Thompkin’s secret, EQ points race and notes

OSAGE BEACH, Mo. — You might say that JT Thompkins is living the better of two worlds. The 21-year-old from Myrtle Beach, SC, is coming off a second-place finish last week at the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Watts Bar Lake, and he is tied for first place at Lake of the Ozarks with 19 pounds 15 ounces after Day 1. 

Even more, Thompkins leads the Opens EQ standings that will determine the nine anglers to receive invitations to the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series. He’s not being cocky; rather what follows is a statement generated by confidence and hard work.

“I expect to be consistently cutting checks because of the work I put into it,” Thompkins said. “I didn’t expect to make a Top 10 as much as I have.” 

He’s being modest. Thompkins has four Top 10s (on pace to make it five tomorrow), 8 Top 20s and 11 Top 30s in 28 tournaments fished. He’s fished three Championship Saturdays this season. Thompkins also fished the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota by winning a 2022 Open on the Chesapeake Bay. 

Here’s the secret. Plain and simple, Thompkins puts in the work, daylight to dark and day in, day out. 

“I spend 325 days on the water fishing all over the country,” said Thompkins. 

“My time on the water means everything,” he said. “Every single bite you get will key you in just a smidgen more, and the more bites you get everywhere you go, then you can carry that knowledge over other places.”

You have anglers with the ability to win doing one thing, but if I can travel around the country, build on my abilities at each lake and become like a local doing a lot of different things, then I’m are going to put myself in contention to win more than a lot of other anglers.”

EQ points update

Five days remain in the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens, and specifically two days here at Lake of the Ozarks and three more next month at the Harris Chain. Here are more points to ponderEQ points update

Last week, John Garrett scored a 5th overall at Watts Bar Lake, adding insurance to his place in the Opens EQ standings. The Tennessee angler is currently second behind leader JT Thompkins.

“I had such a good week that I took a couple of days off at home (in West Tennessee) before coming here to practice,” Garrett said. “On the first day I caught a really good limit of bass and was really satisfied.”

Garrett was unable to replicate the short-lived pattern the next day, applying that experience as a lesson learned paid forward toward his greater goal of qualifying for the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.  

“What I did wrong was set it up to win, and I don’t need to do that at this point,” he said. “I’m going to fish conservatively; just catch a limit and not make any long runs.” 

The plan is simple. Garrett will keep the trolling motor down and catch a limit. 

“If I catch a limit each of the remaining days of the season the year will be a success.” 

On each side of Garrett in the Opens EQ standings is Thompkins and Trey McKinney in third place. At Watts Bar, Thompkins finished second and McKinney took third place.  McKinney was 5th after Day 1 at Lake of the Ozarks. 

College connections

Garrett, 27, the 2016 Bassmaster College Series Bracket winner from Bethel University, credits his good standing in the Opens EQ format to his foundation in collegiate fishing. For the Bracket win, Garrett competed in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic, and has fished the Opens since that year. 

“College bass fishing directly relates to the Opens,” Garrett said. “The competition was just as stout, and I felt like college fishing was the same with just a different name.” 

Bethel University was the first to offer full scholarships for student athletes on its bass fishing team, also making it a collegiate powerhouse early on. Garrett carried that experience over to the Opens, where he’s cashed a check in 22 of 41 events fished. Garrett has 12 Top 20s, seven Top 10s and one third and second place finish. 

Another Bassmaster College Series alumni is Robert Gee, fifth in the Opens EQ standings. Gee, 24, a 2023 graduate of the University of Tennessee, has earned checks in four of seven events, including four Top 30s, three Top 20s and a Top 10 at Lake Eufaula, Ala. 

“Before college I didn’t have experience on other lakes outside of East Tennessee and western North Carolina,” said Gee, a Knoxville native. “With college I got to travel the country and be introduced to other fisheries, so it was like a prep league for the Opens.”

I got to compete, and learn from, the best college anglers on their home lakes,” he said. “I learned so much in my five years of college bass fishing, and that experience prepared me for the Opens.”

The Opens EQ is a challenge, and I don’t think I’d be where I am if you could qualify for the Elites from just one division,” Gee said. “The EQ format conditions your mind to fish consistently across an entire season of eight months, all of it on different fisheries.” 

Weather watch

The impacts of a tournament played out at Lake of the Ozarks on a weekend could be minimized by the weather. The narrow lake spanning 91 miles is a recreational boating mecca powered by racing boats, yacht-sized cruisers and bow riders. The party got started early on Friday as the engines roared around the vicinity of the weigh-in. Isolated thunderstorms with gusts to 18 mph are expected on Saturday, with just a slight chance of rain on Sunday.  

The X factor in the weather could open up a strike zone from dingy conditions created by runoff. What makes it possible is the massive size of the 54,000-acre impoundment. The storms could only impact specific creeks or arms of the lake, creating isolated areas of runoff that could come into play. 

Classic bound

At the conclusion of tomorrow’s tournament another Opens angler could be Classic bound, assuming he fished all three Division 2 events. Already invited from all three Divisions is Justin Barnes (Lake Eufaula, Ala.), Ben Milliken (Toledo Bend), Powell Kemp (Buggs Island), Adam Rassmussen (Wheeler Lake), Joey Nania (Lake Eufaula, Okla.) and Tyler Williams (Watts Bar). St. Lawrence River winner Jody White didn’t fish all the events in his division, thereby giving the Classic invite to Elite pro Paul Mueller. 

What might not happen, as did in previous years, will be an Elite pro outside the Classic cut making it in through the Opens. That’s happened before when an Elite pro inside the Classic double qualified by winning an Open after fishing all three in its respective division. First man out of the Classic is David Gaston, followed by Scott Martin. The long shot for both would be like the scenario occurring at the St. Lawrence River.