The Big Bass on the Big Stage of the Bassmaster Elite Series made many realize Big Dreams in 2021. Following is a photo journey of the largest bass landed during the season and what they meant in the big picture.
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The season began in Feb. 11 with the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River out of Palatka, Fla. After a three-hour fog delay, reigning Classic champ Hank Cherry of Lincolnton, N.C., started off the big hit list with an 8-pound, 1-ounce bass. It was almost two-thirds of his Day 1 bag of 12-14 and helped him start the season strong with a sixth-place finish.
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Derek Hudnall of Denham Springs, La., had one of two limits topping 20 pounds on Day 1, including the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of 9-8 in his bag of 22-5. In the previous six Elite tournaments on the St. Johns, 10-pounders took big bass honors.
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Wes Logan helped bolster the Day 2 average, up half a pound from the first day’s 2-4, with this 8-7. Logan earned the $1,000 bonus as Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, and he started the season well at 15th.
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Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, coming off two wins in 2020, was making moves on BassTrakk with a 7-0 early then a late 9-4. That last bass weighed in at 9-8 for Semifinal Saturday’s top fish, helping Palaniuk to one of the day’s top bags at 24-11. Palaniuk and Hudnall each garnered bonus checks of $1,500 for daily and sharing the overall of the event.
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The new kid on the block, Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., got it done at St. Johns. Building bigger bags each day, New duplicated his feat in the Basspro.com Opens by winning the first Elite he fished. He began Championship Sunday 5-7 back of the leader but landed the day’s big bass of 5-14 in his 26-4 total. He finished with 79-7, almost 10 pounds ahead of second.
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While not quite as hefty as those landed at the St. Johns, big bass played significant roles in the frigid Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Tennessee River, Feb. 25-28. Big fish honors on Day 1 went to Brandon Card and his 5-9, a huge chunk of his 13-13 to stand fourth. Card stayed in the hunt with Day 2’s big bag of 16-10, but he ended up fourth.
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Brock Mosley landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the event in the final moments of Day 2. With check-in time approaching, Mosley’s last cast produced this 6-10, giving him a limit. That catch lifted Mosley about 20 places, but he couldn’t limit the next two days and finished ninth.
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Steve Kennedy started second then dropped with only two fish on Friday, but this 6-5 helped him get back in the hunt. The Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 3 helped him to the event’s biggest bag of 20-14, the only one topping 20 pounds. Kennedy finished second, 7-1 behind the winning weight.
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Jason Christie began Day 4 in ninth and made a move with the big bass of 5-5 in the biggest bag of the day at 16-5. Along with Phoenix Boats Big Bass $1,000 bonus, that one fish helped bump Christie to a fifth-place payout, adding an additional $5,000.
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The story of the Tennessee River was wire-to-wire winner Jeff Gustafson. On the final day of practice, he discovered a school of smallmouth in the canal joining Tellico to Fort Loudoun. Although Gustafson didn’t have any fish much over 4 pounds in his four limits, the smallmouth he caught weighed well above the average fish. Gussy started with 17-14 to lead by almost four pounds, added 15-10 then 15-5 before 14-3 gave him 63-0. Gustafson, known as one of the nicest guys on the circuit, became the second Canadian to win an Elite event.
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Weather again struck with a storm delaying the Guaranteed Rates Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake by two days. The action began on Saturday, March 20 with the water levels some 6 feet higher. Reigning Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass, a 7-6, and stood sixth with 20-1. Wendlandt could only muster one fish on Day 2 to fall outside the cut at 60th.
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Hank Cherry made a long run down toward Mississippi and Tennessee and reported good numbers of catches, including hooking the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 2. This 7-11 helped him limit with 22-9 to jump 24 spots into 10th place, and he finished fifth.
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Canadian Cory Johnston made the big move on Day 3 behind this 7-2, the biggest of the day. He jumped to third from 22nd with 25-5, the second largest in the tournament. A good run with 19-15 on Championship Tuesday — he led twice during the day — left Johnston third.
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Bill Lowen was in the hunt by consistently catching larger-than-average bass at Pickwick. He stood second after bags of 21-3 and 23-13 and was tied with Chad Pipkens heading into Championship Sunday. Lowen received a text from Bass Fishing Hall of Famer Denny Brauer, a mentor and good friend, giving him encouragement to catch a 7-pounder on a black and blue jig. Lowen did just that with this 8-5, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the event. He had 20-11 to total 83-5 and win his first Elite in his 159th B.A.S.S. event.
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The expectations for monster bass was lowered for the Dovetail Gamer Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River, April 8-11, but the tournament was enthralling just the same. Rookie Marc Frazier landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 1, a 6-6 that held on for biggest of the event. Fickle as Sabine is, Frazier had two fish on the second day before rallying to finish 26th.
