By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

When the Bassmaster Elite Series season began at the St. Johns River 236 days ago, all 75 anglers had an even-up chance to win the Angler of the Year title. Thats all any of them wanted a chance.

As the season winds to a close Tuesday yes, Tuesday at the venerable smallmouth factory Lake St. Clair, the number of competitors with a legitimate shot a chance to claim the crown has been effectively reduced to four. B.A.S.S. could not have scripted a better way for the first season of its revamped Elite Series to reach its crescendo, with a quartet of seasoned vets, including two newcomers to the circuit, separated by just eight points and all in the top 16 on the tournament leaderboard with eight hours remaining on the water to settle it all. None of the four have won an AOY title in their pro careers.

Scott Canterbury, who brought a nine-point advantage into this event, bounced back from an adversity-riddled day 1 to tally 21-13 today and move up eight spots to 16th with 39-08. That catapulted him back into the points lead, but his cushion is precarious now at just four points over Chris Zaldain, who remained in 11th place with a 19-10 stringer, giving him 40-06.

Three or four different people can still win it, so Im just trying to catch as much as I can every day, Canterbury said. I thought about it some throughout the day and it would definitely be an emotional deal if I can pull it off.

Zaldain said he had three solid fish come off, any of which wouldve put him over the 20-pound mark. Missing his self-imposed threshold of 20 pounds was a bit of a letdown, but hes thankful to still have an opportunity to cap off a sensational year tomorrow with an AOY title.

Im still in the mix and no doubt its anyones game, he said. Its going to be one of the best AOY battles Ive ever seen.



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

A six-pounder was Chris Zaldain's first fish of the day and it anchored what wound up being a 19-10 stringer.

Stetson Blaylock logged his second straight 24-pound stringer and held onto second place, which currently puts him third in points, just two behind Zaldain.

I feel like Im fishing for second, Blaylock said. Ive maximized my potential to the fullest. I came here with a goal of catching 20 (pounds) a day and then let it all play out. Im happy with the tournament so far and I cant complain at all, but dadgum it, you get this close and fish all year for it and get in a good position, but its still theirs to lose.

Cory Johnston endured more mechanical issues today, this time going virtually the entire day without a functioning trolling motor, but he scraped together 21-00 thanks to a late rally, and is 10th on the leaderboard with 40-07, good enough for fourth in points, two points back of Blaylock.

There is not a lot of pressure for me in this one, Johnston said. Do I want to win? One thousand percent I do, but pressure is not the right word. I had a bunch of hurdles to overcome this season and Ive done that and put myself in position on the last day to take a run at it. Im anxious to go fishing and see how it plays out. I could catch 24 pounds and still fall short, but anything can happen.

Speaking of 24 pounds, Seth Feider hauled in the heaviest stringer for the second straight day and extended his lead to more than 2 1/2 pounds. Feiders 24-13 gave him 51-09 and set him up to win the second AOY Championship tournament of his career on Tuesday. But Feiders pursuit of victory will be secondary to the tension facing the foursome chasing the AOY hardware and $100,000 bonus.

Paul Mueller sacked 23-02 and moved into third with 45-08 as he looks to stay inside the cut line to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Mueller came into the tournament in 42nd place, which is the projected cut line for a Classic berth.

Shane Lehew bagged 21-11 to move into fourth with 43-11 while Cliff Prince hauled in 22-00 to take over fifth and enhance his Classic hopes with a two-day total of 43-03. Prince now sits 36th in points, 37 points above the cut line.

The wind, which presented myriad challenges on day 1, was a non-factor today and even died off completely at one point. That prompted some to make adjustments in pursuit of St. Clairs smallmouth, which seem to be scattered about as they prepare to shift into their fall feeding pattern.

Canterbury, who competed Sunday without functioning electronics on his bow, had all of his systems operating today as he notched his eighth 20-pound bag of the season.

He admitted the lack of a front sonar unit Sunday got in his head, but he ground out what he could to stay in the race. The difference between day 1 and 2 for him was getting off to a much better start today.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Stetson Blaylock has done about all he can do this week to enhance his chances to win the AOY title.

Today wasnt absolutely spectacular, but it had its moments, he said.

He caught three good keepers early while in comparison he didnt catch a keeper until 11 a.m. Sunday.

I caught my fourth and fifth today around 11:30 and that settled me down, he added.

He worked through three separate areas, mixing up a crankbait, a dropshot and a tube for the most part. A couple key upgrades later in the day off the same spot bumped him up past 21 pounds.

I didnt go there yesterday because it was so rough and I imagine Ill fish it again tomorrow if the wind allows, he said.

Zaldains day got started with a bang in the form of a 6-01 brute that held up as big bass of the day. He continued to split his focus between deep water and shallow flats, hoping to collide with groups of fish in both locales. He knows his execution will have be better Tuesday to enhance his chances of overtaking Canterbury.

