The boat of Japanese angler Takumi Ito was the happiest place on Earth at the Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River. Ito, still working on his English, said his Skeeter was “smallmouth Disneyland,” and the second-year pro handed out fast passes to all the big kids. He landed a number of fish around 6 pounds on Championship Sunday to climb from seventh place with the event’s biggest bag and win with 90 pounds even. Following is a look at the big bass that made a difference at the 21st B.A.S.S. event on the famed smallmouth factory.
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Caleb Sumrall unlocked the big bites, landing a 5-pound, 11-ounce bass in his Day 1 limit of 22-2 that had him sitting in fourth place. Sumrall, of New Iberia, La., had mixed results in previous events on the St. Lawrence and was attempting to make consecutive Top 10s after a ninth at Lake Champlain the week before.
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Seth Feider, trying to sew up the Bassmaster Elite Angler of the Year title, got off to a slow start. He lost the first four fish he hooked before he got things rolling. Feider caught a 5-3 and its near twin in his 22-0 day that put him fifth and made his AOY lead seem safe. He wrapped up an amazing run to the title with 20-3 on Day 2 to stand eighth in the event. While he finished 13th, his 787 points gave him the AOY by a margin of 61 points.
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Brandon Cobb benefited from this 5-12 in a 21-1 bag that put him 10th. His 11th-place finish gave him the points to climb from 12th in the AOY standings to ninth and earn a $10,000 bonus.
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Chris Johnston, who last year had 97-8 on the St. Lawrence to become the first Canadian Elite winner, started off with 23-7 to tie his brother, Cory, for second. The Johnstons, who cut their teeth on the fishery, had big bass stacked up in Lake Ontario with plans to share their wealth. With 22-14 on Day 2, Chris stayed among the leaders but couldn’t find the kicker bite either of the final two days to finish fifth.
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Cory Johnston had a 5-5 in his bag of 23-7, then his Day 2 22-2 dropped him to third before 23-1 gave him the lead heading into Championship Sunday. Cory, trying to become the third Canadian to win an Elite, never elicited the big bites on the final day, falling to fourth with 19-6. While Chris was AOY runner-up and earned $20,000, Cory’s finish moved him inside the Top 10 to fifth, earning a $10,000 AOY check.
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Bernie Schultz went into the event needing to win to secure his 10th Classic berth, and he was on his way with the big bag of 25-5 on Day 1. It included the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of 6-2 and another approaching 5-8. Schultz held the lead with 22-9 after the second day but 16-15 then 15-9 dropped him to eighth.
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David Mullins needed a good event to climb inside the cutline for the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell. His Day 2 bag of 21-15, including a 5-8, helped him take seventh and move up inside the top 39 receiving automatic berths.
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Lee Livesay, who stood 75th after the first day, jumped inside the 45 cut behind this 5-14 in a Day 2 bag of 22-5. Another 20-13 left him 16th, and with his Lake Fork Elite win and solid season, he finished sixth in the AOY standings.
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Austin Felix backed up his 2020 Rookie of the Year campaign by taking 12th in AOY. After starting with 20-0, Felix caught this 5-14 in his 21-8 bag to make the Top 10.
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Patrick Walters also recovered from a poor Day 1, when he managed only three bass to stand 91st. This 6-5, which took the Day 2 and overall Phoenix Boats Big Bass awards, helped him climb to 77th.
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Chad Pipkens secured his Classic berth with good finishes on the Northern Swing, climbing from outside the cut at Champlain then taking 20th at St. Lawrence. Pipkens was aided by this 5-11 on Day 3.
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Sumrall continued his big bass ways, hauling in a 5-12 that was almost one-third of his Day 3 weight. He finished 14th but was proud to move up a spot and take seventh in the overall AOY standings.
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The winner a week before at Lake Champlain, Bryan Schmitt’s mission at St. Lawrence was to get off the Classic bubble. This 5-12 went a long way in his 21-0 Day 3 that helped him finish 19th and qualify for his first Classic.
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Brandon Palaniuk, a previous winner in a St. Lawrence Elite, stayed in the hunt after two days then catapulted into sixth with Day 3’s biggest bag. His 24-4 was bolstered by this 5-10, but 18-0 on the final day left him sixth.
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After suffering through his first Elite season, Justin Atkins was all-in for the win-and-in aspect of St. Lawrence. The Alabama pro fished in Lake Ontario with great success. He was one of two anglers who topped 20 pounds each day, and his 23-10 on Day 3 had him start Championship Sunday just 12 ounces out of the lead.
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Brad Whatley, who made a deep run on Lake Ontario to reach the Top 10 last year, proved there’s some healthy largemouth in the river. This 5-11 helped him take 22nd.
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Chris Groh had an emotional week as his AOY standing meant he was not going to requalify for the Elites. He wanted to go out with a bang, and his 24-2 Day 2 bag shot Groh from 27th into Championship Sunday. He was 10th by 4 ounces.
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Ito, who said he found a school of maybe 100 5-pound smallmouth out on Lake Ontario, continued his climb. He started 38th, moved to 11th then had the Phoenix Boats Big Bass at 6-0 in his Day 3 bag weighing 23-3. It seemed Ito had a sign on the bottom of his boat saying, “You must be 5 pounds to enter this ride.”
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Groh, a likeable Elite and good friend of many Elites, caught three fish and remained in the hot seat when Felix came in with only one bass. Mullins then knocked Groh off, and in a great gesture asked Groh to help show off his eighth-place finish bass in what was an emotional send-off for Groh.
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Clark Wendlandt, the reigning AOY who suffered through an uncharacteristically poor season, vied for the win-and-in. Fishing Ontario, Wendlandt made a great run at the title with bags topping 20 pounds all four days. His 23-1 on Championship Sunday left him 1-6 short of his mission.
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Atkins caught a 5-11 on Day 4 to give him hope of salvaging his poor year with a Classic berth. However, his weight of 20-14 was 4 ounces short, and he finished runner-up with 88-12.
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Ito’s smallmouth Disneyland was again giving rides to big kids. His BassTrakk was impressive with 5-0, 4-8, 5-8, 5-0, 4-0 for 24-0 total, which was 3 ounces short of Atkins’ total on the unofficial scoreboard. Disputing Ito’s lowball assessment on Bassmaster LIVE that he only had around 22 pounds, cameraman Jake Latendresse said it was more like 26, and he nailed it.
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When Ito weighed, he had 26-0 for 90-0 to win his first Elite by 4 ounces. He laughed and, overcome with emotion, cried on stage with emcee Dave Mercer. The crowd and audience on Bassmaster.com surely did as well as “Taku time” was one of the most touching moments of the season,