Tank, pig, toad, hawg, slaunch, stud and whale are all terms about to be a standard part of the vocabulary of Bassmaster Elite Series anglers as we move into the seventh regular season event on the absolutely legendary smallmouth bass paradise, the St. Lawrence River.
Nearly every time we visit the region, the winning weight seems to rise. Last year in 2018, it took a whopping 95-pounds to take home the blue trophy. That equates to a nearly 24-pound average for four days. In 2017, there were 48 bags over 20-pounds on the first day. In 2018, they backed that up by posting 52 bags over 20-pounds with nearly 49 percent of the field landing above that mark. Expect similar results with this smaller field. It will likely take a 4.75-pound average to see your way to Sunday and close to a 4-pound average just to get paid.
While the footage of guys hugging footballs might be familiar, how and where these anglers catch them will likely be different. In years past, it has really been a deep-water fishery. With the high water in the late spring, it has these fish behind their normal schedule. Some areas might see postspawn fish offshore, but I fully expect the majority of the fish to come in less than 8 feet of water. Crystal clear water and giant, spawning smallmouth means I’m banking on eagle eyes that aren’t afraid of light line and spinning rods.
BUCKET A: FEIDER
Seth Feider (The ‘Stache) is heading back up North. He has had an awesome season so far and is currently eighth place in AOY. That kind of momentum plus the northern swing will be dangerous, and it won’t surprise anyone if he is holding the AOY trophy by the end of the season. Feider is a finesse freak and loves smallmouth more than his own momma. He has three previous finishes here and they include 10th, 12th and 34th place. That’s nearly an unrivaled average finish for this fishery.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT: HALF THE BUCKET
Brandon Lester landed in third in 2018 and if it weren’t for one lost 6-pounder at the boat, he may have won. If you want another solid option, consider Lee Livesay. he has been sneakily throwing out some videos on his social media that he took during pre-practice looking at absolute giants up shallow. He is a stellar sight fisherman and is lethal with a swimbait. Both of those techniques will play huge. The Johnston brothers can’t be undervalued either. With their smallmouth prowess, I expect to see one or both of them near the top come Sunday. Chris Zaldain will also be one to watch. I seem to recall him catching a few on swimbaits this year already. He also has some sneaky little tricks up his sleeves if his results in 2015 are any indication. His main trick that year rhymes with barabou hair jig.
BUCKET B: COMBS
Keith Combs has been a force basically every time B.A.S.S. has been here. He has two single-digit finishes logged and two other solid finishes (23rd and 31st) in the four prior tournaments here. He tends to do things a little differently, and it works out. He is stellar offshore, but is a great sight fisherman too. With him in 29th in AOY points, he will be looking to move up those standing to secure his Classic spot.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT: CHERRY
You can bet that Hank Cherry will go to sleep with a smile on his face after each tournament day because he knows he gets to wake up and throw a jerkbait for giant smallies. There may not be a better jerkbait fisherman in the field and if they’re shallow and the weather cooperates, it’ll play huge.
BUCKET C: WENDLANDT
I’m taking a bit of a risk here picking Clark Wendlandt, but I equate it to betting that the Patriots will make it to the Big Game. Light line, clear water and sight fishing will all need to be in the holster if you want to do well here, and he has shown he can hang in those conditions. He’s also going to work hard to jump up the AOY standings as he is riding that Classic bubble.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT: J-WILLY
Jason Williamson is a super versatile fisherman. He loves a spinning rod and has a proven track record in clear water fisheries. If he can stay on top of the fish, he will make a good showing.
BUCKET D: SCHULTZ
Bernie Schultz may have a Florida mailing address, but his heart is up north. His record speaks for itself. His record boasts sixth-, 12th-, and 15th-place finishes here. Last year, he burned me and finished in 104th, but I am going to chalk that up to a fluke. I plan on seeing him back to his old habits and jackin’ some momma smalljaws come Sunday.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT: GUSTAFSON
If his ownership percentage wasn’t so high, I might be considering Jeff Gustafson a little more seriously. He definitely has earned his reputation on this type of fishery. His edge will come in his ability to read the conditions and adjust accordingly.
BUCKET E: MORRIS
As usual, Bucket E has a slough of guys who have had exceptionally tough seasons. That includes guys like Rick Clunn who even won the first event of 2019. Momentum isn’t something you can really count on in this bucket so you have to go to your secondary reasoning, which for me is history. Rick Morris fished with the Elites through 2014 and did not have a great showing when we visited Waddington in 2013, finishing in 82nd. However, last year he punched out a sixth-place finish. This place has changed a lot since 2013. I’m hoping he figured something out last year that he can duplicate this time around.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT: KENNEDY
Swimbaits once again should play. It might behoove you to watch the local weather as we get closer. If it looks to be cloudy or breezy, that could really hurt the sight fishing bite and really boost the moving bait bite. That could play straight into Steve Kennedy’s wheelhouse.