CECIL COUNTY, Md. — JT Thompkins was a man on a mission and his Championship Saturday performance fulfilled this truth with a 17-pound, 4-ounce limit that capped a three-day total of 39-12 and propelled him to victory in the St. Croix Bassmaster Northern Open at Upper Chesapeake Bay presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.
After posting weights of 11-0 and 11-8, Thompkins started Day 3 in ninth place — 11-6 off the lead set by Chris Beaudrie. At the final tally, he had edged Beaudrie by 15 ounces.
For his win, the 20-year-old from Myrtle Beach, S.C., earned $42,267 and a berth in the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic to be held in Knoxville, Tenn., March 24-26.
“I didn’t think there was any way for this to happen; I don’t even know what to say,” Thompkins said of his come-from-behind victory. “This whole year, I’ve talked about dreaming of going to the Classic. It’s a dream come true.
“This was a tournament where I just had to make sure not to slip up and if I had an opportunity, to take advantage. I’m so happy to have this bag today to be able to do that.”
Maximizing his time, Thompkins stayed within sight of the weigh-in venue for most of the tournament. Working broad grass flats in 2 to 9 feet, he targeted hard-cover current breaks.
“I found this area in pre-practice; I was just scanning and I saw the stumps and it set up perfectly,” Thompkins said. “I really didn’t fish it in practice. I just knew that’s where it was gonna go down.”
Thompkins caught his Day 3 fish on a 1/2-ounce craw-colored Outkast Tackle jig with a green pumpkin Strike King Rage Menace. Earlier in the event, he also caught bass on a Senko and a ChatterBait.
“This was a day where everything worked out and every decision that I made, every time I made a move, there was a fish waiting for me,” he said.
“I caught more fish today than I caught the entire practice. I figured some things out today because the first two days, I messed up (my tide decisions). Today, I was able to correct that, and I was able to capitalize on a lot of things.”
Thompkins got off to a blistering start with a limit of approximately 14 1/2 pounds by 7:40 a.m. After a dry spell, he added a key afternoon cull that sealed his win.
Sweetening his victory, Thompkins won his first Bassmaster Open on his mother’s birthday. “I want to let my mom know I love her and how much she means to me.”
Hailing from Princeton, Ky., Beaudrie finished second with 38-13. On Day 1, he placed second with 17-8, just 11 ounces off the lead. Adding 16-6 on Day 2 pushed him into the top spot.
Unfortunately, Beaudrie’s productivity fizzled on Championship Saturday and he managed only three bass for 4-15.
Beaudrie had been working matted vegetation with lots of baitfish in the Susquehanna River. With the weekend’s full moon pushing tides higher than normal, Beaudrie’s fish rode the rising level deeper into the mats. Following their progression and fishing a frog superslow delivered his two big bags.
“I found those fish in practice throwing a Picasso Lures spinnerbait,” Beaudrie said. “They were off the edge of the grass mat and during the tournament, I saw the conditions change, so I adjusted to throwing a white frog and punching a green pumpkin Senko.”
Beaudrie noted that switching from his standard 7-foot, 4-inch frog rod to a 7-7 heavy iRod and 65-pound Vicious braid helped him wrestle bass out of the vegetation from deep in the mat.
Pete Gluszek of Mount Laurel, N.J., finished third with 37-2. His first two days’ limits of 15-9 and 10-8 sent him to Championship Saturday in third place. Closing with 11-1 kept him at that spot.
With 30 years of guiding and instructional work on the Chesapeake Bay, the Bass University founder leaned on his extensive local knowledge to work through the tough summer conditions and dial in a particular pattern.
“September scatters the fish; the baitfish are scattered, the bass are doing a bunch of different things and that makes it a little bit challenging,” he said. “I had a thing in the Susquehanna where I was fishing hard cover adjacent to grass beds and that’s where I was able to get bit consistently doing that.”
Gluszek targeted stumps, laydowns and docks where bass positioned to ambush passing bait pods. His main baits were a Rapala DT Fat, Texas-rigged Strike King Rage Bug with 3/8- and 1/2-ounce VMC weights and what he calls the Bass University Dean’s Rig — a Texas-rigged worm with a 1/16-ounce VMC Half Moon tail weight.
Cole Drummond of Effingham, S.C., won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award with his 5-13.
Alex Wetherell of Middletown, Conn., won the Bassmaster Northern Opens title with 572 points. Kyoya Fujita of Minamitsuru, Yamanashi, Japan, finished second with 566, followed by Keith Poche of Montgomery, Ala., with 549, Jacob Walker of Springville, Ala., with 547 and Thompkins with 537.
Wetherell, Fujita and Poche will receive invitations to fish the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series. Notably, Fujita qualified during his first season fishing in America.
Cooper Gallant of Bowmanville, Canada, leads the overall Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings with 983 points.