Canadians Chris Johnston 4th, Gustafson 4th , Cory Johnston 43rd.
BASS PRESS RELEASE
LA CROSSE, Wis. — Put Bryan Schmitt on a grassy river and he’s a happy man, even when a little meteorological meddling requires an adjustment.
Such was the case, as the Potomac River stick from Deale, Md., overcame a water quality issue and caught a limit of 17 pounds, 10 ounces to lead Day 1 of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Mississippi River.
“It was a blessed day; I almost missed it,” Schmitt said. “I had a pretty good practice and never went back to these fish and they changed (because of muddy inflow from Thursday night’s rain). It took me a while to change with them.
“They didn’t want what I did in practice. But I was lucky enough to make the right presentation, and once it happened, I was like, ‘I see what’s happening.’ Tomorrow’s going to be windy and they might be getting back on what I did in practice.”
Schmitt withheld specifics, but he said one particular presentation — a slower technique — with a new Missile Baits plastic delivered all of his weight. He had his limit by about 10 a.m. and stopped fishing around 1:30.
Anchoring his bag with a 4-2 largemouth, Schmitt said his fish came off three different grassy spots, all within eyesight of one another. Each, he said, comprised nearly identical habitat.
One of the challenges he faced was the proliferation of tiny baitfish moving through the grass.
“You’ll see the little baitfish running through and every now and then, you’ll see one (come up and eat), but they are devils to (try and) trick,” Schmitt said. “There’s a bunch of bait where I’m fishing.”
Schmitt said he’ll return to his main trio on Saturday, but he’s holding another spot for insurance.
“I have one little deal that I’m saving, and I’ll go to it in a heartbeat if I need to,” he said. “It’s grass, but it’s a different scenario — it has smallmouth on it.”
Schmitt, who came into the event 11 spots out of the qualifying cut for the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, to be held in Knoxville, Tenn., March 24-26, said his day began with an encouraging prophecy.
“I needed this, and when you need something a lot in this sport, it doesn’t always happen. My marshal got on my boat this morning and he said, ‘Bryan, you’re going to be leading after today,’” Schmitt said. “It was just a blessed day; I’m not expecting anything like that again.
“I’m blown away. This is what I love doing — I love fishing rivers with grass, so I’m going to try to keep it going.”
Matt Herren of Ashville, Ala., is in second place with 16-8. He also struggled with muddy water, but when Herren located a narrow lane of clean water running through a broad grassbed, he found a pile of bass ready to feed.
“I have some stuff that I didn’t fish because of the muddy water, so I did what I call ‘the roundup tour’ to try to see what has changed and what hasn’t changed,” Herren said. “I caught every one of my fish in that clean water on a 3/16-ounce Ned rig.
“I stayed there and caught them on every cast for two hours. After that, I just went and looked around. I locked through and checked another pool to see what’s going on.”
Looking ahead to Day 2, Herren said he’s not sure when or if the water will clear up enough for him to exploit the areas he had identified prior to the muddy inflow. He’s planning to start with what he found during the second half of his opening round and hopefully expand.
“Fifteen to 16 pounds a day here is good,” Herren said. “If you do that every day, you’ll have a chance.”
Drew Benton of Blakely, Ga., is in third place with 16-5. Also a fan of river fishing, Benton caught bass by throwing a Big Bite Baits swimbait around current seams and working a new Northland frog over weed mats.
“The key was working the frog really fast,” Benton said. “It’s getting late in the year and these fish have seen a bunch of frogs, and it feels like the faster you can work it the better to get a reaction bite.”
Benton fared best over duckweed-laden grass mats with hollowed-out caverns beneath the surface layer.
“There are a lot of mats out there and 90% of them are choked out,” Benton said. “You've got to find the ones that are hollow. You can tell by the type of vegetation that the duckweed is blown into.
“If it’s eelgrass, you can get bit in that stuff, but it’s not going to be as hollow as coontail or milfoil or pads.”
Brock Mosley of Collinsville, Miss., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 5-8.
In dramatic pursuit of his second Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, leads the race with 713 points. Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn., who notched his first Elite win on Pickwick Lake in June, is in second with 699. Chris Johnston of Otonabee, Canada, is in third with 698, followed by Benton with 680 and Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, with 673.
Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., leads the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 611 points. Missouri pro Cody Huff is second with 539 points, followed by Japan’s Masayuki Matsushita with 476.
Both races will be decided this week, with the AOY winner earning $100,000 and the ROY claiming a $10,000 bonus.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. CT at Copeland Park. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3 p.m., with only the Top 47 anglers advancing to Semifinal Sunday. FS1 will broadcast live with the leaders beginning at 7 a.m. before coverage resumes on Bassmaster.com.
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