Canadian Jamie Bruce nets 3rd!
|Gallant score 1st American win with 36-01lbs!
(Photo: Andy Crawford/BASS)
JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — Sticking with a deep bite for smallmouth bass, Cooper Gallant of Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, caught 18 pounds, 9 ounces on Championship Saturday and won the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open on Cherokee Lake presented by Mossy Oak Fishing.
He finished with a two-day total of 36-1.
The 24-year-old Gallant, who called the victory the biggest of his career so far, earned $52,533 and qualified for the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. “I’m thankful for the win and I couldn’t do it without my friends, family and the support from my sponsors,” Gallant said. “I’m excited for the Classic and excited to get on the road to the (next Open at) James River.”Gallant, who is also attempting to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series, is now in seventh place in the Southern Open standings after two events.
“After Florida, I figured I would need a Top 20 in this one and another Top 20 on Hartwell in October,” he said. “To come into this one and actually win the thing, it sets me up really well for Hartwell. If I can get a Top 15 or 20 on Hartwell, I will have a good shot at making the Elites.”
With water temperatures cooler than expected, Gallant focused on deep rock structure between 15 and 30 feet of water where prespawn smallmouth were staging to move up into shallower spawning areas.
The best smallmouth he caught came from about 23 feet of water. With 20 spots to choose from, ranging from rock flats and rockpiles to boulders and main-lake points, he would move until he found a group of bass that were willing to bite.
He said could not see his bass on his Garmin LiveScope.
“I barely saw any bait this week where I was fishing,” he said. “They were hunkering down and waiting to move up. You wouldn’t see them on LiveScope. You just had to fish around and you would see them rise from the bottom. I would just fish where I thought they would be.”
Most of Gallant’s bass fell for an X-Zone Lures Hot Shot Minnow on either a drop shot or a Damiki rig. He would drop a bigger fluke rigged on a Damiki rig as well, but some of the bass would not commit to eating the larger profile and he would follow with the smaller Hot Shot Minnow.
The couple of bites he did get shallow were around pea gravel with a swimbait.
“If they weren’t eating right away I’d pretty well pull out of there and move to the next one,” he said. “Going into this week, I thought they were going to push shallow, but it ended up working out perfectly. I was able to catch them out deep and I feel comfortable out deep.”
After strong winds shortened the event to two days, Gallant landed in eighth place after Day 1 with 17-8. But he spent the last few hours of the day looking for new fish and found a spot that gave him the confidence to stick with the program for another day.
“For Day 1, I thought for sure I was going to have to switch things up and go shallow. But I dropped the trolling motor down and saw the (water temperature) was 52.5,” he said. “After Day 1, I said to myself ‘I’m staying out deep and I’m going to grind it out.’
“I knew I could catch another 15 to 16 pounds, I wasn’t sure I could catch 18. I knew I was around them but wasn’t positive I could make it happen.”
After leading Day 1 with 19-3, South Carolina pro Bryan New caught 16-1 to finish in second place with a two-day total of 35-4. Using mostly a Greenfish Tackle Bad Little Dude finesse jig with a Zoom Z-Craw Worm trailer, New targeted transition banks and shelf rock in the backs of pockets where both smallmouth and largemouth were staging, mixing in some brushpiles and offshore rockpiles as well.
“A Z-Craw is good for a big jig trailer, but when you are fishing a smaller, light-wire jig, it has a worm body and Z-Craw legs,” New said. “You cut it down, thread it on there and you aren’t taking away from the bite of your hook.
“You still have the profile, but you don’t have the bulk that gets in the way of your hook. I caught a lot of fish in the Classic on this same deal.”
New paired the jig with a 6-6 Medium Heavy Fitzgerald Jerkbait Rod, an Abu Garcia Revo STX and 14-pound Sunline Shooter. He also mixed in a big swimbait and a Spro Little John MD.
Canadian Jamie Bruce finished third with 34-7, catching 18-2 on Day 1 before landing 16-5 on Championship Saturday. In his first-ever tournament in the United States, he caught offshore smallmouth with a 3/8-ounce Bass Tactics Smeltinator Jig Head paired with a 5-inch Z-Man Jerk Shad.
He found the bass would rise further off the bottom to investigate the bigger bait.
“I fished as much steep structure as I could. I fished vertically over it,” Bruce said. “There were a lot of obvious boulders and humps and they were getting beat on. I would catch what I could and then go to these sneaky spots I found. They take forever to find. They are super steep ledges and you have to hang it over the ledge and you don’t know if there is a fish there until it shows itself.”
Alabama angler David Kilgore earned $750 for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament with a 5-11 largemouth he caught on Day 1.
Justin Baldridge of Greenup, Ky., won the co-angler division with a two-day total of 19-1. Tyler Carrick finished second with 18-15 and Keith Gunsauls finished third with 18-15. Frank Williams won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass on the co-angler side with a 5-3.
Arkansas pro Joey Cifuentes III and Tennessee pro Brandon Lester are tied for the lead in the overall Opens and Southern Opens point standings with 380 points, while New is third with 376.
Visit Jefferson County, Tennessee, hosted the tournament.