Daily Limit: Bruce hoping EQ bubble doesn’t burst

It’s do-or-die week for Jamie Bruce and his Bassmaster Elite Series aspirations.

The 34-year-old Canadian said he won’t give the Elite Qualifier events another shot if he doesn’t make it this season, which ends Saturday in the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Harris Chain.

“I’m one and done,” Bruce said. “If I don’t qualify, it will be my only year.”

After eight events, Bruce stands as the ninth and final Opens EQ angler who will advance to fish the 2024 Elite Series. He’s 10th overall with 1,263 points — fifth-place Kenta Kimura is already Elite qualified — but there is a pack breathing down Bruce’s neck.

“I’ve got one point (on Wesley Gore) and only 15 points separating me from Bobby Lane,” said Bruce, noting Lane is fishing in his home state. “The last thing I want to do is have to go in and try to gain points in Florida.”

The trick will be not losing any. After Gore with 1,262 points, lurking anglers include Sam George (1,256), Logan Johnson (1,255) and Joey Nania (1,251). Lane, the longtime Elite, is within range at 1,248, as are Jacob Bigelow (1,234), Ben Milliken (1,232), Brett Cannon (1,221) and Adam Rasmussen (1,221).

With 200 points for the victory, the final two can hit the target total of 1,420, but then they would need help with others falling. Bruce has a good take on what he needs to do, and that would be not fall.

“Obviously, a Top 10 would do it,” he said. “Top 20 would probably be fairly hard to beat. Thirtieth is kinda wide open. Anything lower than 40 puts me right out of it.”

The Harris Chain will be Bruce’s 11th B.A.S.S. entry. A good friend of Kenora neighbor and 2023 Classic champ Jeff Gustafson, Bruce said he sort of used the successful Elite as a measuring board. With his own success competing locally, Bruce jumped into two Opens in 2022. His first at Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake produced a third, and he “squirreled away” that $17,840 for EQ seed money.

“If you’re doing consistently well, it’s the only real place you can go any further,” he said. “I’m not getting any younger. I had an opportunity. I had a couple good years at home. I figured I better hop over.”

This year Bruce ventured into the unknown — he had not been on any of the fisheries except the Harris Chain, which he visited with Gussy twice as an FLW co-angler years ago.

“It’s actually the only lake on the whole schedule I’ve ever been to,” he said. “So, it’s not going to be a huge shock to me.”

There was a shock in 2023’s opener at Alabama’s Lake Eufaula, where Bruce finished 104th. Making consecutive cuts at Toledo Bend (18th) and Buggs Island (30th) jumped him back in the game to 23rd in points.

Just missing the cut at Wheeler knocked him back a spot, then a 13th at Oklahoma’s Eufaula and a third at the St. Lawrence got Bruce up to eighth in points.

However, Watts Bar bit him, a 122nd knocking him down to 20th.

“If you look at my record, I’m probably one of the most volatile guys,” Bruce said. “I’ve had two triple digits. I think I have the single worst finish in the top 15 or 18.”

The comeback kid got back into EQ contention at the Lake of the Ozarks with a ninth, his second Top 10 and fifth top 30 of the year. He’s now on the Elite doorstep despite what he calls a finish chart with spikes.

“Yeah, two absolute trainwrecks and I think six top 20s (counting 2022),” he said.

Bruce has marveled at the top level consistency from the three EQ leaders. JT Thompkins, John Garrett and Trey McKinney, each with four Top 10s, are already assured Elite invitations.

“It’s been something else to watch,” Bruce said. “You get one up on one of those guys in a tournament, you’re patting yourself on the back. They’ve been crazy.”

They might have re-taught Bruce a lesson as well. Bruce said he thought at some point each attempted to simply maintain their points position yet found the play-it-safe approach often backfires.

Bruce knows he’ll have to go for broke at Harris if he hopes to join the Elite northern invasion that includes Ontario’s Johnston Brothers and Cooper Gallant. Each has shown Canada knows bass.

“It’s hard to gauge off Chris and Cory and Coop. They live so far from us, we don’t consider them true Canadians,” he joked.

Bruce has fielded a lot of questions about competing in the U.S. from his bass-crazed brethren in the region.

“I think you’re going to see a little bit more of an influx from Kenora in the next few years,” he said. “For a 15,000-person town, the passion for fishing is there.”

The 2024 Opens EQ schedule includes a division that most in the upper Midwest are not angry about, with events at Lake St. Clair, the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wis., and a first-time venue at northern Minnesota’s Leech Lake.

“That looks good,” Bruce said. “I like it a bit better than my initial take on this year.”

Yet this year has worked out so far for Bruce, who knows he can’t just target a limit on Harris Chain or he might come in “with 7 pounds in 140th place.”

“I think 14 pounds a day would be solid for a top 30,” he said. “I could be way off but that seems to be pretty solid. I think you’re going to have to have a big fish to even achieve that. You can’t fill with your limit with all 3 1/2-pounders.”

Asked his chances to advance, Bruce was indefinite, citing his up-and-down season and the fickle nature of fishing in the Sunshine State.

“Given my history, given that it’s Florida, who knows,” he said.