Wow. Did you see Jason Christie’s win this week on St. Clair, where he overcame a 3 pound, 5 ounce deficit on the final day of competition to win by 2 pounds, 5 ounces with a four-day total of 88-08?
Just as impressive as Christie’s come-from-behind win is the fact that it marked another in a long line of Great Lakes area Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments in which the winner had more than 80 pounds. Christie’s winning weight eclipsed Todd Faircloth’s 2015 winning St. Clair total by more than 4 pounds. Second and third place finishers Brock Mosley and Mark Daniels Jr. also had more weight this week than Faircloth had in that win. All three also caught more than Chris Lane sacked when he won here in 2013. In fact, the top seven in this week’s event all averaged more than 20 pounds a day, as did 13th and 14th place finishers Jonathon VanDam and Brandon Coulter (both of whom only fished three days).
Incredibly, Christie’s winning weight wasn’t the best one this year – or even this summer – on an Elite venue dominated by smallmouth. Just a month ago, KVD won at the St. Lawrence with 90 pounds 3 ounces, trailed by four others who all had more than 80 pounds for the four days, including Mosley, who is likely getting tired of finishing second while having what for just about anyone would be the tournament of a lifetime.
Few of us could have predicted these types of weights when B.A.S.S. first started visiting St. Clair in the 1990s. In the inaugural event, held in 1994, Kim Stricker came out on top with 19 fish for 61-15 over the course of four days, beating runner-up KVD by more than 5 pounds. Where would that weight have put him this week? When you consider that JVD missed the cut in 13th with 60-05 over three days, and 11 of 12 anglers on Day 4 weighed in 12-06 or more, that tells the whole story.
Nothing about that is meant to denigrate Stricker. After all, he beat a “who’s who” of hall of famers back in the day. Rather, it goes to show you how much our fisheries have improved, and how much our pros have learned about catching these smallmouth, because while two Michiganders led the leaderboard in ’94, subsequent B.A.S.S. tour level events have been won by residents of Arkansas (Larry Nixon), South Carolina (Davy Hite), Florida/Alabama (Chris Lane), Texas (Todd Faircloth) and Oklahoma (Christie).
In fact, the all-time B.A.S.S. smallmouth winning weight record is held by someone who hails from a longer distance away than any of the pros listed above – Kota Kiriyama of Japan, who won a 2008 Elite Series tournament on Lake Erie out of Buffalo, N.Y., with an amazing 93 pounds 6 ounces of brown goodness. It wasn’t necessarily a fluke, either, as Aaron Martens and Edwin Evers surpassed 85 and 84 pounds, respectively, in that tournament.
When it comes to smallmouth, these trends mean that it’s very hard to amaze any of us these days. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that sometime in the next 23 years (the same amount of time that has gone by since Stricker’s win) we are going to see someone hit the 100 pound mark in a tournament dominated by smallmouth. It will take the perfect set of conditions on the perfect body of water, but at the rate we’re going I truly believe it’ll happen.
Of course, it won’t come easy. The pros will have to be on a body of water on the upswing at the time of year that the bass are healthiest. And the weather gods will have to work in their favor – as we’ve seen several times on Erie in the past, and then more obviously and repeatedly at Bay de Noc at the AOY Championship in 2014, it’s all too easy to lose a day of competition on these vast waters.
One hundred pounds is going to take four bags in the 25 pound range (duh!). Do you know how many 25 pound limits there were this week in Michigan? Two – Brock Mosley’s on Day 2 and Jordan Lee’s on Day 3, complemented by Luke Clausen’s 24-15 and Lee’s 24-11 on Day 2 and Mark Daniels Jr’s 24-01 on Day 3. In fact, if you take a “best bag” approach (best limit each day) to this week’s tournament you end up with 95-03. And if an angler is off the pace by even the slightest amount, catching a normally-insane 23 or 24 pounds, he’ll have a hard time making that up, because 26 pound bags are much rarer than 25s. There were none caught this week.
That’s not to say it can’t happen. The potential is there on St. Clair as it is on Erie. When Stricker won in 1994, he had the big fish on Days 2 and 3 with bass that weighed 4-08 and 5-12. This year there were multiple sixes caught. At fisheries like Sturgeon Bay, at certain times of year 25 pound bags don’t get a second look in the weigh-in line. At the Simcoe (Canada) Open in 2007, it took almost 30 pounds to win. When Jacob Powroznik won at Escanaba in September 2014, his two-day weight of 47-06 might’ve translated to a four day weight of 94-12. That’s still not 100, and it’s not a certainty, but it shows that the fish are there for the taking. Most of those tournaments occurred over one or two days, not four plus three days of official practice, but it indicates that the quality exists, and that an angler who could find some mother lode a little bit off the beaten path could get the job done.
That’s easier said than done, because the same technology (GPS, side-imaging, etc.) that makes it possible for out-of-staters to come and win also makes it harder to get anything to yourself. Nevertheless, I won’t be surprised if it happens, and my 23 year horizon could be a little bit too long.
When Seth Feider won the AOY Challenge at Mille Lacs last year, he caught 76-05 over three days, with limits of 25-08, 24-11 and 26-02, respectively. Guess where this year’s top 50 Elites are headed in just a couple of weeks. You got it – Mille Lacs. If only it was a four-day tournament….
Back in the days when B.A.S.S. anglers were popping “Century Belts” like big largemouths crunching dying shad, the buckles were made with a faux gold finish. I’m hoping they’ll have to go back to the vendor to get the next one (or several) made out of bronze.