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KJ Queen, another rookie, brought in a 4-6 to top big bass on Day 2, which made up almost half his 9-12 total. It helped him reach his first Top 10 in the Elites and get in the mix for Rookie of the Year.
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Second-year Elite Takumi Ito of Japan had the Phoenix Boats Big Bass the next two days, a 4-10 that gave him Day 3’s largest bag at 12-4, then a 3-7 on a stingier Championship Sunday. With 11-1 to total 40-12, Ito posted his top Elite finish of third, at least for the time being. It also moved him from 60th to 37th in the Angler of the Year standings.
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Mississippi’s Brock Mosley, coming off a runner-up finish at Pickwick, ran two hours toward Houston and continued his success. He had a 5-6, the second largest fish of the event to take the lead. It helped put him in a battle with Oklahoma’s Jason Christie, who made a risky, two-hour run the other direction up the Sabine River. Running out of fish, Mosley abandoned his long run to Clear Creek on Championship Sunday, sticking closer to Orange and weighing 7-13 to again finish second.
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Christie had to maximize fuel on his trip up to Big Cow Creek, where getting back was a concern with no gas stops on the route. On Day 2, Christie had the added weight of a cameraman and made it back to Orange with less than a gallon of gas. Christie and Mosley were on a two-man breakout, more than 5-8 ahead of the closest in the field. With rising water, Christie discovered steeper banks on maps and had straighter lines for gas consumption. He went into Championship Sunday leading Mosley by 15 ounces and caught 8-4 to total 43-15 and win by 1-6 for his sixth victory in B.A.S.S. competition and his fourth blue trophy.
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Monster bass and bags along with Century Belts were discussed heading into the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork, May 19-22. Last year’s winner at Fork, Patrick Walters, picked up where he left off. The South Carolina pro landed 7-1 and 7-2 bass early then bolstered his leading 32-14 limit with an 8-14. Walters won last November with 104-12, doubling the previous largest margin of victory in an Elite at 29-10. Walters was on the big bite as he landed an 8-12 on Day 2, but his next best was 2-1 and he fell to third.
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Taku Ito did the opposite of Walters, starting with 15-1 then busting Friday’s biggest bag. Ito totaled 33-3 to climb from 73rd to fourth. He caught three overs on the day — fish longer than 24 inches that could be brought to weigh-in — replacing a 7-10 with an 8-12 and then this 8-14, which he was super happy to show the crowd at the Sabine River Authority facility. Ito finished seventh, jumping another 20 spots in the AOY standings to 17th.
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Clifford Pirch started 90th with a small limit and was suffering through the second day before he felt this lunker tug on his line. The 9-13, almost half his 21-15 limit, put him inside the cut. He had one of the 16 bags topping 20 pounds. Pirch’s lunker was the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, event and year.
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Australian Carl Jocumsen earned the bonus on Day 3 with this 9-5, which was smaller than the 10-pounder he was filmed catching the week before. Jocumsen’s monster helped him climb to 11th place, just ounces away from securing a Top 10.
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Lee Livesay, a guide on Fork who calls it the Big Bass Capital of the World, again proved that claim. Chasing “baby whales” on Championship Sunday, Livesay found them, including a 9-2, 7-6 and 8-5, to stand at 32-4 on BassTrakk with a substantial lead, but he went without an upgrade for more than two hours.
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Walters landed this over, a 9-5 to take the day’s big bass award, and he added a 5-1, 5-14 and 6-5 to build a limit weighing 31-3 and earn another Century Belt with 102-5. Walters’ second Century Belt puts him second to Steve Kennedy (three) on the active list of 11 current Elites who have topped 100 pounds. At one point, Walters stood within a pound and half of Livesay and threatened to score back-to-back victories on Fork. “It’s a little deflating catching 31 pounds” and not winning, Walters said. “If you’re going to get beat on Lake Fork, it has to be 40 pounds. Big hats off to Lee, he is the man.”
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Yes, Livesay’s bite reignited, and he landed an 8-4 and a 7-14, the last fish pushing him to 42-3 and his total of 112-5 that stands 16th all-time. Livesay’s five best were 9-2, 7-6, 8-15, 8-14 and 7-14, which stands third all-time on the heaviest single-day catch list. Livesay would have needed another 3 pounds to top Dean Rojas’ 2001 record of 45-2 on Lake Toho. Livesay became the 32nd angler to join the Century Club and said it sure was sweet to do it at home. “I never thought I’d catch 42 pounds,” he said, “so, doing it in front of family and friends, and a lot of sponsors were here, too, it’s just amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
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Fans of the Elites might have been a bit spoiled from the triple meat served up at Fork, but the Whataburger Elite at Neely Henry Lake, while a smaller serving, was a satisfying meal just the same. Lightning storms during practice sent anglers scrambling for cover and heavy rains delayed the start one day. When action started, Clark Wendlandt was way down the point standings. This 5-4, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, helped Wendlandt get off to a great start as it was almost one-third of his 15-13 that put him third. Wendlandt didn’t find a big the next two days and finished 13th.
