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2016 Bassmaster Classic Bracket

Preview

You've probably heard the words "Bassmaster Classic Bracket tournament" mentioned several times this week. What is it exactly?

It's a brand new idea. The Top 8 finishers (listed below) at the Busch Beer Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake will go head-to-head in a bracket format tournament on the Niagara River out of Buffalo, N.Y., July 19-22. The tournament will have $50,000 in prize money, and the winner is guaranteed a spot in the "Super Bowl of Bass Fishing," the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic.

The Classic Bracket will be streamed live on Bassmaster.com and will feature — for the first time ever in Bassmaster competition — catch-weigh-release scoring. That is, competitors will have their catches weighed instantly on the water by judges, and the bass will be released back into the water at the spots where they were caught. Only the heaviest five bass per angler will be counted. Fans will be able to keep up with the weights via BASSTrakk on Bassmaster.com.

Here are the top eight from Cayuga who will fish in the Classic Bracket:

Kevin VanDam
Jordan Lee
Brett Hite
Jacob Powroznik
Koby Kreiger
Keith Combs
Dean Rojas
Drew Benton 

Tour Review

Final tournament breakdown / results

Jerkin' Niagara Smallies

Jerkbaits have always been one of my favorite lures for locating largemouth and smallmouth bass in clear water because it is such a sight-oriented presentation.

That’s why I relied heavily on it here at the Bassmaster Classic Bracket event this week on the Niagara River.

The water is really clear – the bottom is visible in 8 to 10 feet of water in many areas. When I saw the clarity and the scattered grass and rocks during practice, not to mention the strong current, I figured a finesse bait would be tough to present properly.

I also noticed this river has a lot of spot-tail and emerald shiners and saw several diving birds working the baitfish on the flats. I’ve seen the same thing occur in the St. Clair River and Detroit River where I’ve also used a jerkbait effectively under these conditions.

That’s not to say other presentations won’t work, but I discovered the jerkbait was the most efficient way for me to catch them during practice and the first round.

One thing I’ve learned about smallmouth is they will come a long way to bite the jerkbait in clear water. The visually stimulating, erratic action of a jerkbait appeals to the smallmouth’s aggressive nature and it also allows me to cover more water effectively.

I’ve been fishing two different sizes of my Strike King KVD jerkbait at the Niagara - the standard, three-hook 300 series and the deep runner version. I alternate, depending on depth. My colors were pearl/blue and crystal shad, both of which are good baitfish imitators and offer a lot of flash.

The current is so strong in some areas here that it’s impossible to make headway with the trolling motor on high speed. That’s even too strong for muscular smallmouth, so the fish are generally locked on the bottom or tucked behind rocks or weed beds.

The fish are lying there looking up, waiting for these pods of baitfish to blow by where they can race up, grab them and drop back to the bottom. That’s another reason the jerkbait works so well; they see that flash and erratic action and respond instinctively which leads to more bites.

I’m casting up current and jerking the bait hard and fast to make it work in that current. However, I’m jerking on a slack line which makes that bait dart side to side but doesn’t pull it out of the strike zone. I’m fishing it very aggressively, more so than I would if I were fishing for largemouth.

Smallmouth are tough to land in a lake let alone in a heavy current like we have here. That’s why it’s so critical to change out standard jerkbait hooks with something that will hold these fish while you fight them through the current.

I switched to my Mustad KVD No. 4 extra strong, extra short Triple Grip hooks, and it’s made a huge difference in the number of fish I land. A round bend hook – standard on most jerkbaits – has a lot of flex and that’s your worst enemy when fishing fish as strong as smallmouth in current.

Nothing is perfect under these conditions, but at the time of this writing, I haven’t lost many fish. I’m fishing these baits on my Quantum Tour KVD 6-10 medium heavy rod with the Tour KVD baitcaster in 6.6:1 gear ratio. My line is 12-pound, Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon which is equally critical because it helps me get the bait deeper and the lack of stretch allows the bait to work properly.

Perhaps the experiences I’ve encountered here on the Niagara will help you the next time you’re fishing for smallmouth in clear water. The jerkbait isn’t the only choice, but it can be a darn good one when conditions are right.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Close Quarters

BUFFALO, N.Y. – There is nothing more frightening in bass fishing than Kevin VanDam on a roll.

Fresh off a Bassmaster Elite Series win at Cayuga Lake, New York — his second victory of the year — the Kalamazoo, Mich., superstar claimed an early lead in a unique, head-to-head bracket tourney on New York's upper Niagara River that is being live-streamed on Bassmaster.com.

Unlike traditional Elite Series events, an official on each boat immediately weighs the fish and releases it. VanDam, who is matched against Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Drew Benton, ended the morning 3-hour session with a 10-pound, 4-ounce limit, the heaviest of the day. The other morning pairing featured Jacob Powroznik against Koby Kreiger. The afternoon matches were Brett Hite vs. Keith Combs and Jordan Lee vs. Dean Rojas. On the line for this four-day derby is a $50,000 purse and an all-important guaranteed berth in the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.

