Talk about first impressions. Rookie Jay Przekurat had never fished the St. Lawrence River/Lake Ontario before this week, but the Stevens Point, Wisconsin, angler leveraged familiar patterns to win the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River with a four-day total of 102 pounds, 9 ounces.
"I fish Sturgeon Bay (Wisconsin) a lot and it fishes almost identically to this place," Przekurat said. "I love fishing the Great Lakes and I love catching big smallmouth. I guess I just had a knack for it this week."
Przekurat's winning total, which included daily limits of 26-13, 25-08, 24-12, and 25-08, earned him two additional honors. First, at just over 23 years of age, he's the youngest angler to win a Bassmaster Elite event. Also, Przekurat earned a spot in the prestigious Bassmaster Century Club, which recognizes an angler for amassing 100 pounds or more over a four-day tournament (20 fish). Prior to this event, no angler had accomplished this feat solely with smallmouth.
Notably, the tournament produced two smallmouth Century Club entries. Second-place finisher Cory Johnston weighed before Przekurat and claimed the first one with his 100-5.
Where He Fished
Przekurat's main spot was the north bank of Black River Bay, south of the river mouth. Here, the 15- to 20-foot depths had a steady stream of post-spawn fish leaving the shallow spawning areas and taking advantage of an ample food supply.
"The only difference between that area and other areas I had is there was bait there," Przekurat said. "You could see it on the graph; it was all over the place."
This spot served him well the first two days, but Day 3 saw him pull the plug when fishing pressure and calm conditions minimized productivity. He then moved up the coast to fish another post-spawn spot, this one, 8-12 feet. On Day 4, Przekurat spent more time on his opening spot and got the ball rolling quickly with several quality catches, including a 6-pounder—his biggest of the day. Around 10:15, Przekurat sat approximately 2 pounds from the elusive 100 mark, when he culled out a 3 1/4-pounder for a 4 1/2.
This brought his total to a dramatic 99 pounds, 9 ounces. An hour and a half later, a 5-pounder pushed Przekurat over the century mark and a 5 1/4 about 45 minutes after that cemented his place in bass fishing history with the largest 4-day total of smallmouth ever weighed.
How He Caught 'Em
Przekurat relied exclusively on a drop-shot with a green pumpkin Strike King Half Shell. He rigged that bait on a No. 2 Gamakatsu G-Finesse drop-shot hook and used a 1/4-ounce tungsten cylinder weight. After the Day 3 weigh in, Przekurat said he felt even more confident about his chances after discovering a tactical option relevant to his second location.
"I figured out that I could sight fish this spot," he said. "I also caught some just casting to them, but because the water was so clear, sight fishing was the key on that second spot."
Rest of the Best
Johnston, who hails from Cavan, Ontario, mostly stuck with familiar Canadian areas, but occasionally sampled U.S. waters. Looking for post-spawn bass cruising shallow areas, he caught his fish on a drop-shot with a green pumpkin SPRO CJ Smasher. Johnston, who won the 2021 Bassmaster Northern Open on the St. Lawrence River, said the disappoint of a near win was lessened by the pride of being the first angler to break the 100-pound mark with smallmouth.
The first three days saw Johnston catch limits of 26-3, 24-5 and 21-5. On Championship Sunday, he turned in his best effort with the event's heaviest bag—a limit of 28-8, which included a 6-1.
Stetson Blaylock of Little Rock, Arkansas, caught a tournament total of 98-15 and placed third. After an opening limit of 21-15, Blaylock positioned himself well for a top-10 finish by turning in a mega sack that went 27-11 and finished out with 23-3 and 26-2 the last two days.
Blaylock did his work on Lake Ontario, where he fooled most of his fish by drop-shotting a YUM Warning Shot. A Ned rig with a 1/6-ounce head and a YUM Ned Dinger and a small swimbait also produced keepers. Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, finished fourth with 98-06. Paul Mueller or Naugatuck, Ct. was fifth with 98-05. Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Alabama, won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-12 from Day 1.