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Cliff Prince was among the three anglers who didn’t bring a fish to the Day 1 weigh-in, so he stood tied for last. Anglers have to weigh a fish to score any points. Prince saved disaster with this 5-11, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, to weigh 11-12 and finish 87th.
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Almost half of Jay Yelas’ Day 3 bag of 12-4 came on this 5-6, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass on the day. The former Classic champion figured Neely Henry out a little better as the event progressed, climbing around a dozen places each day to finish 22nd.
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Paul Mueller was in the hunt all week. With two bags of 15-3, the two-time Elite champion held the lead heading into Day 3. He trailed the leader by 1-2 entering Championship Monday, but he caught only 13-13 to finish second. There was some consolation that his 6-6 took Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors and its $1,000 bonus.
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Although he missed several big fish throughout the event, Wes Logan caught enough to win on the fishery he’s plied since he was 5. Logan landed a 3-12 midday to take over the lead and built a 14-1 limit for the winning total of 57-9. It was the Springville, Ala., pro’s first victory in 26 B.A.S.S. events. It was an emotional day for Logan, who had generations of his family around as well as his girlfriend. “Truly at a loss for words,” Logan posted. “The Good Lord was looking out for me like he always does. All I know is his timing is PERFECT. Unbelievably blessed in so many ways!”
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Lake Guntersville is known for big bass, and those caught in the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville provided great impact. Nabbing this 7-6 birthday bass on May 20 had Caleb Sumrall falling backward with joy. He called it a “total lifesaver” as he only caught three other bass. The lunker was more than half his 14-4 that put him 41st, but he missed the cut after losing a tiebreaker for the final spot on Semifinal Saturday. Sumrall’s 7-6 held out as Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the event.
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Bill Weidler’s 6-11 took Phoenix Boats Big Bass on Day 2, but the only real difference was giving him the $1,000 bonus. While the giant was more than half his 12-7 that came on three fish, he missed the cut in 64th. After winning last year on Lake St. Clair, Weidler was mired deep in the AOY standings.
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In a transitionary time on Guntersville, fishing was a bit tougher for the field, but Caleb Kuphall figured things out for a wire-to-wire win. He had a 6-2 in his Day 1 27-10 bag to lead by 6-7, then fishing got stingier on Day 2. His 5-13 was Day 3’s big bass and it came in a bag of 23-9 to increase his lead to 11-8 heading into Championship Sunday.
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Kuphall started slowly on Day 4 but he was never threatened and increased his lead with a bag of 19-1. It was the biggest limit of the day and included his second big bass at 4-14. For the event, Kuphall totaled 85-14 to score the second-most lopsided victory in Elite history. Kuphall won by 17-14 in becoming the first angler from Wisconsin to win an Elite.
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Big bass live in Lake Ray Roberts and big bass were caught. Many of them made a big difference in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. Frank Talley of Temple, Texas, said he got super excited when he leaned back on the 8-3 bass that bit from bushes in three feet of water. “To do it in the Classic is exhilarating. I mean, in the first hour of the first day, it don't get any better than that,” he said. Talley’s bass held up all three days of competition to win the $2,500 Berkley Big Bass bonus.
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A storm delayed Saturday’s Day 2 launch by two hours and threw monkey wrenches into a lot of anglers’ plans. With limited time, only 15 anglers had limits on the shortened day and the average fish weight went down. Chad Pipkens made eyes pop when a 9-0 came across BassTrakk. Although he had big-eyed the 8-1 and received razzing from his cohorts, Pipkens took the day’s big bass honors. Two fish on Championship Sunday left Pipkens in 24th place.
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Justin Kerr of Lake Havasu, Ariz., represented the B.A.S.S. Nation well as he came in with the biggest bag on Day 2. The bulk of Kerr’s 19-12 came from a 6-12 and a 7-2 that moved him up from 22nd to second. His big jump elicited comparisons to the only Nation angler to ever win a Classic, Bryan Kerchal in 1994. On the final day, Kerr didn’t get the big bites, catching a limit going 12-0 to finish fourth with 45-2, 5-13 back of the winning weight.
