Make each bite count

Championship Monday finds the top 20 anglers fishing the warmest day of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Florida’s St. Johns River. With air temperatures projected to reach the mid-70s before the 2 p.m. weigh-ins, plus the lingering effects of the weekend’s full moon, the bite should be strong today.

Final round, shorter day — no one needs to tell these anglers, but you really gotta catch everything that bites today.

Tournament history bristles with examples of one lost fish that literally changed outcomes. Narrow margin victories are no rarity and almost every time, the second-place finisher can point to a missed opportunity that would have put them on the other side of the conversation.

Day 2’s Bassmaster LIVE saw a few anglers in today’s field lose quality fish. Some we saw, others pulled their escape act subsurface. If you know bass fishing, you can tell by rod flex, angler posture and post-loss reactions when it was a difference-maker and these were the ones that would’ve moved the needle:

• Day 1 leader Kelley Jaye, who enters Day 3 in second place had a good one smoke his jerkbait, flex his rod and then… heartbreak. This one, Jaye said, bit in the same place he caught a 9-pounder the previous day.

• Jake Whitaker (third place) hooked a 5- to 6-pounder on a wacky rig, watched it jump and saw it shake his hook.

• Clark Wendlandt (ninth) tugged on one of his biggest bites while flipping docks and the fish came unbuttoned.

• Steve Kennedy (eleventh) was flipping pads and right as Bassmaster LIVE joined him, a huge fish grabbed his bait at the edge of the cover and narrowly missed the hook set.

More big fish — including Elite rookie Kyle Welcher’s personal best 10-pound, 1-ounce tank, which leads the Phoenix Big Bass contest — came to the scales yesterday. With today’s conditions plus much less boat traffic, competitors are likely to get a few shots at those difference-makers.

You gotta put ‘em in the boat.