PLATTSBURG, N.Y. — Even though Elite Series rookie Bryant Smith had never competed on Lake Champlain, you might expect the California native would feel a certain comfort level here. He considers Lake Shasta his favorite lake and Clear Lake his home lake.
However, as Smith prepared for the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Elite this week, he said, “It was as uncomfortable as I’ve ever been going into a tournament.”
It didn’t show. Smith, 32, from Roseville, Calif., finished 5th Thursday at Lake Champlain with 22 pounds, 1 ounce. He came into this event ranked 20th in the Angler of the Year standings and could ensure himself of a 2024 Bassmaster Classic berth with another good day Friday.
“Practice forced me to be comfortable because it’s all that I had,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable but I had nothing else to do. I buckled down. I said I’m going to go hero or zero on this one. I know I’m around quality. What I’m doing is something I’ve never done before. I’m just kind of figuring it out on the fly.”
After only one day, Smith was reluctant to divulge too much information. He did say, “I’m just covering a lot of water. It’s no secret, this forward-facing sonar game. Just the whole deal is covering as much water as possible and in the right areas because they’re not everywhere. There’s a lot of space between the fish a lot of times. You just kind of get out there and meander around, honestly. They’re just suspended fish, and you’re looking for those fish that are chasing bait.”
After the Elite Series tournament at the Sabine River in early June, when Smith posted his worst finish of the season – 69th – in hot conditions, he took some time to come north and scout Lake Champlain, which he’d never seen before.
“Just rode around and tried to see as much as I could,” he said. “This (week) was the first time to really fish it.”
It was mentioned that it must have felt good leaving the heat of southern Texas in June to come north to some cooler weather.
“I think that was the biggest problem for me at the Sabine,” Smith laughed. “I was so excited to come up here, I just forgot to go fish that tournament.”
Obviously, with his AOY ranking of 20th entering this event, Smith has had a solid year. It has included a 7th-place finish at Santee Cooper Lakes and a 12th at Lake Murray.
“I’m just soaking it all in,” he said. “It’s everybody’s dream-come-true that’s ever been into bass fishing and tournaments. They all want to make it on the Elite Series, to get here and have success. I’m not saying there weren’t some failures in there too. I’m just soaking it all in and enjoying every second of it.”
As for his discomfort on Lake Champlain, much of that went away Thursday. However, no one was very comfortable when the wind got up late in the morning and produced some 3- and 4-foot waves on the main lake the rest of the day.
“If the weather permits, and I can move around, I think I can at least stay steady (Friday),” Smith said.