By BassFan Staff

The first cast set the tone today for both finalists in the Bassmaster Classic Bracket.

Jacob Powroznik landed a 3-04 largemouth while Ish Monroe got sidetracked by a backlash. Powroznik then caught a 1-02 on his second cast while Monroe was still fiddling with his reel. Heck, Powroznik’s third keeper bit after he stopped reeling his swimbait momentarily to itch his nose.

It summed up how the rest of the day played out at Lake Pokegama with a berth in the 2018 Bassmaster Classic on the line.

The start of the finals was delayed 15 minutes by weather – a line of violent thunderstorms blew through the Grand Rapids, Minn., area overnight and early this morning – but Powroznik wasted no time in compiling a quick limit. He had 11-04, including three fish over 2 1/2 pounds, in the first 45 minutes. Monroe’s first keeper came at 8:52 a.m. local time, more than an hour after his first cast, and he spent the rest of the day in catch-up mode.

After Powroznik culled his way up to 14-15 just before 10 a.m., Monroe started to make up ground with Pokegama’s smallmouth. He caught a 2-05 at 10:54 to get to 14-08, but that proved to be his last upgrade of the day.

Powroznik, meanwhile, had also shifted his attention to smallmouth and connected with a 4-03 brute on a dropshot at 11:17 to bump his lead back up to 2 pounds. About 20 minutes later, he added a 3-pound smallmouth to push his total to 16-11. He didn’t catch another upgrade the rest of the way.

Monroe set the hook on two fish that potentially could’ve helped him close the gap in the last 45 minutes, but both came off and he finished with 14-08.

When the time ran out and he was declared the winner, Powroznik said it was the most pressure he’d ever fished under and after doing an interview on his boat, he did a celebratory cannonball jump into the lake.

“It felt like I had (Mercury) 250 OptiMaxes on each shoulder today,” Powroznik said. “That’s one of the most stressful things I’ve ever been through in my life.”

Powroznik, whose best finish this season was an 18th at Toledo Bend back in April, was visibly moved after clinching the win, which sends him to his fourth straight Classic. He finished 5th in 2015 at Lake Hartwell, which will host the 2018 Classic.

“A lot of (the emotion) was for my family to get to come to the Classic,” he said. “It’s the only one they get to come to each year. They look forward to it and now they get to come.”

Prior to the Mille Lacs Lake Angler of the Year Championship, Monroe was 38th in Elite Series points and right on the bubble for Classic qualification. A 49th-place finish there knocked him back to 45th and he was forced to participate in the Classic Bracket for a shot at his 11th career Classic berth. He had fished clean the first three days at Pokegama, but the two lost fish this afternoon really stung.

“Up until that last minute, I was waiting for that 5-pounder to eat,” he said. “That last one was a big one and it was right on the same corner where I caught the 5 yesterday. It’s bad luck or bad something. I don’t even know what it is anymore. I can’t even be mad at it anymore.

“Congrats to Jacob. He freakin’ caught them today.”

The format for the final differed from the Classic Bracket final last year that pitted Kevin VanDam against Brett Hite. VanDam and Hite were credited with the weight for every legal-sized bass they caught while Powroznik and Monroe were allowed to count their best five today, which was the format used in the first two rounds.

The field for the 2018 Classic is about 90 percent complete now. There are still six berths in the 52-man field to be determined, but the Classic Bracket was the last one guaranteed to go to an Elite Series competitor. The next berth to be doled out will be at the Smith Lake Southern Open next week in Alabama.

Elation, Relief For Powroznik

Powroznik tallied 39-11 in defeating Steve Kennedy and Dave Lefebre in the earlier rounds and he figured another 14 pounds would be sufficient to claim the win today. In the previous two matches, though, he fell behind early and eventually overtook his counterpart.

Today, he set the pace and never relinquished the lead.

Things went smoothly for him all day. He started on a spot where he’d caught largemouth each of the last three days. He opted to start with a swimbait today – he’d used a dropshot, a wacky rig and a jerkbait before – and it paid off with keepers on his first two casts.

