MASSENA, N.Y. – Much of the Top 10 has been characterized by consistency thus far, with the best anglers sacking up bags in the low 20s on back-to-back days to stay in the hunt at the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats event at the St. Lawrence River. For the leaders, that hasn’t been the case. Travis Manson sacked 25 pounds, 2 ounces on Day 1 and then backed it up with 15-4 to fall to 15th on Day 2. Friday, Canadian pro Gary Miller followed up 19-11 with 27-11 to move into the lead with a two-day total of 47-6. Behind Miller, Brett Carnright, Spencer Shuffield and Brent Anderson have all managed better than 44 pounds to round out a stout top four.
As expected, the western end of the river is playing big, with a bunch of the Top 10 making a long run. Also as expected, the deep bite is strong, but Miller is looking to prove it isn’t unbeatable.
While many of the other pros are drifting, dragging and ‘Scoping deep, Miller busted the biggest bag of the tournament how he likes to fish. Staying true to his Canadian colors, he’s hunting fish shallow.
On Day 1, Miller was close to glory, weighing 19-11 himself but watching Strike King co-angler Taylor Wisniewski land more than 23 pounds of smallmouth.
“My co had a great day yesterday [with] 23-6,” Miller said. “I’m on big fish, but it was the light conditions. Yesterday it was cloudy; I’d chase the fish, I’d lose ‘em, and the next thing I knew they were on the end of his line. They’d go behind the boat. I’d never had that happen before. I really struggled with that. I guess I’m spoiled.”
Sunny conditions on Day 2 let Miller cook.
“With the light conditions today I could target them better,” he said. “I love stalking the giants; that’s my game. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t work. In the Open I was trying to get a bag like this and ended up with 8 pounds. It’s a high-risk, high-reward type fishing.”
Making the long run, Miller is stalking fish, but not doing it solely with his eyes.
“We got fish deep and shallow,” he said. “I’m learning with the LiveScope how to chase them the way I chase them shallow. I’m learning now, and that’s changed things quite a bit. When I’m deep, I’m more in that 15 to 20 range. There’s a lot of fish in that range that I didn’t realize.”
According to Miller, who won a 2022 BFL on the river with 28-14, it’s all about adapting to each individual bass.
“I throw the same baits all the time: drop-shot, hair jig, Ned rig, spybait,” he said. “The spybait was working real good, and after those storms the other day I haven’t got one fish on the spybait. But the other three are working. I let the fish tell me what to throw. One fish might want the hair jig, the next might want a Flat Worm, the next might want a minnow-style swimbait on the drop-shot.”
As for icing down the win, Miller isn’t as optimistic as you might think.
“I only know how to swing for the fences; I don’t know how to get a 22-pound bag,” he said. “I don’t have a spot with a whole bunch of 3- and 4-pounders. It’s spots with big fish, and if there happens to be a smaller one, that’s fine. I don’t feel great about tomorrow; I’ve struggled with Day 3.
“In Canada, we have three-day tournaments, and I’ve been leading them multiple times. Chris and Cory (Johnston) will kick our butts on the last day. I can tell you this: The fish are pushing shallow. They haven’t been really shallow since early in the season. They’re pushing up now, some big ones, so I was happy to see that.”
After coming from behind to win the Northern Division opener on Champlain, Carnright is right there again, with back-to-back 22-pound bags putting him at 44-10 and in the hunt for another victory.
Still, Carnright isn’t as dialed as you might expect, having pieced together a great tournament on a few key bites and not many spots.
“Honestly, I’m not really on that much; going into the day I thought there was a possibility that I might not catch any fish,” he said. “I’m not fishing many places. There’s the possibility that you run five or six places in a row and don’t even get bit. All I’m thinking about is that I might make an 80-mile run and not catch anything.”
Luckily, one spot has paid off with a pair of 5-pounders so far.
“At the end of the day on Day 1, I pulled into a spot in Ogdensburg (New York) with 15 minutes of fishing time left and caught a 5-pounder,” Carnright said. “This morning, I pulled into it and on the first drop of the morning I caught a 5-pounder, and then didn’t get another bite for an hour. That was an awesome way to start the morning, but then I decided to make another 50-mile run down to my primary area.”
Once at his primary area near Clayton, New York, Carnright sacked up a quick 20 pounds, began checking new stuff, and added a key 4-pounder late to cull to his final weight.
Now, he’s in the hunt for back-to-back wins, and having the kind of season that could change his life.
“I’m right where I want to be. These are the days I live for,” he said. “The fact that I’m in this position again, after the last one, it’s pretty unreal. Especially here on the river, I have a lot of experience on the lake, but not on the river. I can imagine winning two — I am now, but I definitely didn’t think it was a possibility, and now I’m knocking on the door of two in a row.”
Though the relationship is probably a little one-sided, things seem to keep working out between Shuffield and smallmouth. Tied by weight with fourth-place Anderson, the Arkansas pro has totaled 44-8 through two days and made it look easy on Day 2.
“I’m over in the same general area where I won the (2022 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit) TITLE,” he said. “Today I saw a lot more fish. I had a good day yesterday. I had that 21-12 by 10 o’clock. But I weighed a 3.46 yesterday. I didn’t see many fish yesterday — going out this morning, I didn’t know if I could catch a limit — but I got there today, and they were everywhere. I saw them really good, I had 20 pounds in the first 40 minutes and saw a lot of big ones swimming around.”
Throwing a drop-shot and a Ned rig, Shuffield is encountering an issue that a number of anglers have reported – the big ones seem to be getting smart.
“I feel good about tomorrow; I’m around them, 100%,” he said. “But, I’ve had some really big ones, the ones I know are true 5-plusses, go to my stuff and not commit. I’ve seen some full-grown giants go to my stuff and just not bite. That caliber fish are in the area; it’s just getting them to bite. I’m probably going to need to have 25 (pounds), and I haven’t had any of those really big bites yet, so maybe tomorrow.”
Lately, you can just about lock Anderson into the Top 10 on the St. Lawrence, but you can also guarantee he won’t pull off the win. Sitting in fourth with 44-8, he’s in the hunt again, doing what he usually does.
“It was similar to yesterday,” Anderson said. “I fished a bunch of new areas and caught a better average size, but never caught a great big one like I did yesterday.”
Fishing in the real river, from Ogdensburg to Morristown, New York, Anderson is loading the boat.
“Everything I weighed in came out of about 40 (feet), but I caught them in an array of depths,” he said. “I probably caught 40 keepers.”
As a veteran tournament angler, Anderson is good when it comes to assessing his chances to win. This week, he’s not expecting lightning to strike. Still, sometimes that’s when it happens.
“I don’t feel good about it,” he said of his odds. “I think I can catch fish, but I feel less like I could win this one than I did the Open or the Toyota last year. I’m having to catch so many to get 4 ½-pounders, and it’s taking me a while each day to find those groups where I catch that many. I’ve been playing my Day 3 game, skipping the school where I can catch 18 pounds, but I’m not running into the amount of 5-pounders I think I need to see.”
1. Gary Miller – 47 – 6 (10)
2. Brett Carnright – 44 – 10 (10)
3. Spencer Shuffield – 44 – 8 (10)
4. Brent Anderson – 44 – 8 (10)
5. Tommy Dickerson – 43 – 11 (10)
6. Kyle Cortiana – 43 – 2 (10)
7. Jeff Turner – 42 – 9 (10)
8. Jason Gramada – 42 – 9 (10)
9. Alec Morrison – 42 – 6 (10)
10. Clay Reece – 42 – 4 (10)