Gee squeaks into Day 3 lead in Bassmaster Elite Series event at Smith Lake

With the leaderboard as tight as it’s been at the TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake, the door was open for any of the 50 remaining anglers in the tournament to move up the standings.

Robert Gee is that guy.

After lurking near the lead for the first half of the tournament, the 25-year-old Knoxville, Tenn., resident grabbed the pole position on Saturday with a 14-pound, 2-ounce bag that gave him a three-day total of 41-9.

It’s the slimmest of cushions, though, with every one of the remaining 10 anglers in the field less than four pounds from Gee’s lead. And that’s perfectly fitting for what could be one of the most competitive Championship Sundays in recent memory.

Taku Ito, the 38-year-old veteran from Chiba, Japan, is just behind Gee with a three-day weight of 41-7. Jay Przekurat, a 25-year-old Elite pro from Stevens Point, Wis., is third with 41-6.

Gee’s lead might be bigger, but he had three fish expire on Day 2 of the tournament, which resulted in a 12-ounce deduction to his daily total. In a difficult derby, when every ounce is precious, he’s hoping that unfortunate situation doesn’t come back to haunt him.

“It’s going to be a game of ounces,” Gee said. “And I might be up by a pound without that penalty. It was the heat. I guess I didn’t buy enough ice. It was just stress on the fish from being so hot.”

Better fish care on Saturday helped Gee count every ounce. He bagged 14-2 on Day 3, following 13-7 and 14-0 totals in the first half of the derby.

While many of the 98 anglers who started the tournament struggled for consistency, Gee’s steady hand has impressed. He’s fishing in the middle of the main channel within a mile or two of the Smith Lake Dam, LiveScoping for larger spotted bass chasing pods of threadfin shad and herring into 15 to 40 feet of water. He saw a 5-pound spotted bass on his electronics earlier in the week, and he’s hoping to catch that big one before the tournament ends.

“I lost a really fat one on the first day, a 4- or 5-pounder,” he said. “I’ve been using a smokey Yamamoto jighead minnow, and it’s worked so far. I don’t see myself fishing anywhere else.”

Gee said he’s confident he can catch another good bag to clinch what would be his first Bassmaster win.

“I’m only up a couple of ounces, and I usually like going into the final day being a little bit behind,” Gee said. “But I’ll be OK with the lead, too. It’s not much of one, anyway.”

Ito also has been consistent at Smith, despite the difficult bite and scorching temperatures (the heat index climbed into triple digits again on Saturday). He caught 14-2 on Day 3, the same weight posted by Gee, to compliment limits of 13-10 and 13-11 earlier in the week.

A trio of 3-pounders boosted Ito’s efforts Saturday. Though that might not stand out in a typical tournament, 3-pounders have been something of a brass ring on Smith this week when a $100,000 first prize is on the line.

“I got bites the whole day,” Ito said. “I found many schooling fish, and I used many different baits to get bites. I’m fishing about 25 feet deep on rocks and timber. There haven’t been very many big fish, but I found some this morning. I had a 3-2 and a couple of nice 2-pounders before I caught two more 3-pounders later in the day.”

Ito previously listed Smith Lake as one of his two favorite fisheries, though his best finish here was an eighth-place showing at a Southern Open in 2019. He expressed the same affection for Smith on Saturday.

“I love it here,” he said. “It’s very deep and there aren’t many largemouth, which is fine. I’m a spotted bass fan.”

Kyoya Fujita, of Lake Forest, Calif., won $1,000 for the 4-9 he caught Saturday, which was the Phoenix Big Bass of the Day. The catch also put him in the lead for the $2,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament. Todd Auten, of Clover, S.C., caught a 16-pound limit on Friday, giving him the lead for the $2,000 Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag prize.

The field of 50 was cut to 10 for Championship Sunday. Behind Gee, Ito and Przekurat are fourth, Cory Johnston, 40-11; fifth, Cody Huff, 40-5; sixth, Kyle Patrick, 40-2; seventh, Cooper Gallant, 38-14; eighth, JT Thompkins, 38-7; ninth, Justin Hammer, 38-5; and 10th, Tyler Williams, 37-14.

The fourth and final day of the TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake will begin with a 6 am. CT take-off from Smith Lake Park. Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Alabama’s Hamner, winner of the 2024 Classic, leads the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 596 points. Missouri’s Huff is second with 573 points, followed by Illinois’ Trey McKinney in third with 571, Canada’s Chris Johnston in fourth with 556 and Tennessee’s Jacob Foutz in fifth with 556.

McKinney leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 571 points, followed by Tennessee’s John Garrett in second with 553 points and South Carolina’s Thompkins in third with 547.

Sunday’s tournament coverage begins at 8 a.m. on FS1 and runs through 1 p.m. Sunday’s LIVE coverage will continue on at 1 p.m. All coverage times are ET.

The tournament is being hosted by Visit Cullman.