Roy Takes Lead, AOY Race Heats Up At Bassmaster Elite St. Clair
Bradley Roy, who has never finished higher than third in a Bassmaster Elite Series event, caught five bass that weighed 23 pounds, 3 ounces, during Thursday’s first round. It was good enough to take the lead in the Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair.
Missouri angler Chad Morgenthaler is just 1 pound behind in second with 22-3, and Alabamian Matt Lee is third with 21-13.
“I had a good practice,” said Roy, who finished seventh at this year’s GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. “I was seeing a lot of quality fish in a lot of different areas. But this morning, I don’t know if they just didn’t bite or if they moved out of some of those areas.
“I fished several places and just didn’t get bit.”
Lake St. Clair smallmouth bass have a reputation for roaming — and Roy decided to roam in search of them.
“I just kept moving around, cycling through them, and about 9 o’clock they started to bite pretty good,” he said. “After that, it was just steady. You’d catch some small ones, and then you’d catch a good one.”
Morgenthaler’s day was the opposite of Roy’s, as he put a good limit in his livewell on the first place he stopped.
“It all happened really quick this morning,” Morgenthaler said. “I’m on one spot, and it’s just a place where they can get stacked up on. It’s not a very big spot, and there was another angler in there with me this morning — but we worked really well together.”
Lee followed Roy’s path, landing most of his larger fish beyond the morning hours.
“Later in the day, I just made a decision to go out to this one area where I had gotten bit in practice,” Lee said. “I rolled up out there, and they were all big ones.
“I caught 10 fish there — four were little, one was a 3-pounder and I jumped one off,” Lee said. “Then I weighed in three from there, and they were all hammers.”
Roy, Morgenthaler and Lee generated a lot of buzz as the leaders of the race for the $100,000 first-place tournament prize. But many were also interested in the hotly contested race for Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year — and the competition couldn’t be much tighter.
Tennessee angler Jacob Wheeler came into the day tied for second place in the AOY race, but moved into the lead with 794 points after landing 21-9 and finishing the first day of the St. Clair event in sixth place. Idaho pro Brandon Palaniuk, who came into the tournament as the AOY leader, caught just 17-13 and finished in 47th place on Day 1.
“Moving forward, this is a three-day deal,” Wheeler said. “I could go out there tomorrow and catch 17 pounds, or 16 pounds or even 12 pounds. You’ve got to catch them every day. Day 1 just doesn’t matter.
“At the end of the tournament, where you finish is what matters.”
Palaniuk is now in second place in the AOY race with 793 points, tied with Oklahoma pro Jason Christie. South Carolina pro Casey Ashley is also well within striking distance in fourth with 769 points.
“My biggest fish (a 6-8 smallmouth) was my second fish of the morning, and after that I thought I was going to smash them,” said Palaniuk, who took the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week with his lunker. “But after that, I just caught small ones. I also lost one 4-pounder.”
Christie said he thinks he’s on the fish to win the tournament.
“It could happen if everything goes right,” he said. “But how often does everything go right?”
After Friday’s weigh-in, only the Top 50 remaining anglers will advance to Saturday’s semifinal round. Daily takeoffs will begin at 6:30 a.m. ET at Lake St. Clair Metropark. Weigh-ins will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m.
When the tournament is done, the Top 50 anglers in the AOY standings will advance to the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake next month.
The event is hosted by the Detroit Sports Commission, Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce and Macomb County.