2017 HUK Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence
The well stocked St. Lawrence River welcomes the Elite Series to town in the heat of summer.
KVD slams door on 24
WADDINGTON, N.Y. — By noon Sunday, Kevin VanDam was already working his way back toward Whittaker Park, where the weigh-in would be held about three hours later.
He knew it was over — and so did most everyone else.
After leading the first three days, VanDam caught five bass weighing 23 pounds, 12 ounces to punctuate a dominant victory in the Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Go RVing. His four-day total of 90-3 is one of the highest ever recorded by an Elite Series angler weighing in only smallmouth bass.
The closest angler to KVD was Mississippi pro Brock Mosley, who finished 8 pounds back with 82-3.
“I fished my very first B.A.S.S. tournament here on the St. Lawrence River in 1987,” said VanDam, who earned his B.A.S.S.-record 24th victory. “Someone told me today that this is my 300th tournament with B.A.S.S., and I had no idea. So, all of that makes this really special.”
VanDam earned $100,000 for first place and $1,500 more for landing the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week — a monster 6-5 smallmouth that bit early Sunday morning. He also won the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award of $500 for leading Friday’s second day of competition and the Power-Pole Captain’s Cash Award of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who is registered and eligible with a client-approved product on his boat.
The cash prizes pushed his career earnings with B.A.S.S. to more than $6.2 million.
“I’ve had a couple of chances to win already this year, and I kind of let those slip away,” VanDam said. “It is hard to win one of these blue trophies — and it’s something I never, ever take for granted. This one means as much as any tournament I’ve ever won.”
Regarded as one of the top smallmouth anglers in the history of the sport, VanDam put on an incredible show all four days of the event, rotating among a variety of lures.
During the early stages of the tournament, his primary technique was drop shotting with a chartreuse Strike King Dream Shot in strong current.
“I was fishing it just as fast as I could,” VanDam said. “I’d bomb it out there, let it hit the bottom, shake it once and one would just load up on it. That’s how I caught that 24 pounds the first day.
“But I had to mix it up every day.”
As the week progressed, VanDam also used several different jerkbaits and swimbaits and a wacky-rigged Strike King Ocho. He said a new wacky-rig hook that was unveiled by Mustad during the ICAST trade show in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month played a big role in his success.
On Sunday, he used an unspecified “spybait” when the winds were blowing and it was hard to fish a bait on the bottom.
“Smallmouth are very aggressive by nature, but you have to give them what they want for what mood they’re in,” said VanDam, who also recorded victories in B.A.S.S. events on the St. Lawrence River in 1995 and 1999. “Sometimes they’ll chase something 20 yards and eat it, and other times they’re just really timid.
“That spybait allowed me to show them something a little different, and I was able to make that pay off today.”
With the victory, VanDam moved into third place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Idaho pro Brandon Palaniuk took the lead with 621 points and received a $1,000 contingency award from Toyota as the current leader. He is followed in the AOY standings by South Carolina pro Casey Ashley with 613 and VanDam with 604.
Palaniuk was awarded the Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program. The second-highest-placing eligible entrant, Jonathon VanDam, received $2,000.
The Village of Waddington hosted the event.
Toyota BASS AOY update
The Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race has a normal magic number of 37 for Elite Series anglers qualifying for bass fishing’s world championship. That has unofficially bumped down to 39.
The reasons are Brandon Palaniuk, who is double qualified for being second in the AOY standings. He also received an automatic berth for winning Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefitting the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The other is Jordan Lee, the defending champion also in 16th place.
Michael Iaconelli is on the bubble, but the final turn going into the home stretch most certainly falls inside his wheelhouse of skill sets. Ironically, what saved him was a much needed big lift was finishing 10th at Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas.
The big surprise on the current AOY list is Ott DeFoe, who held the lead until this event. DeFoe is now 80 points behind new leader Casey Ashley.
We now have what is shaping up to be an exciting, challenging, in-the-trenches fight for the AOY trophy. Brandon Palaniuk is only 1 point behind and he’s fishing strong this season. Behind him, and only 15 points behind is Kevin VanDam.
