Friday, July 28, 2023

2023 AFTCO Bassmater Elite at Lake St. Clair Day 1: LeHew Scores Lead with 24-03lbs!

Canadians Gallant 4th, Gustafson 48th, Chris Johnston 58th & Cory Johnston 68th

LeHew leads on fantastic day where 33 limits were caught over 
20lbs. (Photo: Crawford/BASS)

By Christopher Decker 

BASS Press Release

By making a slight depth adjustment midway through the day, Shane LeHew continued his impressive track record in smallmouth events with 24 pounds, 3 ounces that gave him the lead at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair.

Breathing down LeHew’s neck is Oklahoma’s Jason Christie, who caught 23-14 on Day 1 and has two past victories on St. Clair.

On a day when 33 anglers caught at least 20 pounds and every angler in the field secured a limit, LeHew said he felt fortunate to find the bass he did.

“You have to point your LiveScope at a 4 1/2-pounder and catch him,” the Catawba, N.C., native said. “I was just the most fortunate one on the lake today.”

LeHew has notched two B.A.S.S. Top 10s at St. Clair, with his best finish being a sixth-place showing at the 2019 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. But his best area on Day 1 was somewhere he had not fished previously.

A hefty line of showers and storms moved through the area Wednesday night, leaving overcast conditions. That made for a tough morning for LeHew, who did not catch a bass over 2 pounds for several hours.

Once the clouds began to clear, he filled a limit in the 16-pound range before 11 a.m., fishing for smallmouth in about 11 feet of water. He then drifted out to 13 feet and culled every bass he had by 12:30 p.m., targeting single smallmouth with his Garmin LiveScope.

LeHew’s final tally included two smallies over 5 pounds, another one close to 5 and two that were over 4. The majority of those bass ate a Berkley MaxScent Flatnose Minnow rigged on a 3/8-ounce drop-shot rig.

“I have figured out that the singles, for whatever reason, seem to be bigger,” LeHew said. “The fish that are in big groups? Yeah, you can catch a big one in them. But it is hard because there are a lot of 3-pounders biting.”

While Christie said he didn’t catch as many bass as a lot of the field on Day 1, he was able to find the right kind of quality. The eight-time B.A.S.S. winner anchored.

So far, there has been very little that has transferred from his previous successes to this tournament.

“I caught a few good ones early,” Christie said. “There are two different classes of fish right now. You either catch one that is skinny or you catch one that is fat. Luckily, I caught five fat ones today. I caught them way better than I thought I was going to. I didn’t catch a 20-pound bag all of practice.”

Christie said he has narrowed a depth range, but he hasn’t pinpointed a particular piece of cover bass are gravitating to. Three different baits did most of his damage and he will be adding another to the rotation on Day 2.

“You just have to put the trolling motor down and take off somewhere,” he said. “I had two areas I wanted to fish, and I fished one of them today. Tomorrow I will go to the other. There were a lot of fish that I threw at that did not eat my bait.”

Maryland pro Bryan Schmitt is in third after weighing in a 23-3 limit that included the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day, a 6-1 smallmouth. Similar to LeHew and Christie, Schmitt is trolling around a big area occupied by several other anglers. He has found the bass are gravitating toward cabbage in about 15 feet of water.

“The size is there and the fish are spitting up crawfish, gobies and perch,” Schmitt said. “The whole thing is going on there. I am just meandering around throwing at ones I see on the LiveScope. Everywhere I kind of got bit in practice, like the exact waypoint, it was no good. You have to keep working around.”

Schmitt pitched to his biggest bass three times with a wacky-rigged Missile Baits Mini Magic Worm on a drop shot before hooking it at around 10:30 a.m.

“He looked small on my Garmin,” Schmitt said. “I threw at him and he flared, and I knew it was a big one. He went down and I felt a tick, hit him and didn’t get him. I saw him follow it, so I dropped it again and he bit it again and missed it. I let it sit and, when I lifted it up, he had it. It gave me three chances.”

As the day went along. Schmitt said he didn’t see as many smallies, which has him a bit concerned. But he does have several backup plans if things don’t work out.

Greenwood, S.C., pro Brandon Cobb is in a dead heat with Opelika, Ala., angler Kyle Welcher in the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Both anglers have 579 points but Cobb has the tiebreaker. Cairo, Ga., native Drew Cook is third with 527 points, followed by Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., in fourth with 521 and LeHew in fifth with 519.

Arkansas pro Joey Cifuentes III took the lead in the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race with 512 points, followed by Japan’s Kyoya Fujita in second with 483 and Alabama’s Will Davis Jr. in third with 474.

The full field of anglers will launch from Brandenburg Park beginning at 7 a.m. ET and will return for weigh-in beginning at 3 p.m. The Top 50 after the Day 2 weigh-in will advance to Semifinal Saturday, and the Top 10 after the third competition day will advance to Championship Sunday.

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