Sunday, April 23, 2023

2023 Marathon Bassmaster Elite at Lake Murray Day 3: Fujita Vaults into Lead!

 Canadian: Cory Johnston 41st



COLUMBIA, S.C. — Kyoya Fujita has been a star in Japan for several years, winning four Angler of the Year titles in his home country. Now, the 27-year-old is starting to make a name for himself here in the United States.


Fujita caught 20 pounds, 12 ounces on Day 3 of the Marathon Bassmaster Elite at Lake Murray — and with a three-day total of 65-8, he became the event's third leader. He also guaranteed his second-straight Top 10 finish after a second-place showing at Lake Seminole in February.


After catching 22-6 each of the first two days, Fujita is now the only angler to top the 20-pound mark each day this week. Tennessee pro Hunter Shryock is in second with 64-3 and South Carolina’s Patrick Walters is third with 62-8.


While the rain and storms were not as heavy as expected, clouds and wind were more prominent Saturday morning than they were on Days 1 and 2. As Semifinal Saturday wore on, the clouds cleared and sunny skies prevailed. That led to a great day of bass fishing, as 48 of the 50 anglers competing caught limits.


With several different LiveScope transducers, Fujita has been picking out bass that are suspended in open water near a creek channel in 6 to 18 feet. He said he has been using one bait primarily, a Jackall RV DriftFry with a 1/8-ounce Keitech jighead.


“The LiveScope wasn’t showing me fish,” said Fujita, who added through an interpreter that he will not make a cast unless there is a fish on the screen. He said he is also seeing a lot of stripers swimming around his area. He can tell the difference between the two if they are sitting still, but if the fish is swimming he cannot tell which species he is seeing.


“I am still figuring out the difference,” he said.


Fujita was hampered by boat problems to start the morning and the fishing wasn’t stellar when he got to his first spot. Although he caught one over 5 pounds around 8:30 a.m., he was not seeing a lot of activity on his Garmin LiveScope and changed areas.


He then caught a 3-pounder shortly after 11 a.m. before catching three bass between 1 and 2:15 p.m., including another bass over 5 pounds. The area he fished Saturday afternoon was the same one that produced for him Friday.


The fishing is getting tougher, however, and he believes he may need to find a new area to fish for Championship Sunday.


“I’m not sure if I can catch them or not,” Fujita said. “Morning, (I will start) in the same area.”


With bags of 22-9 and 23-5 the first two days, Shryock caught his lightest bag of the tournament so far, adding 18-5 on Saturday to land in second for the second day in a row. He said he caught a quality bass about every hour to fill his limit by about 11 a.m.


“It was more consistent today than yesterday, but it was still a grind,” he said. “I feel like we had the same amount of big bites we have had the last two days, we just didn’t capitalize on two of them and that made all of the difference in my bag. I’m pretty sure I lost a 5 and a 6, but I had a lot of things go right this week to get us to this point.” 


Shryock thought the bigger bass would bite better with the wind blowing, but that did not happen. He caught more bass Saturday than he has any day this week, but some were barely keepers.


He said those big bass are likely still in the area, but he couldn’t see them as well with the ripple on the water.


“Conditions today really hurt what I was trying to do,” he said. “I could only do one thing at that point and once I realized it, I pushed it in the window they are biting and then it shut off. After that, I was just wasting my time.”


Shryock’s best area is a mile-long stretch of shoreline where he is seeing 3- or 4-inch baitfish, which he feels are blueback herring that are trying to spawn. His best times to catch bass there have been between 10 a.m. and noon.


“When I don’t see that, I’m not catching big fish,” he said. “But when I’m around them, I’m catching better quality.”


He used three different baits, including a Berkley Choppo and a finesse presentation.


Walters has caught bags of 22-11, 20-9 and 19-4. While he wasn’t able to catch a big bass Saturday, he feels his pattern is getting better as the tournament progresses.


“They are starting to eat now. In practice, I couldn’t get them to bite,” Walters said. “I caught 35 fish today. I didn’t get a big bite, but they are starting to bite. If I can find schools tomorrow that have big ones in them, 20 pounds shouldn’t be a problem.”


He has fished new water every day, including some of the spots he used to win a college national championship. Walters’ deck is littered with rods and he said he used about every one of them on Day 3. He is primarily fishing shallow for postspawn largemouth that are feeding on blueback herring.


When the bass weren’t actively schooling, he used a Carolina rig to generate bites.


“I want to go find the fish that are biting at the time. I keep running until I run into them,” Walters said.


Matt Arey from Shelby, N.C., caught a 7-11 largemouth on Day 3, earning him Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day honors and $1,000. That is also currently the Big Bass of the Tournament.


Bernie Schultz and Drew Cook both caught 26-1 on Day 3, which vaulted them into the Top 10 and into a tie for the VMC Monster Bag of the Tournament award.


Greenwood, S.C., pro Brandon Cobb leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 283 points. Tyler Rivet from Raceland, La., is second with 281 points, followed by Australia’s Carl Jocumsen with 275, Alabamian Kyle Welcher with 269 and Cook is fifth with 268.


Fujita leads the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race with 233 points, followed by Alabama anglers Will Davis Jr. with 231 points and David Gaston with 206.


The Top 10 will launch from Dreher Island State Park beginning at 7 a.m. ET Sunday and return for the final weigh-in at 3 p.m. The winner will earn a $100,000 first-place prize. FS1 will broadcast live from 8 a.m.- 1:30 p.m. before live coverage transitions to

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