Today was the first half of a two-day elimination round. Each match lasted three hours and the weights will be added to Wednesday's total to eliminate the first four anglers from the bracket. The pairs of anglers who fished the morning hours today will fish the afternoon session Wednesday, and vice-versa. The semi-final round on Thursday will be a single-day, head-to-head elimination after 5 1/2 hours of fishing. The championship round on Friday, featuring the last two anglers standing, will also be a 5 1/2-hour session to crown the champion.

Benton, of Panama City, Fla., had a tough road to hoe matched against bass fishing's best, and caught just one fish for 1-6. This gives VanDam a seemingly insurmountable lead going into Wednesday's elimination day.

"I'm still not comfortable," VanDam said. "I feel confident, but I still need to catch a couple of fish. The good thing about this format is that we get BASStrakk updates that let us know exactly what our opponent has caught. Hopefully I'll be able to lay off some of my most productive spots and save those fish for the semifinals."

The second morning pairing saw Kreiger, of Bokeelia, Fla., matched against Powroznik, from Port Haywood, Va. Powroznik, who rooms with Kreiger on the Elite Series circuit, already has a Classic spot clinched and vowed not to stand in his friend's way to a potential Classic qualification.

Still, as the morning session came to an end, Powroznik filled out a limit weighing 9-14, while Kreiger landed only 8-14.

"Well, I'm going to make him work for it," Powroznik said with a grin. "But seriously, I knew what he had and I wanted to put on a good show for all the fans watching on Bassmaster.com. Tomorrow, I may just float down the middle of the river. The Classic is huge for our careers, and I hope Koby has a very long career."

Hite of Phoenix, Ariz., led the pack for the afternoon session with a 10-2 limit, the second heaviest of the day. "Going into this thing, I knew we'd only have three hours to fish so I wanted to identify one or two areas close together so I wouldn't waste time," Hite said. So, unlike every other angler, he spent his entire day milking one spot.

"I found the fish in practice and I knew they would be there ... they have no place to go. So, I went all-in and it worked out." Hite said he found the fish in the morning during practice and they bit better, so he is confident his weight tomorrow will increase. Combs, of Huntington, Texas, wasn't able to land a limit. He finished with 7-15, which is still within striking distance of Hite for Wednesday's elimination day.

Lee, hailing from Vinemont, Ala., landed four fish for a total of 7-15, while his adversary, Rojas, from Lake Havasu City, Ariz., struggled to put a pattern together and ended with three fish for 3-11.

"I had a bad practice and bounced around a lot just trying to figure something out," Lee said. "I'm happy with my weight, but I think it will improve tomorrow when I get to fish the morning session. The fish here seem to bite better early. This format puts a premium on strategy, and flip-flopping the times we are on the water could change some decisions I will make. And with only three hours to boat a limit, I have a lot to think about tonight."

The quarterfinals will continue Wednesday with Match Three (Hite vs. Combs) and Match Four (Lee vs. Rojas) taking place from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and Match One (VanDam vs. Benton) and Match Two (Powroznik vs. Kreiger) moving to the afternoon hours of 1:30-4:30 p.m.

The semifinal round on July 21 will pit the Match One winner vs. the Match Two winner and the Match Three winner vs. the Match Four winner. The weights will go back to zero, and all anglers will fish from 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

The winner of those two matches will advance to the July 22 championship round. With weights starting from zero again, the anglers will fish head-to-head from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for the title.

Bassmaster LIVE will broadcast coverage of the entire tournament, from first cast until the fishing stops, with a camera in every boat. Fans can watch the LIVE show on WatchESPN and the ESPN app on Wednesday. The semifinals and finals will be streamed on Bassmaster.com Thursday and Friday.

The payout for the bracket event will be distributed as follows: $10,000 and a Classic berth for first place, $8,000 for second place, $6,000 for third and fourth place (eliminated from semifinals) and $5,000 each for fifth through eighth place (eliminated from quarterfinals).

There is no entry fee for the tournament. The local host for this event is I Love New York.

Bracket Tournament matchups

2016 Bassmaster Classic Bracket
Niagra River, Buffalo, New York
Jul 19 - Jul 22, 2016

Leaderboard

1
Kevin VanDam - 20-3
1. , 2. 20-8, 3. 11-0, 4. 20-3
2
Brett Hite - 13-9
1. , 2. 21-14, 3. 13-9, 4. 13-9
3
Koby Kreiger
1. , 2. 10-5, 3. 11-0
4
Dean Rojas
1. , 2. 13-9, 3. 7-14
5
Jordan Lee
1. , 2. 12-9
6
Keith Combs
1. , 2. 14-11
7
Jacob Powroznik
1. , 2. 9-14
8
Drew Benton
1. , 2. 5-10

History & Notes;

A first of it's kind event for B.A.S.S.!

 

Day 1:

Brett Hite - 18-9  vs.  Keith Combs - 9-14

Jordan Lee - 9-4  vs.  Dean Rojas - 7-9

Kevin VanDam - 10-4  vs.  Drew Benton - 1-6

Jacob Powroznik - 9-14  vs.  Koby Kreiger - 8-14