Canadians Cory Johnston 3rd, Chris Johnston 7th
By David A. Brown
BASS PRESS RELEASE
Despite a slow start, John Cox of DeBary, Fla., stuck with his game plan and caught a Day 3 limit of 20 pounds, 12 ounces to maintain his lead in the YETI Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair with a three-day total of 66-2.
River continues to keep Cox in lead but pack is super close.
Cox took the Day 1 lead with 24-12 — the event’s heaviest sack — and remained on top by adding 20-10 on Friday. He is now in position to claim his first victory on the Bassmaster Elite Series in wire-to-wire fashion.
Day 1 saw Cox start by catching a solid limit on the main lake and then upgrading in the St. Clair River. Stating that the latter felt more comfortable to him, he committed all of Friday and Saturday to the river where he fished seawalls, docks and current breaks.
“It was a struggle today; I kept getting hung up and breaking off,” Cox said. “There were a few times I wanted to melt down today.
“All my early spots were getting beaten up (by local boats), but I just bounced around and had to run a lot of new stuff. Some places where I caught small ones yesterday, for some reason, I caught big ones today. It was incredible.”
Cox said the turning point came around 11:30 a.m. when he pressed the reset button. With a little under 14 pounds in his livewell, he made a key move and found the quality he needed.
“I sat down and retied everything and took a break and kind of got rolling again,” he said. “Everything was going wrong, but I kept it together and kept telling myself, ‘Just be glad that you’re here.’
“I made a few culls and caught my last big one, a 5-10, about 1:45. I was like, ‘OK, we can do this. I have a 3-pounder in the well that I need to get rid of.’ I just couldn’t get rid of it, but I was through.”
Cox caught all of his fish on a drop-shot rig with the Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm. He had been nose-hooking his bait, but several missed bites prompted him to thread the Flat Worm onto his hook.
“That put the hook farther back in the bait, and it seemed to help,” he said.
Days 1 and 2 found Cox faring better by casting close to the seawalls. He surmised that the crawfish that had ventured ashore during the higher water earlier in the week were sliding back to their normal habitats.
“They were coughing up craws everywhere (on Days 1 and 2), but today, I didn’t have any in my livewell,” he said. “I just think they were on shad or (other baitfish).”
This would explain why some of his better fish bit farther off the walls in about 25 to 30 feet of water.
Cox said he will most likely commit to the river for Championship Sunday, but he thinks he’ll need to expand beyond the areas he has fished. He would prefer to fish closer to the seawalls, so he will look for new areas with deeper banks.
Friday and Saturday saw Cox catching a keeper largemouth. But he did not end up weighing one either day, and he noted his goal is to win an Elite event with all smallmouth.
“I put a largemouth in the well early this morning, but he was looking rough, so I pitched him over,” Cox said. “I said, ‘If I have to weigh him, I’m not going to make it anyway.’
“To win an all-smallmouth event would be the greatest accomplishment ever for me.”
Second-place Cody Hollen of Beaverton, Ore., trails Cox by just an ounce with a three-day total of 66-1. After weighing 19-12 and 22-15, the Elite rookie and reigning B.A.S.S. Nation Championship winner turned in his best performance Saturday with 23-6 but not without a struggle.
“My first spot is better when the wind is blowing on it, but without the wind this morning, there was not much there — I caught two fish,” Hollen said. “I went to my secondary spot and I said, ‘I’m going to have to lean on this spot today.’
“It doesn’t seem to matter if the wind is blowing on that spot, and I caught four fish that were 3 1/2- to 5 1/2-pounds. I went back to my starting spot and went down a little bit farther than I had been going and ended up catching another 4 1/2 off of that."
Hollen caught his fish on a Rapala DT-7 crankbait in the hot mustard color and a drop shot with a finesse worm.
Cory Johnston of Cavan, Ontario, is in third place, also with 66-1. Ties are settled by heaviest single-day weight and Hollen’s 23-6 topped Johnston’s Day 3 bag of 23-1. On Days 1 and 2, Johnston weighed 21-11 and 21-5.
“Today, the lake slicked off and that helped me spot them on my Garmin LiveScope,” Johnston said. “The other key was fishing areas that weren’t pressured because they bite a whole lot better.”
Fishing in about 15 to 17 feet of water near the Canadian border, Johnston keyed on a 500-yard stretch where he fished a drop shot with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm and a Strike King Baby Z-Too.
Ed Loughran III of Richmond, Va., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-5 smallmouth.
The Top 10 remaining anglers will take off at 6:30 a.m. ET Sunday from Lake St. Clair Metropark. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3:10 p.m., with the winner taking home $100,000.
Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at Bassmaster.com with simulcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Check local listings for ESPN2 times.
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