Brett Hite leads the field with 24 pounds, 6 ounces at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Bays de Noc. Hite is already locked into a Bassmaster Classic berth by virtue of his win at the season debut at Lake Seminole. For much of the rest of the field, Classic spots are on the line.
“I’ve never been here before,” Hite said. “The only time I ever fished Lake Michigan was at the Classic.”
Brandon Lester claimed the Carhartt Big Bass of the day with a 6-4 smallmouth that anchored his second place catch of 24-2. He trails Hite by just 4 ounces.
“I caught all my fish between 10 and 20 feet deep on a small plastic worm that I was drop shotting,” Lester said. Unlike Hite, Lester was not guaranteed a Classic berth coming into the tournament. Now he’s in 27th place in the AOY race and looking good to make his first Classic in 2015.
As expected, Bays de Noc revealed itself to be one of the finest smallmouth bass fisheries in the world. Of the 50 competitors, 45 brought five-bass limits to the scales, and the average bass weighed 3 1/2 pounds.
Three anglers — Greg Hackney, Todd Faircloth and Aaron Martens — are vying for the sport’s most prestigious title, the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award. Three others — Jacob Powroznik, Keith Combs and Mark Davis — are mathematically in contention, but running out of time to make up their deficits.
Today, Hackney’s limit of five smallmouth bass weighing 18-0 was good enough for 17th place, keeping him in the lead for AOY. If he can finish in the Top 15 at this event, he cannot be caught by any other angler and is locked in to win the title.
Todd Faircloth came into the event ranked third in AOY but put a little pressure on Hackney today. He weighed in 20-15; good enough for 10th in the tournament and moving into second in the AOY race. He now trails Hackney 748 to 738. If he can put 11 more places between him and Hackney by the end of this tournament, he’ll claim his first AOY title.
Aaron Martens dropped a place in the AOY race, falling to third and losing four points to Hackney in the process. He now trails 748 to 729. Martens’ limit of smallmouth weighed 17-6, putting him in 21st for the event.
The AOY race and the battle for Bassmaster Classic berths are far from over. There are still two days of fishing on unpredictable Bays de Noc, and almost anything can happen.
All 50 anglers will compete on each of the three competition days — scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Since catch rates are high and mere ounces separate multiple places in the standings, big swings in the points race are still possible, and even the anglers hovering near the bottom coming into the event have a shot to make the Classic.
Fishing fans can catch the tournament as it continues Friday through Sunday at Ludington Park in Escanaba, Mich. The pros will leave the docks beginning at 7:30 a.m. Start time for the weigh-ins each day is 4 p.m.
Also on Saturday as part of its Bassmaster Fan and Military Appreciation Day, B.A.S.S. will give a special commemorative Bassmaster cap to the first 250 military service members who come to the B.A.S.S. booth with a military identification card. All 50 Elite anglers will be on hand to sign autographs as well.
For a complete Bassmaster University Schedule, visit www.bassmaster.com/attend-toyota-bassmaster-angler-year-championship.
All Bassmaster events are free.
All times are Eastern.
Image courtesy Seigo Saito/Bassmaster