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Bryan Schmitt Holds on to Win at Lake Champlain

bryan schmitt
Photo: Seigo Saito

The second-year pro secured his first Elite Series victory in the final minutes before weigh-in.

PLATTSBURGH, NEW YORK -- It's as if Bryan Schmitt was destined to win the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain, as all of the good fortune seemingly fell on his boat.

The second-year pro angler out of Deale, Maryland, put together three solid first rounds, catching 21-11, 21-5 and 19-4 totals. On Championship Sunday, however, he began to slip, leaving the door ajar for Texas pro Keith Combs to squeeze through for his third Bassmaster Elite Series win.

Then, in a miraculous twist of fate, Schmitt somehow managed to land a 3 1/2-pound smallmouth in the final 15 minutes before Sunday's final weigh-in, giving him a 12-ounce upgrade and his first Elite Series win with a total of 78 pounds, 5 ounces.

bryan schmitt
Photo: Andy Crawford

Combs was only 8 ounces behind, with a total of 77 pounds, 13 ounces.

"I pulled up to a buoy cable this afternoon right before time to come in and saw two fish on my (Garmin) LiveScope," Schmitt said. "I threw that drop shot in there, felt the bite and didn't really think it was a bass. But it turns out it was a bass--and without that fish I don't win.

"When things like that are happening, man, it's a special week."

Schmitt had most of his success using three different baits: Spro Spin John, a Neko-rigged Missile Baits Quiver Worm and a Missile Baits Ned Bomb on a drop-shot rig.

While the spinbait was responsible for a couple of his key fish, he had the most success with his the Quiver Worm on a Hayabusa Spin Muscle Guard Hook and a nail weight.

"These fish are smart, I guess," he said. "You could throw a jig in there and they wouldn't bite it, but they would eat that Quiver Worm."

Schmitt's incredible finish didn't come easy, though. It was hard enough when he had two fish break his line Saturday, but things got even worse Saturday when he didn't realize his drop-shot hook had bent in, which lost him three fish in an area where he'd already caught three 4-pounders throughout the week.

As he stood in line with his 16-1 bag, he was certain he'd blown his chances, not realizing his final bass was enough to overcome his mishaps.

"I thought it was over, no way," he said. "I knew one of these guys was going to have a good day--and Keith (Combs) did."

Combs took a much different approach, jumping all the way up from his two-round, 16th-place position with some topwater action. He was able to catch 20-14 Saturday heading into Sunday, using a Strike King Sexy Dawg and another unknown walking bait.

He, too, was trying to overcome adversity he ran into. While trying out a jerkbait approach, two larger bass had swallowed his bait so far that he decided to release them in fear of suffering a 4-ounce penalty for submitting a dead fish.

"With those two fish, I might have actually had enough to win," Combs said. "I hate that it worked out that way, but it is what it is."

Oklahoma pro Dale Hightower took Big Bass honors for the week with a Day 1 fish weighing 5 pounds, 15 ounces.

Texas pro Chris Zaldain and Minnesota pro Seth Feider finished behind Schmitt and Combs, which means Feider maintained his commanding lead in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.

Feider now boasts 699 points after his fourth Top 10 finish of the season, giving him a sizable lead over Patrick Walters of South Carolina (644) and Canadian Chris Johnston (630).

In fact, because he believe only a disastrous showing could keep him from winning the AOY title, he says he'll likely stay close to the takeoff during next week's season-ending Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River in Waddington, New York.

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NEXT: CHERRY ON TOP: HANK CHERRY WINS SECOND-CONSECUTIVE BASSMASTER CLASSIC

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Bryan Schmitt Holds on to Win at Lake Champlain