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Big fish made the year for many, and losing big fish was a huge storyline in the Classic. Matt Arey made a run at the title with the second-biggest bag on Championship Sunday at 18-0. Several misses, including one that surely would have made up his 1-14 difference to winner Hank Cherry, will haunt him. Even with a $50,000 consolation check, Arey felt awful. Cherry knows what that’s like as he lost a potential winning fish in 2013. “I feel bad for Matt,” Cherry said, “and I told him I’ve been where he was. I had the same thing happen to me and mine happened a lot closer to the boat.”
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Even though he didn’t catch one of the largest fish, Hank Cherry was way above the average in repeating as champion. Cherry took the lead early on Day 2 with a 4-12 and 6-0. His bag of 17-10 gave him 37-14 and a lead of 4-12 heading into Championship Sunday. In winning last year’s Classic on Lake Guntersville, Cherry led by 4-13 then won by 6-11.
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Brock Mosley, who had four fish on Days 1 and 2, brought in the biggest bag on Championship Sunday as well as the biggest fish. A 6-13 bolstered Mosley’s 19-1 and rocketed the Collinsville, Miss., angler from 16th to fifth. Good friends with Cherry, Mosley was brought up onstage for a bear hug with the champion.
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Struggling with two fish early, Cherry landed a 4-pounder around 10:25 a.m. to regain the lead. He went on to bag 13-1 and win with 50-15. “I’m not giving it back — not apologizing for it. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” he said. Cherry is the fourth repeat champion in 51 Classics and the seventh angler to win more than one title. Cherry doubled up on $300,000 checks in a span of 1 year, 3 months and 5 days, and with it claimed legendary status in bass fishing.
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The big bass of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain, July 8-11, played monster roles, even though the biggest weren’t quite as big as in previous events on the northern fishery. Dale Hightower kicked off the hit parade with this 5-15 largemouth that earned the daily Phoenix Boats Big Bass and held on through four days.
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Seth Feider, the AOY leader since the fourth event of the year, was looking to maintain or gain at Champlain, where he was runner-up last year with the big bass of 6-6. Feider, knowing one bad day could spell disaster for his AOY hopes, landed a 5-11 in his Day 2 19-7 bag to stand fifth. By finishing fourth, Feider reached his fourth Top 10 of the season and went into the season finale leading AOY by 55 points. Feider won AOY, the first from Minnesota to do so.
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Keith Combs started slowly but reached the final day with the big bag of Day 3. He had the Phoenix Boats Big Bass, a 5-pounder, in catching 20-14. Combs was third just 3-10 out of the lead and added excitement to the final day, landing some oversize bass on a topwater. Several bass just shy of 4 pounds helped him cull to 19-3 and finish second with 77-13, just 8 ounces back of winner Bryan Schmitt.
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Austin Felix, the 2020 Rookie of the Year, had the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 4 at 4-13 that gave him 19-6, the day’s biggest bag. Felix also held or tied for the BassTrakk lead three times before finishing fifth with 76-6, 1-15 back of the winning weight on the tightest leaderboard of the season. After some poor events early in the season, Felix made the Top 10 in four of the past five events to take 12th in the AOY.
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Schmitt, a known threat on his “favorite lake,” having won previous events there including the 2016 Basspro.com Open, started with two bags topping 20 pounds and held a lead of almost 2-8 going into Championship Sunday. Starting slowly, he thought he didn’t catch enough but a 3-8 on his last spot heading in gave him the pound cull he needed to weigh 16-1 and win with 78-6. The victory helped Schmitt climb the AOY standings and secure an automatic berth into next year’s Classic.
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Bernie Schultz went into the Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River needing to win to secure the tournament’s automatic Classic berth. The 66-year-old Florida pro was on his way with the big bag of 25-5 on Day 1 that included the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of 6-2 and another approaching 5-8. Schultz held the lead with 22-9 on Day 2 but 16-15 then 15-9 dropped him to eighth.
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Patrick Walters recovered from a poor Day 1, when he managed only three bass to stand 91st. This 6-5, which took the Day 2 and overall Phoenix Boats Big Bass awards, helped him climb to 77th. Walters dropped from second in AOY to finish fourth.
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Takumi Ito, still working on his English, said his Skeeter was “smallmouth Disneyland,” and the second-year pro handed out fast passes to all the big kids. Ito, who said he found a school of maybe 100 5-pound smallmouth out on Lake Ontario, started 38th, moved to 11th then had the Phoenix Boats Big Bass at 6-0 in his Day 3 23-3 bag.
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It was “Taku time” on Championship Sunday as the animated pro climbed from seventh place, landing a number of fish around 6 pounds. His 6-0 took big bass honors, and his 26-0 gave him 90-0 to win his first Elite by 4 ounces. He laughed and, overcome with emotion, cried on stage in one of the most touching moments of the season that offered, Big Bass, Big Stage, Big Dreams.