While fans and followers of the Bassmaster Elite Series might have been a bit spoiled from the triple meat served up at Lake Fork, the Whataburger Elite at Neely Henry Lake, while a smaller serving, was a satisfying meal just the same. Here’s the complete menu of big bass from the event that ended with home-town angler Wes Logan taking his first victory.
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Lightning storms during practice sent anglers scrambling for cover and heavy rains delayed the start one day due to dangerous conditions. When the 98 Elites launched from the Gadsden City Boat Docks on Friday, the river section was 4 feet high while Alabama Power dropped water levels in the lower end. It was a puzzle Todd Auten figured out. On Day 1, he caught this 4-pound, 8-ounce bass in a limit weighing 15-2, good for sixth. He finished 10th, jumping from 80th in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year points to 68th, giving him hope to climb within range of making the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.
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Matt Arey had more consistently sized fish in his limit of 15-4, good for fourth place. Arey had been struggling this year compared to the past two years, but his good start led to a solid showing at Neely Henry and a climb inside the Classic cut.
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Clark Wendlandt, last year’s AOY winner, was way down the point standings. This 5-4, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, helped Wendlandt get a great start as it was almost one-third of his 15-13 that put him third. Although he didn’t find a big bite the next two days and finished 13th, Wendlandt moved up 11 spots to 55th in points and renewed his Classic hopes. He has the final three events to climb inside the 39 who receive berths via the points.
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Bryan New, who won the season opener on the St. Johns River, was king of the culvert as he landed most of his second-place 16-7 from a flowing pipe. New finished sixth at Neely Henry to jump 19 spots in the AOY standings and regain the lead for Rookie of the Year.
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Brock Mosley continued his impressive run with the day’s biggest bag of 16-15, which was bolstered by a 5-0 and another close to it. Mosley was chasing his fourth Top 10 of the season, which included runner-up finishes at the Sabine River and Pickwick Lake.
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There were more big fish landed on Day 2, as well as some big turnarounds. Hunter Shryock had managed only one fish on Day 1 and dropped 20 spots in the points. His 15-11 limit, the biggest on Day 2, took out some of the sting as he climbed 30 positions to finish 65th in the event. That rally staved off disaster as he fell only six spots to 24th in the AOY race.
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With 14-14, the second biggest of Day 2, Brandon Palaniuk jumped from 54th to 17th. His bid to join the Top 10 on Championship Monday fell just over a pound short, but his 11th-place finish landed him fourth in AOY, 63 points behind the leader.
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Seth Feider had solid 13-7 and 12-7 bags but missed reaching the final day by just over a pound. His 12th-place finish, combined with Patrick Walters narrowly missing the cut, pushed Feider’s AOY lead from 4 to 41 points heading down the stretch with Guntersville, Champlain and St. Lawrence remaining on the season.
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Bob Downey had one of the five 5-pounders on Day 2. His 5-6 caught in the final five minutes gave him 13-2. Downey, who led much of Day 3, had his third limit in the 13-pound range and began Championship Sunday in third. With only 8-14, he slipped down to finish seventh.
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Luke Palmer landed this 5-7 on Day 2 when 76 of the field caught limits, up eight from the first day. The bass was about a sixth of Palmer’s three-day total of 31-3, which had him finish 29th and move up five AOY spots to 38th.
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Greg DiPalma’s big bass on Day 2 was the highlight of his tournament. It weighed 5-10, the lion’s share of his 12-10 on four fish. Without the lunker, DiPalma would have missed the cut and its $10,000 payout.
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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 points. Prince saved disaster with this 5-11, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, to weigh 11-12 and finish 87th. He fell from 46th to 59th in points, but it could have been worse.
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With a pair of 4-plus pounders, Drew Benton had 14-8 on Day 2 to reach sixth, but his five bass totaling only 8-0 dropped him to 14th, failing to reach Championship Monday and fish on his 33rd birthday.
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Of course, big bass have the added bonus of Phoenix Boats Big Bass checks. Clifford Pirch shows his Happy Gilmore poster board for the 9-13 that won daily and overall prizes from Lake Fork. The bonuses still come even though Phoenix Boats found Gary Clouse had to take a medical hardship for the remainder of the Elite season.
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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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Jason Christie, who won on the Sabine River in April, improved each day as well, with 11-3 to 12-15 and then he jumped to sixth with a bag of 14-14. One of the best finishers on the Elites, Christie had 13-13 on Championship Monday to take fourth with 52-13. It moved him five spots in the AOY to fifth.
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The big bag of Semifinal Sunday came from eventual winner Logan, who landed a 5-4 to bolster his 16-15 limit. He began ninth with 14-1, moved to eighth with 12-8 and climbed atop the leaderboard on his home lake by tying for biggest limit of the tournament. His mother posted it was the best Mother’s Day gift he could present her.
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Arey slipped into the last spot of the Top 10 to fish the finale, and the day’s biggest bag at 15-2 moved him up to fifth. It not only increased his payout $5,000 to $20,000, but he moved inside the Classic cut to 36th from 54th.
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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. Mueller entered Championship Monday just 1-2 behind Logan but took the lead with this 6-6.
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Swindle had a fast start but was supplanted atop the leaderboard by Mueller. Swindle, who has won two AOY titles and an Open in his 291 B.A.S.S. tournaments, had 15-0 on Day 4 but an Elite trophy again eluded him. He finished third with 54-2, moving 14 spots in the points to 20th as he vies for his 19th Classic appearance.
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Despite his huge building block — his 6-6 won overall Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the event — Mueller only managed 13-13 to finish second. He was 1-6 from forcing a fishoff, which he would have managed with his weight from either of the first two days. The runner-up finish was worth $37,000 with bonuses. While he jumped 16 spots to 65th in the points, Mueller has some work to do to reach his fourth Classic.
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Although he missed several big fish throughout the event, Logan caught enough to win on the fishery he’s plied since he was 5 years old. Logan landed a 3-12 midday to take over the lead and built a bag going 14-1 for the winning total of 57-9. It was the Springville, Ala., pro’s first victory in 26 B.A.S.S. events. He is the 10th first-time Elite winner in the past 14 tournaments.
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It was an emotional victory for Logan, who had generations of his family around as well as girlfriend, Riley Michelle Smith. “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!”