Momentum matters, and three days after notching the second Top 10 of his career, Bryant Smith kept his season rolling in a major way.
The rookie from Roseville, California, weighed in the heaviest single-day, all-smallmouth catch in Bassmaster history Thursday — a 29-pound, 5-ounce limit that leads Day 1 of the Minn Kota Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River.
“I have no words,” Smith said. “That was insane. That was probably the best day I’ll ever have smallmouth fishing, especially in a tournament. And to do it on the final event of the Elite Series; that’s unbelievable.
“I didn’t really have a goal weight this morning. I had a really good day on Wednesday (the final day of practice). My best five weighed (approximately) 32 pounds. I’m looking forward to going back out tomorrow.”
Smith said he had his limit by 9:30 a.m. and reached his final weight a couple hours later. Anchoring his bag with a 6-9, he holds a lead of 1-2 over Canadian standout Chris Johnston, who won the 2020 St. Lawrence Elite.
Fishing near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, Smith targeted a spot he found in practice. He caught most of his bass on a drop shot with a Strike King 3X Baby Z-Too and a 1/2-ounce weight.
Smith said his spot was nothing special, except for the large group of hefty smallmouth it’s housing.
“It just has fish,” Smith said. “I fished a bunch of similar stuff and I could not get bit. I don’t know how many are left there, but I’m going to try and find out.”
Despite his record-setting performance, Smith lamented what he described as a random bite. With the day’s strong winds whipping local waters into 5- and 6-foot waves, boat control proved challenging.
“A 52-inch shaft on my Lowrance Ghost trolling motor was key to keeping that forward-facing sonar transducer and the whole trolling motor in the water,” Smith said. “I was trying to take my time, trying to be patient.
“I probably only got seven or eight bites. I know I’m around the right ones.”
While the St. Lawrence presents a different scenario from Lake Champlain, carrying forth the smallmouth focus fueled Smith’s fire.
“I’m just fishing with confidence,” he said. “I proved to myself (at the Champlain event) that I can compete against these guys with smallmouth. It gave me a big boost of confidence coming into this event.
“I’m not going to say I’m the best smallmouth fisherman in the world, but I got fortunate that I found a really, really good spot and we’ll see if holds out.”
Hailing from Otonabee, Ontario, Johnston is in second place with 28-3. Looking at the day’s forecast, Johnston set what he thought was a reasonable goal for such a blustery day. A quick start and then a key move allowed him to crush that goal.
“Going out today, I thought, ‘If I can just get 22 to 23 pounds, I can get through this windy day and then, hopefully, tomorrow I can run and gun and go for a big bag,’” he said. “Turns out, I got it today. So, hopefully, I can keep it going.”
Johnston said his day yielded a surprising opportunity he did not find during practice. Starting in Lake Ontario, he put together a solid limit and then headed into the river, where he found big fish on one of his spots.
“I’ve caught some there in the past, but I haven’t caught them there in a couple of years,” Johnston said. “I started pulling into some protected waters and I thought, ‘I’m just going to pull in here.’
“I had 26 pounds at the time and I was very happy, but I thought, ‘I’ve caught many 6s in this area; maybe I can get one here.’ I got a 6 and two 5s.”
Noting that he caught his smallmouth on a drop shot with a SPRO CJ Smasher, Johnston said he’ll work his big-fish spot into his Day 2 rotation.
“I located something pretty special today, but these things have tails and they know how to swim. I might have to relocate them tomorrow, but I’m going to have fun,” he said.
Cooper Gallant of Bowmanville, Ontario, is in third place with 26-12. With a 6-5 anchoring his catch, Gallant said his day turned out much better than he’d anticipated.
“I had the worst practice ever,” Gallant said. “I was kinda stressing a little bit last night, but I woke up this morning and felt good. I got out to the lake and got a few good bites.
“I’m looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow. It’s going to be a little (calmer). Today was pretty gnarly.”
Gallant caught his bass on a drop shot and what he described as a bottom-contact bait. Close attention to his forward-facing sonar was essential for picking out smallmouth hugging the bottom.
“It can be difficult, especially when you’re (Garmin) LiveScoping them,” Gallant said. “If they’re tight to the bottom, it can be very difficult. I was fortunate. A lot of the ones I caught today were 2 to 3 feet off the bottom, so I was able to see them — even if the waves were rocking and rolling.
“The second they’d get a few inches off the bottom and they were mixed in with rocks and boulders, they’re very hard to see.”
Paul Mueller of Naugatuck, Connecticut, won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day award for his 6-11.
Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Alabama, leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 752 points. Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, South Carolina, is in second with 739, followed by Patrick Walters of Summerville, South Carolina, with 709, Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, with 706 and Joey Cifuentes III of Clinton, Arkansas, with 696.
Cifuentes leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 696, followed by Japan’s Kyoya Fujita with 689.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET at the Antique Boat Museum. The weigh-in will be held at the museum at 3 p.m., with only the Top 50 anglers advancing to Semifinal Saturday. Bassmaster LIVE kicks off tournament coverage at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster.com, Tubi, and the Fox Sports platforms.
The tournament is being hosted by the 1000 Islands Clayton Chamber of Commerce.