Fujita extends lead at Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Champlain

Matching the day’s bright complexion, Japanese superstar Kyoya Fujita again outshined the field and maintained his lead at the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain with a three-day total of 67 pounds, 12 ounces.

Following a dim and drizzly Day 2, Semifinal Sunday’s morning clouds quickly yielded to mostly sunny conditions, which clearly cracked the whip on Champlain’s smallmouth bass. Capitalizing on the favorable conditions, the rookie Elite from Minamitsuru, Yamanashi, Japan, who led Day 2, complemented his first two limits of 21-5 and 23-14 with a Day 3 bag that weighed 22-9.

Fujita started the day with a 7-ounce lead over Alex Redwine of Blue Ash, Ohio. After Sunday’s performance, he heads into Championship Monday leading Missouri pro Cody Huff by 2-13.

“Today was very tough,” Fujita admitted. “Short bite, short bite, short bite — miss, miss, miss. I had no big fish in the morning. But in the afternoon, I had two big fish.”

Making his fourth Top 10 for the 2023 Elite season, Fujita has camped in one main area of the Inland Sea, at Champlain’s upper end. He’s basically hunting down active smallmouth that are following schools of baitfish.

Fujita said his main baits are a drop shot with a 4.5-inch Jackall Yammy stick worm cut down to 3 inches and a Damiki-style rig with a 5.2-inch Jackall Revoltage RV-Drift Fry on a 1/8-ounce ball-head jig.

The vast Inland Sea has hosted several of the event’s top performers, but Fujita seems to have dialed in the sweetest spot.

“In practice, I looked through a lot of places, but the area I’m fishing has the most big fish,” Fujita said with the help of an interpreter.

Forward-facing sonar has dramatically improved the way anglers search broad areas and, with three graphs on his bow, Fujita has kept a keen eye on his targets. Although he declined to share specifics, he noted the distance at which he sets his Garmin LiveScope has played a key role in his success.

“I’m looking at fish on the bottom and suspended fish,” Fujita said. “Both were non-active today. I was really struggling.”

Fujita said he responded to this challenge with mobility.

“I moved around more today,” he said. “I caught fish in five different spots. I was able to go back to some of these spots multiple times and catch fish.”

After catching approximately 50 bass on Day 2, Fujita boated 15 today. Noting that he’s sticking with that same game plan, Fujita said he knows he has to step on the gas in the final round.

“Nothing has changed from the beginning of the tournament; it’s just getting tougher and tougher every day,” Fujita said. “I need a big fish tomorrow.

“I know it’s going to be tough, but there will be fewer people. I’m going to keep doing the same thing and catch every fish I see.”

Huff, who led Day 1, holds the second-place spot with 64-15. His daily limits went 23-3, 20-10 and 21-2.

Also fishing the Inland Sea, Huff spent his day hunting bass on forward-facing sonar. He threw a Damiki rig with a Strike King 3X Z-Too and a Baby Z-Too.

“I would like to tell you a really cool story on how you go and find ‘em, but it’s just covering a ton of water until you see them,” Huff said. “They’re not everywhere, but when you get into an area that’s got them, it’s like there’s a big school.

“Sometimes, that school’s together; sometimes, it’s spread out. Sometimes, I’m picking off singles, doubles and triples. Other times, they’re in groups of 20 to 30 fish.”

Huff said the sun helped him find more fish and the ones he found seemed more aggressive.

Justin Atkins of Florence, Ala., is in third place with 64-15. Turning in a consistent performance, Atkins has weighed bags of 22-6, 21-6 and 21-3.

Bucking the trend of Damiki rigs and drop shots, Atkins has been catching his bass on a 1/4-ounce underspin with a Berkley MaxScent Flat Worm. In the dim conditions of Day 2, he found that going to an all-black bait/trailer package worked best, but Day 3 required an adjustment.

“I had to go back to the (white) bait I caught them on when it was sunny the first day,” Atkins said. “Yesterday, I couldn’t get them to bite the lighter-colored bait. Today, they started eating it right off the bat.”

Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Md., who won the 2021 Elite at Champlain, earned the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for the day with his 5-1.

Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., and Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ky., share the overall lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Week honors, each with a 5-4.

Fujita is currently in the lead for the VMC Monster Bag award with his Day 2 limit of 23-14.

Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 652 points. Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, S.C., is in second with 646, followed by Drew Cook of Cairo, Ga., with 622, Przekurat with 616 and Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., with 612.

Joey Cifuentes III of Clinton, Ark., leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 610 points. Fujita is in second with 595.

Monday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET at Plattsburgh City Marina. The weigh-in will be held at the marina at 3 p.m. Bassmaster LIVE will stream beginning at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster.com.

The tournament is being hosted by the City of Plattsburgh and Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau.