Rookie class of 2020 gaining strength

The current crop of Elite Series rookies has been lauded as an exceptionally strong class, and justifiably so. Bryan New and KJ Queen are separated by only eight points at the top of the Rookie of the Year standings. Those two, Josh Stracner and Justin Hamner and Marc Frazier are ranked 46th or higher in the Angler of the Year standings, and New won the opening Elite Series event of the season at the St. Johns River.

However, with the emergence of Caleb Kuphall at Lake Guntersville, the 2020 rookie class is going to be hard to beat over the test of time. Kuphall finished sixth in the ROY rankings last year. Just above him in fifth place was Wes Logan. When this day ends, those two are going to be the most recent winners on the Elite Series. And consider who finished above them: 1) Rookie of the Year Austin Felix, 2) Kyle Welcher, 3) Buddy Gross, and 4) Taku Ito.Those four qualified to fish the 2021 Bassmaster Classic in Fort Worth in two weeks.

Kuphall's perfect game plan

Caleb Kuphall will, no doubt, look back on this event and see things he could’ve, should’ve done differently. But given the week’s weather and seasonal staging, his general game plan of flipping/punching thick vegetation for postspawn fish was about as nuts-and-bolts perfect as it gets.

Other Top-10 anglers like Chris Zaldain and Chris Johnston have tried to find gold on their offshore spots, while Luke Palmer has fared well spending a good chunk of his time throwing a jerkbait. Bream beds can offer fireworks this time of year, but no one has been able to turn that into a dominant pattern.

Meanwhile, Kuphall’s steady persistence has kept him in the top spot since Day 1 when he caught 27-10 — the tournament’s biggest bag. As of 11 o’clock, Bass Trakk’s unofficial standings showed him with a final-round limit of 15-8 and a tournament total of 82-5, which leads Palmer by 17-4.

In fairness to nine other pros whose hard work has earned their Championship Sunday berths, we don’t crown winners until every bag has been weighed. That being said, few would argue against the seemingly inevitable. 

And it all comes down to Kuphall’s steady-Eddie approach to picking off quality fish cooling their heels in the gnarly stuff.

Bottom line, postspawn fish will move out to ledges when they’re ready, but they can be pretty particular about when they feel like biting at the rate that wins tournaments. Similarly, the ones that remain relatively shallow to mid-depth will chase those reaction baits when surface ripple breaks up visibility and moves bait around.

But dump a ton of hot sunlight on a flat calm day and shallow fish will park their backsides under cover. They get awfully bored under those mats and when a wayward bream, sunfish or gizzard shad ambles into range, the response is swift and severe.

That’s what Caleb Kuphall’s punching technique emulates and that’s why he’s very likely to win his first blue trophy today.

 

Kuphall with a limit

Photo and post by Chris Reynolds

Just prior to 8:00 AM Caleb Kuphall departed the golf course area and headed upriver to flip the primrose mats that yielded some of his larger fish on Thursday and Saturday.  He has continued flipping and every so often manually clears the grass from his trolling motor.  This fish filled his limit and he’s had a couple of culls since then. It’s gonna take a very big bag to beat him, but this is Guntersville where anything is possible.

Feider expands AOY lead

Seth Feider, 14th, 31-11

With two northern smallmouth-dominant tournaments to close the nine-event season, everyone thought this tournament at Lake Guntersville almost had to be where Seth Feider might loosen his grip on the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year title. But he did not. Feider expanded his lead with a 24th-place finish at Lake Guntersville.

AOY points don’t become official until the standings are final. Jason Christie, unless he falls several places on Championship Sunday, will move into second place and Patrick Walters will fall to third. Feider had a 41-point lead over second place Walters after Neely Henry. If Christie finishes fourth, where he started Sunday, Feider’s lead will be 48 points over second place. His lead over Walters, who finished 35th, is 52 points.

This is how incredible Feider's season has been: Guntersville was one of his worst finishes of the season. His “worst finish," if you can call it that, was 29th place at the Tennessee River. Here’s his season in a nutshell: third St. Johns River, 29th Tennessee River, 25th Pickwick Lake, sixth Sabine River, sixth Lake Fork, 12th Neely Henry, 24th Lake Guntersville.

Feider’s going to have a chance to get rested and refreshed before the northern swing, thanks to the unusual placement of the Bassmaster Classic June 11-13 this year, due to previous COVID-19 concerns.

“I’m really looking forward to fishing the Classic and not fishing a tournament for points for a change of pace,” Feider said Saturday. As for the potential Angler of the Year title, he said, “It’s all I think about. I wake up thinking about it. I go to bed thinking about it. I just need six more good days this year, and it will all work out.”

