As in every event, bass much larger than the average fish played major roles in the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake. A storm on the eve of Day 1 dumped inches of rain and forced two days of postponement. The lake level rose six feet by the time anglers got to fish Saturday, but Pickwick giants still showed.
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Buddy Gross got things rolling with this 6-pound, 9-ounce largemouth. That fish and its near twin helped the 2020 Eufaula Lake champion start in second place with 23-3. Gross couldn’t duplicate the feat the next three days to finish 10th.
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Todd Auten didn’t catch anything close to matching this 6-11, the third largest bass on Day 1 and more than one-third of his 17-13 that had him in the hunt at 16th. Without a big bite the next two days, Auten managed bags nearing 12 pounds and fell to 42nd.
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Behind this 7-5 largemouth, Brandon Card started two spots behind Auten in 18th with 17-10. The lunker might have been the difference in making the Top 50 cut as his four fish on Day 2 knocked him down to 47th, but he lived to fish another day.
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One fish also made a huge difference for Clark Wendlandt, who took the Phoenix Boats Big Bass on the first day with this 7-6. Fishing near the Pickwick Dam, Wendlandt stood sixth with 20-1 but changing conditions changed his outcome. He came in with only one fish on Day 2 to fall outside the cut at 60th. Without his big, Wendlandt would have been in the 80s.
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Having several fish well over the Day 1 average of 3-2, Chad Pipkens stood fourth after the first day with 21-1, aided by a fish entered on BassTrakk as 5-5. Pipkens was fishing a bladed jig in a current seam around a popular island in the mid-lake region.
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Two largemouth around 5 pounds in a bag of 23-3 helped river specialist Bill Lowen stand second on Day 1. Lowen made the right adjustments to relocate bass, which had moved with the rising waters. Figuring out where and how to land them was the trick, and Lowen excelled.
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Koby Kreiger plied the gushing water spilling over Wilson Dam to find this pair of smallmouth. He entered a smallmouth early on BassTrakk as a 6-6 then had another close in weight in his leading limit of 25-12, which held as the largest in the event.
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On Day 2, Scott Martin made a move with this 6-8 and it’s slightly smaller brother in a limit of 22-13. With a solid first day of 18-5, Martin jumped to third place. The average bass on the day went up to 3-4, and 63 of the 100 pros caught limits, up from 51 the previous day as the Elites continued to figure things out.
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Hank Cherry, fishing down lake in the tri-state area, reported he was catching good numbers, which included this Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day, a 7-11. With 22-9, he jumped from 34th into 10th place. A limit of 19-12 on Day 3 put him fifth, where he finished the tournament for a $21,000 payout.
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After a modest first day (13-4) that had Bryan Schmitt near the cutline, the Maryland angler had consistent overs in his 23-8 limit. The second biggest bag on the day moved him to 12th. Another 20 pounds on Monday advanced him into Championship Tuesday, where Schmitt had a modest limit of 15-2 to take eighth.
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Lowen was again consistent in catching larger-than-average bass on Day 2, hauling 23-13 to the scales to stand second. The largest limit of the day gave Lowen a two-day total of 45-0 and had him 11 ounces out of the lead.
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Mixing largemouth and smallmouth in his 19-15 limit, Kreiger retained the lead with 45-11. Fishing from the tailrace to McFarland Park, Kreiger could not find the monster bites on Day 3 as the flow from Wilson slowed. He only managed three fish for 10-10 on Day 3 and missed the cut at 11th by half a pound.
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Chad Morgenthaler was on the opposite end of the spectrum, starting near the bottom of the pack (89th) then finding the bass to climb up the leaderboard. He had the fifth biggest bag on Day 2 at 22-2 but came up an ounce short of the Top 50 cut with 25-3. Drew Benton had 25-5 to stand 48th, and Paul Mueller was last man in at 25-4. Pre-tournament favorite Greg Hackney also fell ounces short with 25-2, falling from 32nd. Morgenthaler gained 39 Angler of the Year points while Hackney fell out of the AOY lead.
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Kyle Welcher began right on the cut line then advanced by standing 40th before a big Day 3 move. Aided by a pair of lunker largemouth, the Alabama angler busted the second-largest bag Monday, 24-11, to finish 13th. The average fish weight on the two final days was 3-8.
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It was a steady week for Louisiana’s Tyler Rivet, who was catching great numbers off pea gravel points near Mississippi. Starting 22nd, he climbed to 11th then fourth with his Day 3 bag of 21-0, when he caught close to 40 fish and brought in a nice limit of solid bass. Making his first Elite Top 10, Rivet closed with 14-14 to take sixth and cash his biggest paycheck of $19,000.
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Fat smallmouth saw Brandon Card make a comeback from a four-fish second day. Card, who had the second biggest largemouth on Day 1, weighed the second heaviest smallmouth in the event, a 6-5, in his 21-3 bag. He gained 17 spots on the day to take 30th.
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After slipping to sixth with 18-5, the second-smallest limit on the day among the top 15, Pipkens found the big fish around his island, which he shared with other Elites. His 23-3, the third largest of Monday’s semifinal, sent him into the finale tied for the lead with 62-10, but only two fish on Day 4 left him ninth.
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Cory Johnston jumped from 22nd to third with the big bag of Day 3, 25-5. The second largest creel in the event, which included the day’s Phoenix Boats Big Bass of 7-2, left him 3-9 back of the leaders and in position to become the third Canadian to win an Elite. His brother, Chris, won in 2020 on the St. Lawrence River and last month fellow Canuck Jeff Gustafson won on the Tennessee River. A good run with 19-15 on Championship Tuesday -- he led twice during the day -- left Cory third, but the high finish catapulted him into the AOY conversation and earned $31,000.
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Fishing the tailrace region, Steve Kennedy was in contention for a fourth Elite title. The veteran was consistent with bags of 18-11, 20-9 and 17-9 to go into the final day in 10th, 5-13 out of the lead. He caught this 6-4 smallmouth in his 20-7 bag that landed him fourth with 77-4 and a $25,000 check.
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Brock Mosley was in the title hunt all week, starting with 19-9 then 21-8 before slipping on Day 3 with 16-12. A slow starter on those days, he turned that around on Championship Tuesday. Mosley landed a 4-0 early to take the lead, lost it but went back on top with a 5-4. Johnston and Lowen both took BassTrakk leads but a late 5-0 had Mosley atop the unofficial leaderboard heading into the weigh-in. He finished with the day’s big bag of 22-14 to total 80-11 and take the second-place money, $35,000.
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The big bass that eluded Lowen the first three days came mid-morning, and it proved to be the game-changer. The night before, 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. While in the excitement of landing a potential winning fish, Lowen said it was 7- to 10-pounder, but he entered it in BassTrakk as a 7-4. Lowen was low on all his bass that day.
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Lowen’s estimated total of 16-10 turned into 20-11 on the scales for a winning total of 83-5. His largemouth weighed 8-5, as The Sooch guessed on Bassmaster LIVE (check the tape), to win both the daily and event Phoenix Boats Big Bass. It was a popular victory for the eminently likeable Lowen, who scored his first win in 159 B.A.S.S. events. Big Bass, Big Stage, Big Dreams became reality for Lowen, the man with a big heart who elicited great emotion from his family and many friends, proving once again there is crying in tournament bass fishing.
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The oversized bass that impacted Elite stop on Pickwick Lake