Schlapper increases lead on Day 3 of Bassmaster Elite Series 2024 opener at Toledo Bend
MANY, La. —

Before this week, Pat Schlapper had never led a day of Bassmaster Elite Series competition. The Wisconsin pro has now led two-straight days of the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend and will hold the pole position heading into Championship Sunday with a three-day total of 78 pounds.

Schlapper caught 22 pounds, 7 ounces on Day 3 to add to his 27-4 and 28-5 marks from the first two days. Japanese pro Kyoya Fujita follows in second with 72-0 and Tennessee rookie Robert Gee is third with 69-7.

“I’m very thankful to have the bag I got. I worked hard for it. I’m happy to be in the position to have a chance,” Schlapper said. “It feels really good. I want to win so badly. It is so hard to get into a position to win.

“Last year, I had one opportunity on Seminole and I had a bad first day. So, I’m trying to concentrate and fish to the best of my ability and win. That is all that’s in my mind.”

Throughout the week, Schlapper has targeted bass roaming offshore on a warming Toledo Bend using his Garmin LiveScope, with one particular spot producing the bulk of his weight. He found that spot during his pre-fishing trip last month and then dialed in an exact pattern during practice this week.

The majority of his bass have been caught on one bait in 15 to 30 feet of water.

“Where I am at, a lot of fish are just passing through there,” he said. “So, every day I see new fish. I don’t think I’ve casted at the same fish in three days. They are constantly moving around, or they’re buried in the grass and then come out.”

Each day has gotten tougher for Schlapper. Not only has the amount of local pressure increased in the area, the bass are also in transition as sunny skies and air temperatures over 70 degrees in the afternoons have warmed the waters.

As the tournament has progressed, though, he has put more pressure on his best area.

“I’ve had a sweet spot the whole time, but I didn’t want people to know exactly where it was,” he said. “But today I had to really saturate it. There were so many high school anglers and competitors out there. I had to hang out there today, which paid off because I got two big ones.

“The majority of my big ones have been in that couple-100-yard area.”

By milking that sweet spot, Schlapper was able to generate bites early on Semifinal Saturday. He filled his limit and caught his two biggest bass, including a 6-pounder, before 9 a.m. From there, the bite slowed tremendously as the fishing pressure increased.

“It started out decent,” Schlapper said. “I was able to get a couple good ones pretty early and secure a decent limit to where I knew I was going to make the cut. From there, I picked one up here and there. I got one key cull at the end of the day and lost a really big one.”

With the idea that new bass are moving through every day, Schlapper will be all in on his primary area on the final day. He has other spots where he feels he can catch a bass, but none that have produced as many big bites.

Although he has a sizable lead, the three-time qualifier for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors feels he needs 25 pounds to secure his first Elite Series victory.

“If that area doesn’t produce, we are going to be hurting,” Schlapper said. “I’m 100% committed and I knew that coming into the tournament. I didn’t want any other thought in my mind. If I’m going to win this tournament, this is what I have to do.”

After leading on Day 1 with 31-3 — the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the Tournament to this point — Fujita caught 24-3 on Day 2 before stumbling Saturday with 16-10. Most of the week, the four-time Japanese Angler of the Year has targeted one area of standing timber. He has caught the majority of his bass on a Jackall Drift Fry using after identifying them on Garmin LiveScope.

On Saturday, Fujita returned to his primary spot but did not see the numbers of bass he had witnessed the first two days. The colder morning, along with an increase in fishing pressure around him, contributed to this tough day.

“Changes in lake condition (also). I find many fish in practice. But today, no fish,” he said. “I went to same area, many boat area, in the morning.”

At 10 a.m., Fujita began searching for new bass and slowly worked his way to a limit. His final bass of the day was a 6-pounder, which came from an offshore area he found during his practice period.

“I hit 10 spots today, but no fish,” he said. “In the afternoon, I catch a 6-pounder in a new area. Six-pounder spot, (I will) try tomorrow.”

With a big deficit to overcome, Fujita believes he needs a minimum of 25 pounds to have a shot at his second Elite Series title.

In his first-ever Elite event, Gee qualified for Championship Sunday with bags of 29-0, 22-10 and 17-13. He has bounced back and forth between offshore areas this week, using a Crock-O-Gator Slide Shad.

“It is wild. I never expected to make (the final day),” he said. “I had a gut feeling I might have a good tournament because before I got down here, everything that could go wrong was going wrong. My trailer messed up on the way down here and I had to fix it for four hours on the side of the highway. But it happened for me (on the water) this week. I hope I have one more blessed day.

“Hopefully I can bring in 30 pounds tomorrow. That would be cool.”

Day 3 started well for Gee as he caught a limit in the first 45 minutes. From there, Gee went through his rotation of six or seven areas, but only found bass in two or three of them.

“They are definitely leaving where I am fishing,” he said. “I am going to have to make a change,” he said. “It was a pretty tough day, especially this evening. I didn’t see very many and they were hard to hit.”

With bass leaving his areas, and water temperatures over 60 degrees in places, Gee believes he will have to move shallow at some point Sunday to have a shot at victory. He has an idea of where the bass he was targeting early in the week are going next.

Wisconsin’s Jay Przekurat caught the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day, a 7-15 largemouth. But South Carolina pro Bryan New still holds the lead in the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament with the 9-8 largemouth he landed on Day 1.

The Top 10 remaining anglers will launch from Cypress Bend Park beginning at 7 a.m. CT Sunday and return for weigh-in at 3 p.m. The winner will earn a coveted blue trophy and the $100,000 top prize. All anglers are earning points toward the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.

Bassmaster LIVE will be available on FS1 on Sunday from 7-10 a.m. CT before moving to for the afternoon session.

Those wanting to attend will be able to enjoy the “B.A.S.S. on the ’Bend” festival on 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 of Tourism.