DETROIT — Weather is always a dynamic element in competitive bass fishing, but it is the biggest factor when the tournament is taking place on big lakes.

The Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair is the final event of the regular season, and many anglers are putting it all on the line to garner a berth in the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro next March.

Texas pro Alton Jones took control of the event by bringing in 23 pounds, 10 ounces of smallmouth bass to the scales after the first day Thursday.

“When you’re fishing the Great Lakes, where wind is a dominating weather condition, my goal is to locate the best drift over the best piece of structure,” the 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion explained. “My practice time was spent finding the right drift, but it only produced small fish for me this morning. I knew they had moved, and after I found them again — only a few hundred yards away — it was a pretty consistent bite.”

Jones expects the bass he found to move again by Friday with another likely weather change. He caught about 15 fish throughout the day and expects the numbers to be similar again in the second round.

“My big-fish spot contributed my best fish of the day, and it gave me several opportunities to cull up,” he said. “I found numerous spots that I’ve devoted my attention to, and I really hope they will hold up as the tournament goes on. But, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if they will.”

The stories among the anglers owning the other top spots on the leaderboard offered similar reports. Several small spots produced the right fish, but remaining confident that the best areas will continue to produce is the $100,000 question.

“I have a tendency to stress out about how well I manage a bite,” explained James Elam of Tulsa, Okla. “I’d like to think I perform well under this kind of pressure, but I’m going to have to prove that tomorrow.”

Elam had his limit before noon and brought in 23 pounds, 7 ounces to hold down second.

There’s more to his story, however: At the start of the day, he was inside the 50-angler cut to qualify for the upcoming Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship by a single point. Today’s finish bumped him up in the standings, but he’ll have to finish strong to have an opportunity to fish the championship on Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on Sept. 17-20.

Claiming third is two-time Bassmaster Elite Series champion Brandon Palaniuk. “I’ve been changing my strategy when it comes to the AOY race. I stopped looking at the points; I’ve been fishing to win. I know I fish better with that mentality, so I haven’t looked at the points standings for a couple of months.”

His mental discipline work today as he brought in 23 pounds, 4 ounces of smallies — including the day’s big bass weighing 6-3.

Rounding out the Top 10 were Brandon Lester in fourth place with a fine limit that weighed 21-10. He’s tied for fourth with Casey Scanlon. Micah Frazier is sixth with 20-8, Jonathon VanDam is seventh with 20-6 ounces, Todd Faircloth is eighth with 20-1, J Todd Tucker is ninth with 19-14 and Matt Herren is 10th with 19-5.

During the summer of 2014, prior to the release of the 2015 Elite Series schedule, Alton Jones and his son, Alton, Jr., made a trip to the St. Lawrence River for some fun fishing. As it turned out, the experience came in handy for the elder Jones last week.

Jones said he caught the bulk of his weight off some of the spots he and his son fished and the trip served a valuable learning tool.

“I learned the river a lot better and how it fishes and how to attack current and where to push the panic button and be able find largemouth, even on day 4 when they hadn’t been picked over,” Jones said. “We were here just having fun, no pressure.”

Jones established a couple patterns right away in practice. He targeted deeper areas that had a combination of grass and rock with a dropshot rig.

“If there was an eddy in the current and that intersected the grass and rock, if you could find those three coming together, that’s dynamite for smallmouth on a big river,” he said.

When he went shallow, he went down the inside weed line until he found some rock or a point.

“The fish were on those shallow rocks on the inside weed line,” he said. “I fished without hooks in practice because I felt like if I caught one shallow, I wouldn’t have caught them in the tournament.

“When I’d get a bite up shallow, I’d ease up and see them. You didn’t have to fish for them. They weren’t bedding. They were just up there gorging on gobies. When the gobies leave the shallow water, the bass will leave with them.”

With his smallmouth areas starting to fade on the final day, he targeted largemouth in order to get a limit.

“That was an inside weed line in a backwater,” he said. “It was mostly sand, but every 400 to 500 yards there’d be piles of rocks the size of a truck hood. I had seven or eight of those and there were fish on all of them.”

> Dropshot gear: 6’9” medium-heavy Kistler Helium 2 spinning rod, unnamed spinning reel, 15-pound unnamed braided main line, 8-pound Silver Thread fluorocarbon line (5-foot leader), 1/0 Gamakatsu EWG worm hook, Texas-rigged YUM Warning Shot (green-pumpkin), 1/8-, 3/16- and 1/4-oz. unnamed dropshot weights.

> Jones tried to stay as light as he could with the weight depending on the conditions – he used 1/8 oz. when shallow, 3/16 out deep and 1/4 when the wind kicked up. He wanted the most natural fall possible on his bait.

> Tube gear: Same rod, same reel, 8-pound Silver Thread fluorocarbon line, 3/16- and 1/4-oz. unnamed tube jigs, YUM tube (green-pumpkin).

> He said the key to keeping the smallmouth buttoned up was playing them out. The fish he lost seemed to throw the hook the first time they jumped. Full Story At

Photo BASS Gary Tramontina Like Evers, Jones has spent much of this season trying to recover from a poor showing at the Sabine River (92nd). The runner-up finish, the third of his Elite Series career, will go a long way in that effort as he’s moved into the Top 20 in AOY points.

“I’m happy with second,” he said. “When you go in with a chance to win and it doesn’t happen, it still stings a bit. It’s so hard to win out here and when you get a chance to walk through that door, you try to do everything you can.”

He felt like he’d exhausted his smallmouth areas today and targeted largemouth for a time to fill out his limit. Once he did that, he went back to drifting a dropshot and made a 2-pound upgrade with a smallmouth later in the day.

“I panicked a little around 10:30 this morning and went after largemouth,” he said. “I had to get my straight. I felt myself getting flustered, but that got me settled down.

“I needed points really bad and I’ve been clawing my back into it slowly. This helps give me momentum in my push to the Classic.” Final Day Story - Altons Final Day - Day 4 behind the scenes

Jones caught 18-14 to move from sixth to third with 57-8. He said his day could have been much better if he could have landed the biggest fish that bit.

“I had a chance today to have the heaviest sack of the tournament, but I just lost fish,” Jones said. “One of them was on a jerkbait, and it was a giant. It was an honest-to-goodness 6-pound smallmouth. Then I jumped off another 4 1/2-pounder and a 4-pounder.” Read Story

TournamentLocationDates - Finish
Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River Orange, Texas 92nd
Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville Guntersville, Alabama 16th
Bassmaster Elite at Sacramento River Sacramento, California 54th
Bassmaster Elite at Lake Havasu Lake Havasu City, Arizona 28th
Bassmaster BASSfest at Kentucky Lake Paris, Tennessee 53rd
Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River Waddington, New York 2nd
Bassmaster Elite at Chesapeake Bay Cecil County, Maryland 61st
Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair Detroit, Michigan 24th
Toyota Angler of the Year Championship Door County, Wisconsin Sept17 - Sept 20

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