Daily Limit: EQ leader Thompkins keeping pedal to metal

Watch out. JT Thompkins is working to stamp his mark on the Bassmaster Elite Series, even though he hasn’t officially qualified.

The 21-year-old from Myrtle Beach, S.C., will most assuredly join the top B.A.S.S. circuit in 2024, and with impressive credentials. Thompkins leads the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifier standings and simply needs to show up at this week’s season finale at Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes.   

“I think even if I zeroed both days I’d still make it,” he said.

That is correct. Thompkins’s 1,480 points put him 19 ahead of second-place John Garrett and 217 up on current last-man in Jamie Bruce. After the nine EQ events, the top nine in points receive Elite invitations.

With the estimated target of 1,420 points to advance, an angler standing in the teens could reasonably catapult into the Elites. Winners receive 200 points, second gets 199, etc. Only 39 points separate ninth through 17th, so the race for the final spots will be hotly contested this week.

The top three are secure, however. Thompkins, Garrett and 18-year-old Trey McKinney (1,417) are in a three-man breakaway, each recording four Top 10s in what have been dream seasons.

“It’s been unreal for me,” Thompkins said. “Every time I make a decision, it seems to be the right one. It’s been one of those seasons you just dream of.”

There’s more big goals ahead, at least dreaming and scheming. Contacted while pre-practicing for the 2024 Smith Lake Elite, Thompkins said he’s shooting for the win at Harris Chain and its automatic entry to the Classic.

Thompkins flips in a Watts Bar bass during his second-place finish.

“That’s a really big goal of mine,” he said. “That’s what I’m focusing on. I really want to make it to the Bassmaster Classic. I know I got to win. I’ll be shooting for the win the entire time.

“I’ve lived by the motto, ‘You shoot for the stars and you might just land on the moon.’ It’s been working. I just want to keep it going at Harris.”

A top finish at Harris would give Thompkins the title of St. Croix Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year and its $10,000 bonus. Lurking close behind is Garrett, the 27-year-old from Union City, Tenn., who won the 2016 College Bracket to reach the Classic.

“That’s a whale to try to hold off,” Thompkins said. “We’re going to see. I just got to finish 20th. I’ve got to assume he’s going to win, because he’s done everything but win one this year. I have a feeling that will be coming there soon.”

To tie, Garrett needs to finish 19 spots ahead of Thompkins and gain 1 pound, 2 ounces in the full-field weight tiebreaker. Thompkins, who won a Toyota Series event on the Harris Chain at 18, said he’ll aim for 20th to guarantee the EQ title, then hopefully reset his sights on victory.

“I’ve won there before, but a lot of people know exactly how I won it, and I feel there’s probably going to be 30, 40 boats on it,” he said. “I also feel pressure will move those fish.

“I feel pretty confident there. The hurricane has muddied up the water. I wanted it clear. My goal was to throw really big baits that are all sight-oriented. If it stays muddy, I’ll have a hard time catching them how I want to catch them. If it clears up, I think I can have a really good event.”

It’s tough to predict a winning weight with all the variables, but Thompkins estimated it might take 15 to 16 pounds a day to make the Top 10 cut, which will be televised on FS1 and Bassmaster.com Saturday.

“You can never guess a winning weight,” he said. “Someone can figure things out and have 30 pounds a day, or it can also be tough and only take 20 pounds a day. I don’t see it being a great event, but we’ll see.”

Thompkins started the 2023 Opens with his worst finish, a 48th on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula. Then, qualifying via his 2022 Opens win on the Chesapeake Bay, Thompkins finished 24th at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville, Tenn. Making that cut seemed to kick-start him.

A 32nd at Toledo Bend began his run of seven consecutive Opens cuts. His eighth at Buggs Island moved him into the Top 10 in points. With an 11th at Wheeler and 14th at Oklahoma’s Eufaula, Thompkins stood fourth just 33 points behind Garrett.

Benefiting from Garrett’s 60th at the St. Lawrence River, his only missed cut, Thompkins jumped into the EQ lead by finishing seventh despite losing several hours fishing to mechanical failure. “One bite away from winning” at Watts Bar, Thompkins took second then added a seventh on Lake of the Ozarks.

Over the season, Thompkins has averaged just below a 16th-place finish,  equating to 185 points per tournament.

After the Harris Chain, with trophy or not, Thompkins plans to spend the fall visiting most all the Elite venues, for certain the ones he feels weakest.

“I’ll go home only two, three days for Christmas,” he said. “Go to all the new lakes I’ve never been too and try to learn as much as a I can. All I’ve been doing since the last one is thinking about the Elite schedule next year and how I’m going to compete against them.

“It seems like we’re going to a lot of places they’ve been in the past. They have a ton of experience. I have to compensate by learning in the next three months what they’ve learned the last three or four years. That’s the goal for me.”

At hand now is finishing the Opens EQ year with a bang.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve been shooting for the win and come up a little short, and hopefully I close the deal on it.”