KVD widens lead on day 2
WADDINGTON, N.Y. — One of the biggest names in professional bass fishing history managed to hold his ground at the top of the leaderboard during Friday's Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Go RVing.
Kevin VanDam — a four-time winner of the GEICO Bassmaster Classic and seven-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year — caught five bass that weighed 19 pounds, 8 ounces and remained in the lead with a two-day total of 43-13.
The 23-time B.A.S.S. winner from Kalamazoo, Mich., said Friday's weather conditions in upstate New York didn't help the technique he's using.
"When the wind is blowing the same direction as the current, it really speeds it up — and this afternoon it was really blowing," he said. "That makes it a lot harder to get a good drift, to get that weight moving with your bait so it's really natural to the fish.
"When it's calm and the current is slow, it's a lot easier to get them to bite."
If that's the case, Saturday's weather forecast, which is calling for much lighter winds, favors VanDam — and he has little margin for error.
Another former Bassmaster Classic winner, Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., is right on his heels. Ashley caught 21-14 Friday and jumped from sixth place into second with a two-day total of 42-12.
Unlike VanDam, who started slow and finished strong Friday, Ashley caught good fish immediately.
"I started off with a bang," said Ashley, who won the 2015 Classic on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell. "My first fish weighed about 4-12, and then I caught three big ones real quick."
Then things cooled off, as Ashley said he was also affected by the wind.
"After I caught those first four, things got really slow," he said. "But I could still see the fish in there.
"The wind shifted and was blowing more west than south. In that place where I'm fishing, they just seem to like a south wind."
As VanDam and Ashley are battling for the tournament victory and its $100,000 first-place prize, they also occupy two of the top three spots in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Ashley is in the lead with 619 points, followed by Idaho pro Brandon Palaniuk (615) and VanDam (604).
Another developing storyline for the event is the battle between KVD and his nephew, Jonathon VanDam.
The younger VanDam caught 21-15 Friday and moved into third place with 42-8.
"It's supercool when we're both in the running," KVD said. "We talk multiple times during practice just to see what the other is seeing and finding out. We fish, really, very differently. But the general things make a big difference when you're smallmouth fishing.
"He's got a lot of pressure on him right now to qualify for the Classic, but he's also got a lot of confidence. That's one thing that all VanDams have is a lot of confidence."
Jonathon, who has missed the Classic the past three years, said the fishing has been slow for him — despite what the standings say.
"I think I'm around the right kind of fish, but it's just really hard to get them to bite," he said. "I'm just fishing shallow and only getting a handful of bites.
"I'm around some really big ones. All of the ones that I've weighed in so far haven't even been close to what I've seen."
Palaniuk made the biggest jump Friday with a 25-pound bag that pushed his two-day total to 40-15. He rose from 72nd place all the way to ninth.
"It's all about the area here, getting around the right fish," Palaniuk said. "Today, I went to an area that I found in practice, and they were there.
"I didn't go there yesterday because I thought I could catch 22 to 25 doing something else."
The field will now be trimmed to the Top 51 anglers for Saturday's semifinal round. Takeoff will be at 6:15 a.m. ET from Whittaker Park, with the weigh-in scheduled back at the park for 3:15 p.m.
Only the Top 12 anglers will advance to Championship Sunday.
The event is hosted by the Village of Waddington.
KVD on top - day 1 at Waddington!
WADDINGTON, N.Y. — After one round of the Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence presented by Go RVing, a familiar storyline has emerged.
Kevin VanDam, the Michigan superstar who already holds two B.A.S.S. victories on the St. Lawrence River, caught five bass Thursday that weighed 24 pounds, 5 ounces to take the lead in his latest chance at a big win on the fishery that splits upstate New York and Canada.
"Back when we used to have a lot of tournaments up here, I always fished the lake (Ontario)," said VanDam, who won two events on the St. Lawrence in 1995 and 1999. "I never really fished the river back then. So, every time I come here I learn a little bit more about it."
Lake Ontario is off limits this year as it has been for the last two Elite Series trips to the St. Lawrence River.
