DETROIT — Weather is always a dynamic element in competitive bass fishing, but it is the biggest factor when the tournament is taking place on big lakes.
The Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair is the final event of the regular season, and many anglers are putting it all on the line to garner a berth in the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro next March.
Texas pro Alton Jones took control of the event by bringing in 23 pounds, 10 ounces of smallmouth bass to the scales after the first day.
“When you’re fishing the Great Lakes, where wind is a dominating weather condition, my goal is to locate the best drift over the best piece of structure,” the 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion explained. “My practice time was spent finding the right drift, but it only produced small fish for me this morning. I knew they had moved, and after I found them again — only a few hundred yards away — it was a pretty consistent bite.”
Jones expects the bass he found to move again by Friday with another weather change predicted. He caught about 15 fish throughout the day and expects the numbers to be similar again in the second round.
“My big-fish spot contributed my best fish of the day, and several opportunities to cull up,” he said. “I found numerous spots that I’ve devoted my attention to, and I really hope they will hold up as the tournament goes on. But, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if they will.”
The stories among the anglers owning the other top spots on the leaderboard offered similar reports. Several small spots produced the right fish, but remaining confident that the best areas will continue to produce is the $100,000 question.
“I have a tendency to stress out about how well I manage a bite,” explained James Elam of Tulsa, Okla. “I’d like to think I perform well under this kind of pressure, but I’m going to have to prove that tomorrow.”
Elam had his limit before noon and brought in 23 pounds, 7 ounces to end the day in second.
There’s more to his story, however: At the start of the day, he was inside the 50-angler cut to qualify for the upcoming Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship by a single point. Today’s finish bumped him up in the standings, but he’ll have to finish strong to have an opportunity to fish the championship on Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., on September 17-20.
Currently in third is two-time Bassmaster Elite Series champion Brandon Palaniuk.
“I’ve been changing my strategy when it comes to the AOY race. I stopped looking at the points; I’ve been fishing to win. I know I fish better with that mentality, so I haven’t looked at the points standings for a couple of months.”
His mental discipline worked today as he brought in 23 pounds, 4 ounces of smallies — including the day’s big bass weighing 6-3.
Rounding out the top 10 were Brandon Lester in fourth place with a fine limit that weighed 21-10. He’s tied for fourth with Casey Scanlon. Micah Frazier is sixth with 20-8, Jonathon VanDam is seventh with 20-6 ounces, Todd Faircloth is eighth with 20-1, J Todd Tucker is ninth with 19-14 and Matt Herren is 10th with 19-5.
Current AOY leader Aaron Martens weighed 18-5, good enough for 24th place.
“I took a risk and traveled to Huron today,” the two-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year said. “I’m still not sure if I’ll go back tomorrow or if I’ll play it safe and stay closer to the ramp. I know I can catch a pretty good bag out of St. Clair, but I probably won’t make a decision until tomorrow morning.”
The expectation among many anglers is for the leaders' daily average to stay around 21 to 23 pounds. Friday is another day, and patterns are sure to keep changing - typical for big, northern waters.
The Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race continues with Aaron Martens on top with 685 points, Dean Rojas is closing the gap with 622 points, Jacob Powroznik is third with 596 points, Justin Lucas fell from second to fourth with 590 points and Edwin Evers is fifth with 565 points.
The tournament will resume Friday with takeoff out of Lake St. Clair Metropark at 6:20 a.m. The weigh-in will be held at the same location at 3:15 p.m., and the Top 50 anglers will advance to Saturday.