When Doug Brownridge took off on Day 1 on the St. Lawrence River, he knew exactly where he was heading. He chose correctly, and he currently leads the 2014 Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Divisional with 24 pounds, 5 ounces.
“This year, I was second in a Canadian Open and sixth and first in two other tournaments here,” Brownridge said. “I’ve spent 10 to 15 tournament days on this river this year. So I knew right where I wanted to go.”
Brownridge, a member of the Ontario B.A.S.S. Nation, doesn’t even know what’s special about the spot he’s got. He only knows that it produces big fish, and that’s enough to keep him coming back for more.
Just in case it doesn’t bear similar fruit on Day 2, Brownridge has plenty of backup areas.
“I’ll run out of time before I run out of spots,” he said. “Smallmouth are notorious for moving. They never give up that easily.”
Brownridge had his Day 1 limit by 10 a.m., and he culled up once with a 5-pound, 12-ounce smallmouth. The Mississauga Bassmasters member spent the rest of the day letting his co-angler, Bill Kuslaka, fill out his limit while Brownridge pre-fished other areas he can use as backup.
The 2-pound lead he has right now gives him little comfort. “I lost two 4-plus-pound fish today,” said Brownridge. “If I lose more tomorrow, I could bring in only 12 pounds. That’s just how it goes.”
He would be much happier with that 2-pound lead going into the final day.
Brownridge wasn’t the only angler loading up on football-size smallmouth. He had three that weighed more than 5 pounds, but several competitors had 4- and 5-pound smallies on Day 1. James Hanatow of New Hampshire brought in one that weighed 6 pounds even. Hanatow’s fish is in the lead for Carhartt Big Bass honors.
The occasional largemouth bass showed up to play, too, and one boat had two limits of nothing but largemouth. Abe Kalechman of Connecticut and Peter Knight of New York had a combined 26 1/2 pounds of largemouth bass, a stark difference from the rest of the field.
Most competitors complimented the St. Lawrence River fishery and the day’s weather, which was pretty easy to do with eight 20-plus-pound bags crossing the stage and with more than half the field boasting five-bass limits.
Even with the strong weights the competitors brought in for Day 1, several said they expect Day 2 to bring in even heavier ones.
“Today, we had an east wind,” said Randy Lamanche of the New York B.A.S.S. Nation. “It’s hard to do great up here with an east wind. Tomorrow, if we get a southwest wind and the sun is high, the weights will be better.”
At the end of Day 1, host New York held the state lead for cumulative weight. The New York anglers brought 178 pounds, 5 ounces to the scales. New Hampshire is in second place in the state competition with 157-9, followed by Connecticut at 154-7. The winning state takes home a boat.
Brownridge not only holds the overall lead for the tournament; he’s also leading his team, Ontario. Each team sends one representative to the 2014 Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, Nov. 6-8, in Monroe, La. Other current state leaders are David Maiorano, Connecticut; George Cooper, Maine; James Moorey, Massachusetts; Rob Messenger, New Hampshire; Christopher Killoren, New York; Leo Bevelaqua, Rhode Island; Eric Corbella Salvia, Spain; and Jonathan Case, Vermont. Brownridge and Bevelaqua are the only ones with leads of more than 3 pounds, though; the rest could be wiped out with a single fish.
Anglers who advance to the championship have a chance to win a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic, a dream for most amateur competitors. Only two here at the Eastern Divisional this year have ever achieved a Classic berth: John Diaco of New Hampshire and Paul Mueller of Connecticut. Mueller competed in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic and finished only 1 pound behind winner Randy Howell.
Competition at the Eastern Divisional resumes tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. ET at Whittaker Park in Waddington. The Day 2 weigh-in will take place there at 2:30 p.m. ET. The tournament concludes Friday, Sept. 26. Keep up with the tournament live at Bassmaster.com.
Image courtesy Tyler Wade/Bassmaster