterday.
“They wouldn’t eat my Spook, so I had to switch to a smaller profile with a Rebel Pop-R and they ate it. The bad thing is, the popper is so slow to fish, you can’t cover as much water as you can with the Spook.”
Seth Feider of New Market, Minn., fell to fourth place with 59-0, but is still in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with the 6-6 largemouth he caught Friday.
Only the Top 10 anglers will compete Sunday for the $100,000 first-place prize — and with less than 3 pounds separating 10th place from first, the event is as wide open as any in recent memory.
Sunday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. ET at Plattsburgh City Marina. The weigh-in will be held back at the marina at 3 p.m.
Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at Bassmaster.com with simulcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Check local listings for ESPN2 times.
The tournament is being hosted by the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau, City of Plattsburgh and Clinton County with support from the Office of the Governor of the State of New York.