The 2018 tour-level season has almost ended, and it appears that Jason Lambert's catch of 101 pounds 9 ounces of Kentucky Lake largemouths will be the only four-day catch to eclipse the century mark. But for the we’ll-never-know-what-would-have-been finish that Randy Haynes left on the table, Lambert’s catch was an outlier. He beat second place finisher Scott Martin by nearly 30 pounds.
Other than that, the FLW results in largemouth country were solid, but didn’t threaten triple digits, with winning weights mostly lodging in the sixties or seventies. Even on Okeechobee, 85 pounds earned top honors.
The Elite Series was similarly unremarkable (at least when you’re taking into account that these are the best anglers in the world, with the greatest technology the sport has ever seen) in largemouth country. Granted, the 83 pounds that KVD won with at Grand, the top Elite green bass weight this year, would’ve been considered beyond exceptional a generation ago, but after Clear Lake and Falcon and Amistad smashfests it doesn’t necessarily elicit even a raised eyebrow.
Then again, it doesn’t matter whether you win with 40 pounds or 130 pounds. It all pays the same.
Nevertheless, we are in the midst of the greatest smallmouth beatdown in tour-level history. Many of our historic largemouth fisheries remain outstanding, but the smallmouth game is truly otherworldly.
When Kim Stricker won the 1994 Bassmaster Top 100, he caught 61-15 of Lake St. Clair bass over four days. That’s an average of 15 ½ pounds a day. That average over the first two days of this June’s FLW Tour event on St. Clair wouldn’t have put him in the top 135 pros. Granted, it was a different time of year, and the equipment was far less advanced. For example, there was no dropshot then. No spy baits, either. And no one was using color graphs, let alone side-imaging, advanced mapping or 360 sonar. But the differences in the weights between now and then are more than a rounding error and can’t merely be explained away by season or technology. The fishery has changed for the better. Grigsby’s catch, unlike Lambert’s wasn’t an outlier as both Dylan Hays (95-5) Brad Knight (92-5) went past 90.
It wasn’t just FLW getting in on the fun. This past weekend the Elites went to the St. Lawrence River and once again racked up the 90-plus pound catches. Of course Josh Bertrand led the way with 95-03. Justin Lucas was less than a pound behind and three other pros topped the big nine-oh. Everyone in the top 31 averaged over 20 pounds a day.
When KVD won there in 1995, he caught 41-14 over three days, a 14 pound average. When he won there again four years later, he had 51-04, a 17 pound average. None of these comparisons are meant to downgrade the previous accomplishments of KVD, Stricker or anyone else who might’ve won in smallmouth country before, but it just shows how good things are.
It also shows how tough it is to get to 100 pounds. Grigsby topped 25 pounds on two of four days, and never went over 26-04. Matt Lee had the biggest bag at the St. Lawrence, with 27-12, but that still means that a 20 pound bag the next day leaves you with ground to make up to get to the century mark.
There’s also the issue of weather. It’s all but a given that if a tour fishes multiple events on big smallmouth waters, you’re going to lose at least a day to big wind, big waves and other awful conditions. Anglers might’ve been geared up to pass 90 at this July’s Lake Erie Costa, as there were two bags over 24 on Day One, along with two more over 23 and seven more over 22, but all the competitors got was a single day.
Still, none of those obstacles should detract from the fact that we are living in a golden age for not just largemouths, but for the “lesser bass.” In addition to gong back to the St. Lawrence next year, the Elites will also be heading to the vaunted Columbia River. They’ll hit the St. Johns in February, Lake Fork in May and the California Delta in June, all of which have demonstrated 100 pound potential, but the derby that has the potential to shock us the most is Lanier, starting on Valentine’s Day. When the FLW Tour visited Atlanta’s playground last March, former Elite Bradley Hallman brought a limit of spots that weighed 23-11 to the scales on Day One. His catches fell off after that, and he had to fish for largemouths, too, but that one limit showed that if all of the planets lined up, we could see a spotted bass freak show of incredible proportions. It won’t be a Bullard’s Bar type of deal, but 80 pounds of spots is not out of the question. Is 90? The fact that we even have to ask the question tells me that the “other” bass are finally getting their much-deserved time in the limelight.
And if you don’t know, now you know.