While most everything else is bigger in Texas, the big fish on the Sabine weren’t nearly as hefty as in previous events, yet those larger-than-average bass were critical for anglers in the Dovetail Games Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River sponsored by Bassmaster 2022, the video game.
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There were 71 limits on Day 1 among 98 Elites, and Lee Livesay benefited from a bass more than twice as large as the average of 1 pound, 10 ounces. Livesay’s 3-9 kicker in his limit would be among the smaller keepers on the next Elite stop at Lake Fork where he guides, but his fish helped him to stand fourth with 12-8, and he parlayed that into a Top 10.
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Caleb Kuphall of Wisconsin caught a 4-2 and its near twin in his 13-0 limit that had him third on Day 1. While he also caught five the next two days, Kuphall couldn’t duplicate his big double feature and just missed making the Top 10.
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Matt Robertson was On’em at the Sabine, including a 3-8 in a limit of 10-11 that had him sitting eighth after Day 1. Like Kuphall, he filled his livewell on Days 2 and 3 but couldn’t match the quality, falling short of Championship Sunday by 8 ounces.
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Louisiana’s Robbie Latuso, among those expected to do well on the Sabine, landed a 4-9 to wow the Orange crowd but only had one other fish to start off a disappointing 69th with 5-10. Without the lunker -- more than triple the average fish weighed -- he would have started almost last. A healthy Day 3 limit of 9-3 earned him a check at 38th.
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Marc Frazier landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 1, and this 6-6 also held out as largest of the event, doubling his bonus to $2,000. Frazier had only two fish on the second day but a limit on Semifinal Saturday allowed him to post his best Elite finish at 26th, one notch up from Pickwick Lake. It also helped him gain 10 spots in the Angler of the Year standings to 44th, where he sits in position to qualify for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic.
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Making a risky, two-hour run up the Sabine River, Oklahoma’s Jason Christie filled the boat with quality, including one nearing 4 pounds. His five fish weighed 15-1 and put the five-time B.A.S.S. winner in second place for Day 1.
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Coming off a runner-up finish at Pickwick, Mississippi’s Brock Mosley continued his stellar run after making a huge run in the opposite direction of Christie. Mosley traveled two hours, crossing Galveston Bay, to ply Clear Creek near Houston. Mosley quickly caught a limit, including a 3-pound cull early, then made a giant move with a 5-6. It was the second largest fish of the event and helped him gain the Day 1 lead with 15-10. It was three times the smallest limit of the day, 4-10 brought in by Shane Lineberger who called it his personal low for five bass.
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Big fish raise the heart rate and sometimes pull at the heart strings. Bill Lowen, who landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass in the previous event at Pickwick Lake, was touched that duck hunting friend Clint Shipman drove all the way to Orange to surprise him with a replica of his 8-5 that propelled him to victory. Lowen also held up a poster-sized check from Phoenix Boats for $2,000 for winning the daily and overall awards.
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Kenta Kimura turned things around on Day 2 with one of the 10 limits topping 10 pounds, four less double-digit bags than Day 1. Kimura started 98th with one bass weighing a pound, but his 12-1 limit gained him 38 AOY points as he climbed to finish 60th.
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John Cox, showing two fish including a 3-plus, put himself into the Top 10 with 11-5 on Day 2 when the average weight went down to 1-8 but two more anglers caught limits. A big bite eluded him on Day 3 with a limit of 5-14 to finish 16th.
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Mark Menendez suffered the small fish syndrome on Day 1, but his Day 2 limit of 9-4, bolstered by this 4-4, propelled him from 67th to 38th. He found quality again on Day 3, and his 10-4 was among the 10 bags eclipsing double digits. Menendez climbed to finish 19th and moved nine spots up the AOY standings to 14th.
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Brandon Card was the only other angler fishing up the Sabine River near Christie. While his first day wasn’t half as fruitful, he landed a 4-4 in his 11-11 day that saw him move into 11th. Rising water hurt Card on Day 3, when the fickle nature of the Sabine dealt him a zero, dropping him to 40th.
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Chris Johnston relied on consistency in his fourth-place finish. With a number of 3-pounders, the first Canadian to win an Elite weighed in 12-4 to tie for second biggest bag on Day 2. He moved to third with 10-11 and was within 3-8 of the leaders but dropped a spot with 7-12 on Championship Sunday.
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Luke Palmer was all smiles to land this bass entered as 3-6 on BassTrakk. It came in a 10-7 bag that put him 10th, but that quality eluded him on Day 3 with a 5-7 limit. Palmer finished 24th to move 15 spots in the AOY race to 50th.