I lost three that hurt me one on a crankbait, one on a spybait and one on a dropshot, believe it or not, he said. Just lost them.

Zaldain already has a trio of runner-up finishes to his credit this season and hes going to carry the same mindset into tomorrow thats worked for him all year long.

I know the task at hand and thats to put as much on the scales as possible, he said. Ive fished pissed off all year and Im going to fish pissed off tomorrow and let it roll.

I dont feel the pressure right now, he continued. Ive been doing this all year taking little steps to win the battles to win the war. Ive kept a one-fish-at-a-time mindset. Im going to keep it fresh and keep it fun. I need to capitalize on my opportunities because these fish are still moving and they will continue to move. Catching big smallmouth is fun, so my goal tomorrow is to have as much fun as possible.

How much fun he does have will likely hinge on how hes able to read the wind and the areas he chooses to target as a result.

The areas that are best tend to be not so good and then the not-so-good areas turn on at certain points of the day, he added. Theyre trying to get on their fall feed.

Blaylocks confidence level is as high as it can get, but hes already planning to make adjustments based on what the wind decides to do on the final day.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Cory Johnston managed to catch 21 pounds today without the benefit of a trolling motor.

I know the fish the fish are there and there are a lot of fish out there to be caught, and I feel like I have the right deal going, but a lot changed when the weather changed, he said. Ive already made plans if that happens again tomorrow.

I feel like tomorrow itll be different again. Its supposed to be nice in the morning and then a chance of rain in the afternoon. What Im worried about is the wind. It says 5 to 15 (mph), which is strange. Well have to see what the wind does because thats a big factor in what happens.

He knows hes nearly maxed out his points potential Blaylock can only gather one more point by surpassing Feider so the outcome of the points race is largely out of his control.

The odds of me catching another 24 pounds are slim, but theyre out there, he said. Its hard to do it once, let alone multiple days. For me, I feel like Im fishing for 21 pounds and Id be happy for that, but once you get to the position where Im at and you do what you can and be happy with it.

Under the circumstances he was faced with, Johnston was more than pleased with a 21-pound stringer. What has him most enthused to get back out on the water is what transpired toward the end of the day.

I figured something out in last 15 or 20 minutes and culled out four fish, he said. If I can get some calm water, that seems to help my pattern and I should be able to catch them pretty good. If not, Ill have to figure something out.

Notable

> Greg DiPalma failed to weigh in a fish on Sunday, which meant he was credited with zero points. As a result he started day 2 well below the Classic qualification line. Today, however, he caught 17-14 and put himself back in the Classic in 39th place.

Day 2 Results

1. Seth Feider -- New Market, MN -- 10, 51-09 -- 100
Day 1: 5, 26-12 -- Day 2: 5, 24-13

2. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 10, 49-03 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 24-12 -- Day 2: 5, 24-07

3. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 10, 45-08 -- 98
Day 1: 5, 22-06 -- Day 2: 5, 23-02

4. Shane Lehew -- Catawba, NC -- 10, 43-11 -- 97
Day 1: 5, 22-00 -- Day 2: 5, 21-11

5. Cliff Prince -- Palatka, FL -- 10, 43-03 -- 96
Day 1: 5, 21-03 -- Day 2: 5, 22-00

6. Clark Wendlandt -- Leander, TX -- 10, 42-12 -- 95
Day 1: 5, 18-14 -- Day 2: 5, 23-14

7. Matt Arey -- Shelby, NC -- 10, 42-04 -- 94
Day 1: 5, 19-07 -- Day 2: 5, 22-13

8. Mike Huff -- Corbin, KY -- 10, 41-06 -- 93
Day 1: 5, 18-01 -- Day 2: 5, 23-05

9. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 10, 41-02 -- 92
Day 1: 5, 20-08 -- Day 2: 5, 20-10

10. Cory Johnston Cavan, Ontario -- 10, 40-07 -- 91
Day 1: 5, 19-07 -- Day 2: 5, 21-00

11. Chris Zaldain -- Fort Worth, TX -- 10, 40-06 -- 90
Day 1: 5, 20-12 -- Day 2: 5, 19-10

12. Skylar Hamilton -- Dandridge, TN -- 10, 40-03 -- 89
Day 1: 5, 21-13 -- Day 2: 5, 18-06

13. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 10, 40-03 -- 88
Day 1: 5, 20-06 -- Day 2: 5, 19-13

14. Caleb Sumrall -- New Iberia, LA -- 10, 40-02 -- 87
Day 1: 5, 20-08 -- Day 2: 5, 19-10

15. Hunter Shryock -- Newcomerstown, OH -- 10, 40-01 -- 86
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 5, 18-09

