Unlike 2020, when the Bassmaster Elite Series campaign dragged on past Halloween and into deer season, 2021 is hardly half over, and we’re already staring the finish line in the face. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Seth Feider all but cemented his Bassmaster Angler of the Year effort with a Top 10 at Lake Champlain, but there’s still plenty of jostling left to do for end-of-year positions.
Lots of anglers are fishing for something, whether that’s an outside shot at AOY, a Bassmaster Classic berth, requalifying for the Elites or just one final paycheck before the long drive home. You can bet your last MaxScent Flat Worm that no one is giving up quite yet.
The anglers will have the opportunity to go out with a bang on a venue that is familiar to just about all of them, since it’s been a recurring Elite stop in recent years. Like Champlain, it’s a fishery where everyone is going to catch them, making good decisions and fractions of ounces critical. Unlike Champlain, even though the St. Lawrence has a decent largemouth fishery, it’s unlikely to play a major role in the outcome — at least not for top finishers.
Stick with anglers who have proven big-water success with bronze bass, especially if they have something meaningful to prove or earn at this late stage of the year. Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: CHRIS JOHNSTON
My pick: This may be the most stacked bucket in recent Elite Series history, with likely AOY Feider, past winner Brandon Palaniuk, Patrick Walters and both Johnstons, among other hammers. I’m going with Chris Johnston, who has finished first and second the last two times B.A.S.S. has visited the big border fishery. The only thing that could harm him is having to split water with his brother.
Solid alternate: If Seth Feider proved anything this past week, it’s that he’s not letting off the gas one iota, so a win up north could be the final element of one of the greatest Elite seasons in recent memory.
BUCKET B: MOSLEY
My pick: Brock Mosley is starting to get some recognition, but even then it’s not consistent with level of excellence he’s shown over the past several years, including up north. The Mississippi pro has second- and third-place finishes on the St. Lawrence, and while he’s well inside the Classic cut you know he’s hungry to open the win jar.
Solid alternate: Jeff Gustafson wasn’t the first Canadian to win an Elite event, but with his nearly unparalleled smallmouth knowledge he could be the first one to win two of them.
BUCKET C: COMBS
My pick: Keith Combs has historically done well at the St. Lawrence power fishing for big brown while most others dragged plastics. He may need a second consecutive Top 10 if he’s going to make the Classic, and after missing by one point last year you can be certain he’ll pull no punches to get it done. He has three prior Top 10 finishes in the Waddington area.
Solid alternate: Ed Loughran has northern smallmouth experience dating back to before some of the Elite rookies were born. He finished 28th here last year and seems much more comfortable in his Elite shoes with each passing event.
BUCKET D: MUELLER
My pick: His five Elite finishes at the St. Lawrence have been all over the map, but I think that Paul Mueller’s runner-up finish last year is more indicative of his talents than, say, the 86th in 2018. Look for him to ride forward-facing sonar to a solid paycheck, even if a Classic berth is out of range without a win.
Solid alternate: Reigning AOY Clark Wendlandt has had a mostly forgettable season, but like Loughran he’s been fishing this place forever. He was eighth here last year and can salvage 2021 with a good check to close out the year.
BUCKET E: DEMARION
My pick: I picked Destin DeMarion at Champlain, and he rewarded my faith in him with a sixth-place finish. He was 53rd at the St. Lawrence last year, but there’s no doubt he understands smallmouth. He could and should carry over the momentum to end a tough season with a bang.
Solid alternate: Fellow northerner Garrett Paquette finished 14th here last year, and he may be fighting for his Elite life. There’s no doubt that a bronzeback fishery is where he’d like to wage that battle.