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Taking the early BassTrakk lead on Day 2, Seth Feider weighed 10-13 to get inside the Top 10. A 10-2 on Saturday gave him a shot at winning as he started the final day 4-15 out of the lead, but 8-11 dropped him to sixth. Feider came into the event second in AOY points, 16 behind Patrick Walters, but topped him by 24 spots to head to Lake Fork with an 8-point lead.
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Rookie KJ Queen landed a 4-6, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 2, in a limit weighing 9-12. It backed an 11-5 first day and helped him to his first Top 10 in the Elites. Queen climbed 17 spots in the AOY standings to 36th.
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With high winds forecast to build on Day 2, Mosley said he would not make the run across the big water of Galveston Bay, but after being chided by other competitors, he made the decision to go minutes before blastoff. While he didn’t find the bigs, he landed a solid 12-4 to stand second.
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An accomplished spinnerbait angler, Christie used it to land several fish in the 3-pound range on Day 2. Getting back from a long run to Big Cow Creek was a major concern for Christie because there were no gas stops on the route. Adding a cameraman to his already stripped down Xpress Boat, Christie made it back to Orange with less than a gallon of gas, allowing him to weigh his 13-14 and take the lead, 1-1 ahead of Mosley. Christie and Mosley were on a two-man breakout, more than 5-8 ahead of the closest in the field. But things changed.
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Mosley returned to Canine Cove -- dogs were barking at him in almost every back yard in the canal -- to higher water. It affected his bite, and he could only manage 6-14. Meanwhile Christie, 130 miles northeast of Mosley at his spot, had backflow from Toledo Bend Dam releases raise his water level 6 feet. He only mustered 6-12, and the field gained.
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Drew Cook, falling five spots to 20th on Day 2, caught his biggest bag of the tournament, 11-10, on Day 3 to be the 10th and final angler to reach Championship Sunday. These 3-pounders helped, and he landed the second largest on Day 4 at 3-6 to weigh 10-14 and climb to fifth, earning a $20,000 payout.
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Kyle Welcher was in the hunt, posting double digit bags on Days 1 and 3. These two helped him weigh 11-12, the second largest on Day 3, to jump into seventh. A slower Sunday, 7-13, had him finish eighth, but it put the second-year pro from Alabama sixth in the AOY standings, just 41 points from the lead.
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Hanging in the Top 20 the first two days, Caleb Sumrall made a move on Day 3 when much of the field struggled as pressure affected their areas. He started the day almost 10 pounds off the lead, but landed a 4-0 in his 11-6 to stand fifth, 5-1 from the lead. His smallest bag of 7-7 on Sunday dropped him to seventh.
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Johnston also gained ground on leaders with his Day 3 bag of 10-11. He was more than 7 pounds out but went into the final day in third with a shot to win, only 3-8 back of Christie. Johnston’s 7-12 limit dropped him a spot, but he made a monster move up the AOY leaderboard, from 26th to eighth. More important to him, he passed his brother, who fell from sixth to 18th in the year-long point race.
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Second-year Elite Takumi Ito of Japan had the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 3, a 4-10 that also gave him the day’s largest bag at 12-4. Ito rocketed up the standings from 19th to sixth, standing 6-0 off the lead entering Championship Sunday.
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Ito, who was finesse fishing structure like he learned from highly pressured fisheries in his home country, again brought in the biggest bass on Day 4, a 3-7 that added $2,000 in bonus money from Phoenix Boats to his $30,000 payday for taking third. His finish allowed a big move in the AOY, from 60th to 37th, inside the Classic cut.
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Mosley abandoned his long run to Clear Creek on Championship Sunday, sticking closer to Orange and weighing 7-13 to finish second with 42-9. It was his second consecutive runner-up, worth $35,000. Mosley has made five Top 10s in the past 10 Elites, and he stands fifth in the AOY standings after finishing fourth in 2020.
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Adjustments were key for Christie, who went farther up Big Cow Creek as he scoured maps Saturday night and discovered steeper banks. The higher water gave him straighter lines and cut his gas consumption, so finding bigger bass was his main concern. Christie went into Championship Sunday leading Mosley by 15 ounces and caught 8-4 to total 43-15 and win by 1-6.
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It was Christie’s sixth victory in B.A.S.S. competition and his fourth blue trophy. He ties Greg Hackney for second-most wins among active Elites, pulling away from Brandon Palaniuk, Jay Yelas and David Fritts with five. Christie and Hackney, both of whom re-qualified for the Elites through the Basspro.com Opens in 2020, stand 10 wins behind Rick Clunn. The win jumped Christie up the AOY standings from 21st to fourth.