Fujita wrangles big bag to claim Day 1 lead in Bassmaster Elite Series event at Toledo Bend
MANY, La. —

Before the start of the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend, Kyoya Fujita’s personal-best bag of largemouth weighed around 24 pounds.

But after anchoring his bag with an 8 1/2-pounder Thursday, the Japanese pro shattered that mark and claimed the Day 1 lead at Toledo Bend with a 31-pound, 3-ounce bag of largemouth.

Known as the “Prince of Japanese Angling,” Fujita holds a 2-3 advantage over Elite Series rookie Robert Gee of Tennessee and nearly a 4-pound advantage over Wisconsin pro Pat Schlapper.

Fujita had never been to Toledo Bend before he pre-fished here in January. He said the lake has changed a lot since then, particularly the water levels, which are much higher now.

Using Garmin LiveScope, Fujita targeted prespawn bass located in 30 feet of water around standing timber in a popular area of Toledo Bend. Two baits caught the majority of his bass in one specific spot he found the last day of practice.

It only took about three hours for Fujita to reach his total for the day, as he landed the 8-pounder around 8 o’clock. During one particular flurry, he threw back a 4-pounder and then a 5-pounder. While the day was warm and sunny, the wind kicked up across the lake, making things more difficult.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher,” Fujita said through a translator. “In the morning, it was easy fishing. Afternoon, no bites. I don’t like rough water.”

Fujita said 30 pounds is the goal for tomorrow, and believes there are the bass in the area to repeat that performance.

“I will go to same area and same spot. (I’ll do) the same fishing,” he said. “I’ll try for 20 pounds. But if tough conditions, I’ll go to the next area with 3-pounders and 4-pounders and change tactics.”

Gee fished the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by SEVIIN in 2023 and suffered his worst finish of the season at Toledo Bend. But he took the lessons he learned from that event and applied them this week to catch 29-0 Thursday.

“I beat the bank the whole time [in 2023] and from that moment on it changed my outlook on the way I needed to be fishing,” Gee said. “I dedicated myself to working on my offshore game ever since that tournament and it paid off today.”

He caught plenty of bass on Day 1, including a stop that produced two 5-pounders and several more quality bass to increase his total to 20 pounds around midday.

But a late-day stop produced the bulk of his weight.

“I made a move to a ditch and every fish I saw was over 5 pounds,” he said. “I culled everything I had out, including a 5-pounder, in 30 minutes. It was unbelievable. This is my biggest bag ever by myself.”

The majority of the bass he is catching are relating to standing timber. The shallowest bass came from 10 feet of water while his big bass late in the day were in 40 feet. One bait produced the bulk of his weight.

Gee knows there are plenty of bass left in his afternoon area and is hoping it will produce just as well on Day 2.

“Honestly, I didn’t think it held bass that size,” he said. “I went over there to catch 3- and 4-pounders. But every fish I saw was 5-plus. It was the perfect storm when I rolled in there and I think they are coming to it. I think I know where they are going to if they aren’t in the same spot.”

Schlapper brought 27-4 to the scales to land in third. A three-time qualifier for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors, he settled into the same popular area as Fujita and caught the bulk of his bag in about an hour and a half.

“I got into an area later in the day where I figured it would be right, and it was right,” Schlapper said. “I caught my biggest one earlier in the day, but everything else came in that one area. There’s a group of us that are all in the same area. That one little stretch I had, people overlooked and it's a little different than what the main thing is that is going on.”

The majority of the bass Schlapper caught are individuals just roaming around in 12 to 40 feet of water. He will be heading to the same area Friday, although he isn’t sure the day will follow the same script.

“What I think is happening is later in the day with the sun, they start coming up. I don’t know if it is to warm up or what,” he said. “I’m in a good area. There’s a lot of big bass and they are moving around. I just have to get it in front of five of the right ones and get them in the boat.”

Leesville, S.C., pro Bryan New landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day, a 9-8 largemouth that bested several other 9-pounders.

The full field will take off from Cypress Bend Park beginning at 7 a.m. CT and return for weigh-in at 3 p.m. The Top 50 anglers after the Day 2 weigh-in will advance to Semifinal Saturday before the Top 10 compete for the blue trophy and $100,000 top prize on Championship Sunday. All anglers are earning points towards Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year.

Bassmaster LIVE will be streaming on Bassmaster.com all four days beginning at 8 a.m. ET, and coverage will also be available on FS1 on Saturday and Sunday.

Those wanting to attend will be able to enjoy the “B.A.S.S. on the ’Bend” festival on Saturday and Sunday at Cypress Bend Park before weigh-in. The festival will feature live music and many local vendors.

The event is being hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office and Tourism.