“It’s the way I wanted to start,” he said. “When Lefebre jumped out to his early lead on me yesterday, it sent fire through me. In a bad way, it was also like ‘Oh my gosh,’ so I wanted to jump on Ish to see what he had left in the tank. I figured I could catch a few right there.”

He left that spot with three keepers for 5-15 and very little in the way of jitters.

Things were going so good for Powroznik, he even caught a fish that had been previously released with a culling clip and cable still attached to its lip.

He caught the fish from under a dock at 9:58 a.m. and asked his boat official – B.A.S.S. Nation director Jon Stewart – if he could weigh the fish with the cull tag in place. Stewart phoned Elite Series tournament director Trip Weldon, who was in Monroe’s boat, and Weldon advised Stewart to weigh the fish with and without the cull tag. It wound up weighing the same – 3-03 – even after the tag was removed. That fish got Powroznik to 14-15 and proved to be the Classic clincher.

He salted it away with two key smallmouth upgrades on offshore points in the Sherry Arm Bay area of the lake, including the 4-03 that bit a wacky-rigged soft plastic stickbait on a dropshot.

“That’s where I thought I could catch a big one – a 3-plus pounder,” he said.

On the water, he described the area as being around some of the deepest water in the lake, but he focused on long, tapering bars with baitfish grouped up on them. After fishing for a bit without a bite, he drifted off his waypoint and discovered a school on his electronics.

“I caught three out of it,” he said. “When that 4-pounder jumped, I was like, ‘There he is.’”

Shortly thereafter he moved to an another with the same characteristics and finished his day with a 3-00.

“It’s just where the grass ends in a flat area with sand,” he said. “There’s hardly any rock in that place.”

Additional details about Powroznik’s pattern will be published early next week.

Monroe’s Bad Luck Returns

Monroe, who recorded 39-00 over the first two rounds, wrote off his loss to the cloud of bad luck that’s hung over him all season. He had several things go against him at Mille Lacs, but things seemed to be turning around at Pokegama until today.

“There is no description for it,” he said. “It’s just a continuation of everything that’s happened to me this year. Everything went perfect until today and the last two hours. When you lose three good ones and you haven’t lost any … I changed jig heads and put fresh ones on. Nothing changed. Yesterday, every smallmouth made it in the boat. Today, I lose three, so it’s just numbness.”

He was concerned about the effect the storms would have, especially on the smallmouth.

“I was worried because the storms were so severe with thunder and lightning – everything that make smallmouth not want to bite,” he said. “There were times it got flat calm and they didn’t want to bite. Then the wind picked up and they’d bite.”

He wasn’t rattled that he didn’t catch a keeper right away in the course of doing nearly a complete lap around Little Lake Pokegama. He wasn’t bothered that Powroznik had opened up a sizable lead before he’d landed a keeper.

“I came to fish to win,” he said. “I felt like I needed to fish some fresh water because the one thing about that place is we hammered on a lot of the same stuff.

“That first area I had three bites – one was a bass and the other two I’m not sure. It goes back to I don’t know why they come off or why they miss the bait or why they don’t end up in the boat. I’ve been through this before and it puts me just out (of the Classic) rather than on top of the leaderboard.”

After departing Little Lake Pokegama, he caught his first couple keepers out of reeds before settling into a rhythm. His second keeper was a 3-06 caught casting a jig through some reeds he’s fished each day this week. He finished his limit for 10-15 with a 2-14 smallmouth at 10:07 a.m. and then culled four times in a row over the next 45 minutes, highlighted by a 3-07 smallmouth, to get to 14-08.

His last upgrade was a 2-05 that got tangled up in some reeds and he tried to free it several times, to no avail. He was ready to lean his head and shoulders into the water in an effort to untangle it, but the fish finally came loose and he got it in the boat just before 11 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, Powroznik landed his 4-03 kicker.

His key baits this week were a 3/4-oz. Missile Jigs Ike’s Flip Out Jig (bruiser) tipped with a Missile Baits D-Bomb (straight black). On Thursday, when it got windy, he mixed in a 3/4-oz. River2Sea Tommy Biffle Junkyard Jig (black/blue) with a D-Bomb trailer (bruiser flash).