16. Scott Canterbury -- Odenville, AL -- 10, 39-08 -- 85
Day 1: 5, 17-11 -- Day 2: 5, 21-13

17. Todd Auten -- Lake Wylie, SC -- 10, 39-05 -- 84
Day 1: 5, 20-14 -- Day 2: 5, 18-07

18. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 10, 38-02 -- 83
Day 1: 5, 17-13 -- Day 2: 5, 20-05

19. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 10, 37-13 -- 82
Day 1: 5, 18-04 -- Day 2: 5, 19-09

20. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 10, 37-10 -- 81
Day 1: 5, 18-00 -- Day 2: 5, 19-10

21. Jake Whitaker -- Fairview, NC -- 10, 37-04 -- 80
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 5, 15-12

22. Ed Loughran III -- Richmond, VA -- 10, 36-14 -- 79
Day 1: 5, 18-00 -- Day 2: 5, 18-14

23. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 10, 36-10 -- 78
Day 1: 5, 12-09 -- Day 2: 5, 24-01

24. Jeff Gustafson -- Keewatin Ontario -- 10, 36-02 -- 77
Day 1: 5, 16-04 -- Day 2: 5, 19-14

25. Patrick Walters -- Summerville, SC -- 10, 35-14 -- 76
Day 1: 5, 15-05 -- Day 2: 5, 20-09

26. Derek Hudnall -- Baton Rouge, LA -- 8, 35-04 -- 75
Day 1: 5, 24-12 -- Day 2: 3, 10-08

27. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 10, 35-01 -- 74
Day 1: 5, 18-06 -- Day 2: 5, 16-11

28. Lee Livesay -- Gladewater, TX -- 10, 34-15 -- 73
Day 1: 5, 16-15 -- Day 2: 5, 18-00

29. Jay Yelas -- Lincoln City, OR -- 10, 34-12 -- 72
Day 1: 5, 15-04 -- Day 2: 5, 19-08

30. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 10, 34-07 -- 71
Day 1: 5, 16-00 -- Day 2: 5, 18-07

31. Drew Benton -- Panama City, FL -- 10, 33-13 -- 70
Day 1: 5, 13-13 -- Day 2: 5, 20-00

32. Luke Palmer -- Coalgate, OK -- 8, 33-08 -- 69
Day 1: 3, 14-05 -- Day 2: 5, 19-03

33. Chad Morgenthaler -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 10, 33-07 -- 68
Day 1: 5, 12-01 -- Day 2: 5, 21-06

34. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 8, 31-14 -- 67
Day 1: 3, 11-03 -- Day 2: 5, 20-11

35. Chad Pipkens -- Lansing, MI -- 8, 31-12 -- 66
Day 1: 3, 11-12 -- Day 2: 5, 20-00

36. Chris Johnston Peterborough, Ontario -- 10, 31-10 -- 65
Day 1: 5, 11-07 -- Day 2: 5, 20-03

37. Kelley Jaye -- Dadeville, AL -- 9, 31-02 -- 64
Day 1: 4, 10-01 -- Day 2: 5, 21-01

38. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 10, 31-02 -- 63
Day 1: 5, 15-09 -- Day 2: 5, 15-09

39. Brock Mosley -- Collinsville, MS -- 10, 29-02 -- 62
Day 1: 5, 15-04 -- Day 2: 5, 13-14

40. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 10, 28-08 -- 61
Day 1: 5, 11-04 -- Day 2: 5, 17-04

41. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 10, 27-14 -- 60
Day 1: 5, 13-12 -- Day 2: 5, 14-02

42. Drew Cook -- Midway, FL -- 7, 26-14 -- 59
Day 1: 2, 07-10 -- Day 2: 5, 19-04

43. Tyler Rivet -- Raceland, LA -- 8, 26-02 -- 58
Day 1: 3, 09-12 -- Day 2: 5, 16-06

44. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 10, 25-14 -- 57
Day 1: 5, 12-04 -- Day 2: 5, 13-10

45. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 7, 25-02 -- 56
Day 1: 2, 05-13 -- Day 2: 5, 19-05

46. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 6, 23-10 -- 55
Day 1: 1, 04-02 -- Day 2: 5, 19-08

47. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 7, 23-01 -- 54
Day 1: 2, 04-02 -- Day 2: 5, 18-15

48. Garrett Paquette -- Canton, MI -- 5, 19-02 -- 53
Day 1: 3, 09-11 -- Day 2: 2, 09-07

49. Greg DiPalma -- Millville, NJ -- 5, 17-14 -- 52
Day 1: 0, 00-00 -- Day 2: 5, 17-14

50. Ray Hanselman Jr -- Del Rio, TX -- 4, 11-14 -- 51
Day 1: 1, 01-14 -- Day 2: 3, 10-00