By BassFan Staff
At Lake Pokegama outside Grand Rapids, Minn., there seems to be a limitless population of 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-pound largemouth, especially around boat docks and shallow reeds. Those are good for building a limit in an event like the Bassmaster Classic Bracket, but the real difference makers appear to be the smallmouth that also roam those waters.
That was the suspicion coming into the tournament, but the conditions hadn’t been ideal for them to be a major factor.
On Thursday, both Ish Monroe and Mike Iaconelli had flurries during which they swung smallie after smallie into the boat during their semifinal match. Iaconelli’s flurry came with a jerkbait in the morning as he built a 10-09 limit and took the early lead over his close friend. The difference, ultimately, was Monroe’s lunch time burst that was capped off by a tournament-best 5-01 smallmouth which proved to be the clincher.
"We talked about the smallmouth being the better average fish and both knew we’d go out and fish for them," Monroe said.
Monroe’s kicker, caught around 12:25 p.m. local time, ran his total to 16-07, the biggest limit of the week so far, and was more than enough to eliminate Iaconelli, who tallied 13-05 over the six-hour session.
The win was bittersweet for Monroe, who is trying to overcome a 49th-place finish at the Angler of the Year Championship last week that knocked him below the cut line for qualifying for the 2018 Bassmaster Classic via points. He and Iaconelli have been longtime friends and even shared pattern details after finishing their quarterfinal matches Wednesday. Now, Monroe gets a chance to punch his Classic ticket Friday while Iaconelli’s bid to make his 17th straight Classic was dealt a serious blow.
“It’s mixed emotions for me,” Monroe said after competition concluded. “I fished against one of the best in the world and one of my best friends so it kind of sucks for me. I wish we could’ve tied. I was fortunate to get that one big bite. I had caught a big fish there in practice so to catch three in that area when I needed them was huge.”
Monroe, the No. 6 seed, will square off against Jacob Powroznik, who topped Dave Lefebre by less than a pound in the other semifinal. Powroznik totaled 13-06 while Lefebre had 12-07.
Powroznik made headlines at last year’s Classic Bracket for opting to not fish in the second half of his quarterfinal match against close friend Koby Kreiger in an effort to help Kreiger advance since a victory was likely his only pathway into the Classic. This week, Powroznik has been the most consistent performer, catching at least 12-14 all three times he’s been on the water.
Below is a brief summary of how the semifinal matches finished up:
> Jacob Powroznik (5, 13-06) def. Dave Lefebre (5, 12-07)
> Ish Monroe (5, 16-07) def. Mike Iaconelli (5, 13-05)
The finals will run from 8:30 a.m. EST to 2:30 p.m. Friday with the angler amassing the heaviest five-fish limit claiming the win and a berth in next year’s Classic at Lake Hartwell.
Bittersweet Win for Monroe
> Monroe – 16-07 (5), Iaconelli – 13-05 (5)
Monroe knew today was going to be tough regardless of the outcome of his match with Iaconelli. As Iaconelli’s wife, Becky, told him, “It’s a lose-lose situation.”
“I wanted to win, but at the same time I didn’t want to beat Mike or any of the guys I room with,” Monroe said. “They’re not even friends. They’re family. It sucks.”
He’s still hopeful Iaconelli’s longshot scenario to make the Classic will play out, but that will require two anglers already qualified for the Classic to win the final two Bassmaster Opens – Smith Lake and Grand Lake.
As far as any of the emotions from today carrying over to the final, Monroe isn’t concerned. He’s focused on doing his job and that is now trying to knock off Powroznik, the No. 8 seed.
“The day is over and done with,” he said. “Tomorrow, I’m going fishing just like today was. It’s going to be what it’s going to be.”
Today, he was able to execute his inside-outside game plan of targeting largemouth in the morning and offshore smallmouth later in the day. He said the sunny, breezy conditions were ideal for both. His first eight fish were largemouth, but his next five were smallmouth, all 2-04 or bigger.
“Those (smallmouth) I fished for today, I did Tuesday and Wednesday for a little bit and they didn’t bite,” he said. “Today, they did.”
Monroe is convinced the 5-01 he caught is the same fish he caught in the same area on Monday during practice. He said it was within 30 feet of his waypoint from three days ago.
“Technically, I didn’t need that to win but it helped,” he said. “Emotionally, going into tomorrow, now I know what I’m capable of catching fishing the way I’m fishing. I’m glad I caught it today because Jacob’s been good at catching 12 to 14 pounds. I felt like I could catch 12, but I needed that big bite to get to 14 or 15.”
Jacob Powroznik did most of his damage with a spinning combo today.
Shallow Mindset Pays Off For Powroznik
> Powroznik – 13-06 (5), Lefebre – 12-07 (5)
Powroznik had a roller-coaster season in 2017, but he’s now got one last opportunity to achieve one of his goals after dispatching Lefebre.
“I’m very blessed that I fished well enough to make it to this,” he said. “There are some things that I look back on and say, ‘Man I pulled that out of my rear.’ It seems like it wasn’t a good decision making season for me, but in the last few days I’ve made some good decisions.
“It would mean the world (to win),” he said. “That’s what we fish for – either to win Angler of the Year or to make it to the Classic. I’m down to 6 hours against a good friend to get it done. I’m not going to be mad if I lose.”
Today, he did most of his damage shallow around docks and spent some time trying to establish other patterns for Friday.
“I know where I can go catch some 2- to 2 1/2-pounders, but I didn’t want to go burn them because I didn’t need them,” he said. “I ran some stuff to get it out of my head. The first 30 to 45 minutes in the morning tomorrow I’m going to try something diff to try to catch some big ones.
“There are plenty of fish in this place. It’s going to be a luck deal and whomever catches a 4- or 5-pounder will win.”
When Lefebre reflects on today, he’ll point to two fish that he didn’t get in the boat – one he flubbed the hookset on and another that broke him off under a dock in the final 20 minutes. One or both of those fish would’ve likely been enough to elevate him past Powroznik.
“That last one, I’m not sure if the camera will see it, but it was unturnable,” he said. “I’ve caught a gazillion 4- to 5-pounders under docks. That was a giant. I couldn’t turn it.”
The other one felt like a bluegill bite, but by the time he realized it wasn’t it was too late to get a good hookset into it.
“I definitely learned something from that,” he said. “I’m surprised it stayed hooked that long. That was sickening. It was 3 pounds at least and I know it would’ve been in my bag in the end.”
He said he came into the week with a confident vibe and was fishing how likes to – skipping jigs around docks and targeting smallmouth offshore.
“It’s just a disappointment,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like something is meant to be and you have a calm about you. I had that this week. When it doesn’t happen, it makes you question everything, like why did I have those feelings. I was going all out feeling like I was going to win, then it’s over. It was pretty abrupt.”
> Additional details will be published soon.
Here’s a look at the cumulative totals for the four semifinalists:
> Jacob Powroznik: 39-11
> Ish Monroe: 39-00
> Mike Iaconelli: 37-05
> Dave Lefebre: 36-12
> Fri., Sept. 22 – Mix of Clouds, Sun - 79°/62°
- Wind: From the SSE at 10 to 15 mph