Kevin VanDam & Cousin JVD Lead St. Lawrence Elite
WADDINGTON, N.Y. — It’s been every pro fisherman’s nightmare for more than 25 years.Superstar Kevin VanDam — a Michigan native and arguably the best smallmouth angler in the history of the sport — is hammering the smallies with no sign of slowing down.And now, the remaining anglers in the field have just one more day to overtake him and keep him from recording his 24th career B.A.S.S. victory wire-to-wire style at the Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Go RVing.
VanDam added five bass that weighed 22 pounds, 10 ounces Saturday and maintained the lead he’s held from the start with a three-day total of 66-7.
“Today was really calm,” he said. “The wind changed 180 degrees and blew the exact opposite direction from what it did (Friday). That really slowed things down, and it’s a lot easier to position your boat when it’s like that.
“You saw what the weights were like today. If it’s like that tomorrow, it’s going to be a shootout.”
Saturday’s semifinal round saw 13 bags of 20 pounds or more brought to the scales, including the 21-8 limit weighed in by VanDam’s nephew, Jonathon VanDam. The younger VanDam moved into second place with a three-day mark of 64-0.
“It’s been a great week so far for me,” JVD said. “I definitely needed a tournament like this for the points.
“All you can ask for is to put yourself into position to win, and I’ve definitely got a shot.”
Idaho angler Brandon Palaniuk had another strong day with 22-4 and rose from ninth place into third with 63-3. It would be a remarkable feat for Palaniuk to record a victory, considering he was in 72nd place on Day 1.
After those early struggles, Palaniuk said he believed he would need at least a 24-pound average for the remaining three days to have a chance for a win.
“I caught 25 Friday and 22 today, so I’m off that 24-pound average by about a pound,” Palaniuk said. “That probably means I need 25 or 26 to have a shot.
“That kind of bag is out there — and I’ve got to have them because all of these guys are going to catch 20 pounds again tomorrow.”
Brent Ehrler, a veteran California pro with more than $2 million in career earnings, caught 21-8 Saturday and jumped into fourth place with 63-1. Ehrler has two second-place finishes since joining the Elite Series in 2015, but he’s still seeking his first win.
After leading two events into the final round this year only to fall short, he said he feels strong about the position he’s in going into Championship Sunday.
“I like being back just a little bit instead of leading, but it’s a tough hill to climb,” Ehrler said. “I didn’t necessarily lay off of them today. But at one point, I stopped fishing a couple of spots and kind of defended them. I started looking around a little bit instead of pounding on them.
“The fish are there — and if everything is right, I think I can catch them.”
VanDam and Palaniuk are also locked in a battle with South Carolina pro Casey Ashley for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award. Palaniuk leads with 621 points, followed by Ashley with 616 and KVD with 604.
The tournament will conclude Sunday, with the Top 12 remaining anglers leaving Whittaker Park at 6:15 a.m. ET. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m., with a $100,000 first-place prize on the line.
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