CLAYTON, N.Y. —Elite Series rookie Bryant Smith set a new B.A.S.S. record when he put five smallmouth bass on the scale that weighed 29 pounds, 5 ounces, Thursday. That broke a 25-year-old record set by Chuck Economou of 29-1 at Pickwick Lake in 1998.
And here’s the thing, Smith said he caught and released a heavier best five, unofficially, in practice on Wednesday.
“On my scale, it was almost 32 pounds,” Smith said. “That scared the crap out of me because usually when I have a day like that, I get so locked in that I struggle the next day or in the tournament. I don’t like having a good practice.”
Smith’s record-setting smallmouth limit was the headliner on the first day of the Minn Kota Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River. But there were plenty of other accolades on a day when Lake Ontario’s rough water made fishing conditions less than ideal.
Chris Johnston weighed-in what is now the fourth-biggest smallmouth bag in Elite Series history with 28-3. His brother Cory’s 28-8 last year is the only other heavier one, after Smith’s and Economou’s.
If this was just the opening fireworks show, it could really get spectacular if lesser winds make more of Lake Ontario accessible the next three days. While this year’s Day 1 when 48 anglers weighed limits of 20 pounds or better, didn’t match last year’s Day 1 total of 61, it created some high anticipation for the next three days when the 2023 Elite Series season comes to an end.
“That’s the best day I’ve ever had fishing, especially in a tournament,” said Smith, who is from Roseville, Calif. “To do it in the final event of the (2023) Elite Series, it’s unbelievable. I’m looking forward to going back out (Friday).”
Smith, 32, is coming off a week when he surprised himself with a 4th-place finish at Lake Champlain. It moved him up to 15th place in the Angler of the Year standings and assured him a spot in the 2024 Bassmaster Classic.
“I’m just fishing with confidence,” he said. “I kind of proved to myself last week that I can compete with these guys with smallmouth. That gave me a big boost of confidence coming into this week.”
As heavy as Smith’s and Johnston’s limits were Thursday, neither took big bass honors for the day. That went to Paul Mueller, who caught the second-biggest smallmouth of his life. It weighed 6 pounds, 11 ounces. You might remember the biggest smallmouth of Mueller’s life. It weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces, and came in the 2020 Elite Series tournament at the St. Lawrence River. Mueller, who is from Naugatuck, Conn., finished second to Chris Johnston in that tournament with a total of 95-14.
“It was a very bad start to the day in terms of execution,” said Mueller, who is 8th with 25-4 after Day 1. “I don’t usually lose too many fish. I can’t remember a time where I’ve lost that many big fish in a day. I want to say I lost five big ones – 4 ½ (pounds) plus.
“Here you’ve got to be consistent. The 6-11 salvaged not only today, but maybe the whole tournament for me. This place has got big fish. That 6-11 came from a place I didn’t practice in at all. I knew it had some big fish. I went there at the end of the day, on my way back.”
Who knows what the smallmouth bass fireworks show will look like over the next three days. It was only a year ago here when both Jay Przekurant and Cory Johnston topped the 100-pound mark with 20 smallmouth bass for the first time in B.A.S.S. history. After Day 1 this year, it appears there’s more to come.