VanDam said it was hard to gauge his chances of winning the $100,000 first-place prize after just one day because the fishing is so sporadic. He doesn't know how his pattern will play out over a four-day event.
"There's not huge numbers of fish," he said. "It's not like I'm working through hundreds of fish to get the ones I'm bringing to the scales. You pull up into a spot and you might catch one or two, but that's it.
"You certainly can't script it to know that you're going to catch the kind of size I was able to catch today."
The river is at its highest level in a century, but the conditions certainly didn't seem to hurt the fishing. The Top 83 competitors in the 109-angler field caught at least 15 pounds of bass, and it took 20-1 to make the Top 20.
"The one thing the high water has done is changed the current," VanDam said. "There used to be places where I would fish closer to the bank and the current would just be ripping. But now with the water higher, it seems slower in some of those places.
"With all of this water, it just seems like it's fast in some places and slower in others — it definitely has changed."
VanDam's catch was only slightly better than that of Virginia angler Bill Lowen, who placed second with 23-6.
Lowen — a noted shallow-water angler — brought all smallmouth to the scales Thursday, including two 5-pounders.
"I actually thought I had two 6-pounders, but they were just real long with no bellies," said Lowen, who has 17 Top 10 finishes with B.A.S.S., but no wins. "In the area I was fishing, I think they were feeding on perch, crawfish and all kinds of little minnows."
Third place was occupied by Seth Feider — a noted smallmouth specialist, whose fortunes took a big upward swing when the Elite Series schedule moved north last year.
"I didn't execute that well today," said Feider, who caught 22-11. "I could have done a little better, maybe another pound or so. But I've definitely got a lot of spots going.
"I was pretty much done by 10 a.m. today, so I went looking — and because of that, I found another really good spot around 2 o'clock."
With the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race headed down its final stretch, the names at the top of the list shifted Thursday. South Carolina angler Casey Ashley caught 21-14 — good for sixth place in the tournament — and overtook Tennessee pro Ott DeFoe as the AOY leader.
VanDam moved into second in the AOY standings, with Jason Christie, Edwin Evers, Jacob Wheeler and DeFoe following close behind.
VanDam also moved into the early lead for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award of the week with a bass that weighed 6-1.
The tournament will resume Friday, with a 6:15 a.m. ET take off from Whittaker Park. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m.
At the end of Friday's second round, the 109-angler field will be trimmed to the Top 51. After Saturday's semifinal, only the Top 12 will advance to Championship Sunday.
The event is hosted by the Village of Waddington.
Kevin Vandam - 90-3
1. 24-5, 2. 19-8, 3. 22-10, 4. 23-12
Brock Mosley - 82-3
1. 20-8, 2. 21-8, 3. 20-1, 4. 20-2
Brandon Palaniuk - 82-0
1. 15-15, 2. 25-0, 3. 22-4, 4. 18-13
Brent Ehrler - 80-14
1. 22-9, 2. 19-0, 3. 21-8, 4. 17-13
Jonathon VanDam - 80-14
1. 20-9, 2. 21-15, 3. 21-8, 4. 16-14
James Elam - 78-14
1. 21-12, 2. 18-1, 3. 20-11, 4. 18-6
Jamie Hartman - 78-12
1. 19-0, 2. 17-13, 3. 23-6, 4. 18-9
Casey Ashley - 77-13
1. 21-14, 2. 20-14, 3. 19-5, 4. 15-12
Brandon Coulter - 77-9
1. 19-10, 2. 22-8, 3. 18-10, 4. 16-13
Gerald Swindle - 76-8
1. 18-12, 2. 19-8, 3. 23-6, 4. 14-14
Alton Jones - 75-13
1. 20-6, 2. 18-0, 3. 21-9, 4. 15-14
Bernie Shultz - 70-9
1. 21-12, 2. 19-12, 3. 19-9, 4. 9-8
History & Notes;
Day 2 : Brett Hite - 5-11
Day 3 : Koby Kreiger - 5-8
Day 4 : Kevin VanDam - 6-5