Feider was referring to making the Top 48/Day 2 cut and fishing on Day 3 at New York's St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain. Based on his recent past performances there, Feider is a solid bet to be fishing on Day 4 at those two places. Over the last four seasons, the Elite Series has been to the St. Lawrence River four times. Feider finished 18th last year, 28th in 2019, 10th in 2018 and 34th in 2017. The Elite Series has been to Lake Champlain three times. Feider finished second last year, 24th in 2018 and second in 2017.

Best in the business

"Two of the best in the business...just before take-off this morning...Championship Sunday."

Guntersville site of epic comeback

While the odds are heavily stacked in Caleb Kuphall’s favor today, if anyone can catch him, Lake Guntersville is the place to do it. We’ve seen it here before, and not that long ago. It was on June 24, 2019, that Jamie Hartman came from 10th place - 7 pounds, 2 ounces, back of first place - to win at Lake Guntersville.

Hartman’s 5-bass limit the final day weighed 23-15. That’s half of the equation for an epic comeback today: Guntersville is quite capable of producing a monster bag. Leader Caleb Kuphall demonstrated that this week with his 27-10 limit on Day 1. The other half of the equation is that Guntersville can fish equally as tough. Lots of "here one day, gone the next" scenarios have taken place during tournaments on this lake, which can be just as fickle as it is good for a bass angler.

Logan catches 20 pounds, tips cap to Kuphall

Wes Logan caught a five-bass limit Saturday, topping 20 pounds for the second straight day. It moved him up the standings from 6th place to 2nd. But he can’t foresee moving any higher when the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville concludes Sunday.

“The only way I can win is if I go catch four 10-pounders and a 12-pounder,” said Logan, who won the previous Elite Series tournament at Neely Henry Lake two weeks ago. 

That’s because Caleb Kuphall enters the final day with an 11 ½-pound lead over Logan. The 38-year-old second-year Elite Series angler from Mukwonago, Wis., has led from Day 1, when he weighed 27-10. Kuphall’s lead shrank a few pounds when he weighed 15-10 on Day 2, but he practically slammed the door on everyone else by catching 23-9 Saturday. His three-day total is 66-13. 

“I just got on a good stretch,” Kuphall said. “The conditions were just right today. Yesterday I didn’t catch hardly anything there. Today with the light wind and the sun, everything just set up perfectly to go in there and do damage.”

Kuphall was asked how it feels to have such a big lead going into the final day of the tournament. 

“If you’re going to lead, you might as well lead big, I guess,” he said. “I’ve never been in this position before.”

Wind wasn't Kuphall's friend

Caleb Kuphall wasn’t the picture of confidence yesterday after weighing in only 15 pounds, 10 ounces, as a follow up to his 27-10 on Day 1. And he had no reason to be optimistic about his secondary pattern - flipping isolated mats in shallow water. He said he upgraded only a quarter-pound there on Day 2.

“I don’t see what I’ve got holding up for another two days,” he said.

But Kuphall did have a feeling that the wind had severely hampered him in flipping shallow mats.

“I think the wind really hurt me in that second area," said the 38-year-old, second-year Elite Series pro from Mukwonago, Wis. “It was coming pretty much right up the gut. I had the trolling motor on 80 to 100 percent to hold in that area. When you’re fishing shallow like that in the mats, I think I was spooking a lot of fish.”

Kuphall is spooking them again today - when he swings them in the boat. His 22-pounds, 6-ounce limit has been caught between 9:24 and 12:10, when the sun was high and the wind was practically non-existent.

Seth Feider afternoon update

Seth Feider is probably one big bite away from having an opportunity to fish on Championship Sunday. He’s still got a two pounder in his Ballistic livewell to get rid of and he knows that one Guntersville bass could change that. 
The Daiwa Plano Pro has spent the majority of his day flipping and mixing the frog in where heavier covered mats present themselves. He’s used the frog bite to cull up a few times albeit small culls. 
The Minnesota native is throwing a small profile frog and his flipping setup consists of a 3/4 ounce weight, a 4/0 hook and a large creature bait in green pumpkin. 
Feider made a long run to fish the area that has served as his main areas this week and has indicated he wants to leave by 1:20pm in order to be comfortable making it back by his 2pm check in time. 
Whether the “Amazing Feiderman” cracks the Top 10 or not this weekend, he’ll head into the summer break and the upcoming Classic in Ft. Worth with the AOY lead and two events remaining. 
I know I’m not necessarily supposed to have a favorite but I know I’ll be rooting for Feider the rest of the year! 

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