DECATUR, Ala. — Adam Rasmussen proved that good things do indeed come to those that wait.
The pro from Sturgeon Bay, Wis., leveraged a blistering morning bite to complete a three-day total of 54 pounds, 15 ounces and claim a close victory in the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Wheeler Lake.
After placing seventh on Day 1 with 19-2, Rasmussen added a second-round limit of 14-2 and held his position. Then Championship Saturday saw him weigh in 21-11 — the final round’s heaviest bag and the second-heaviest of the tournament.
Edging Bassmaster Elite Series star Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, by 7 ounces, Rasmussen notched his first B.A.S.S. win. He earned $51,567 and qualified for the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota March 22-24 in Tulsa, Okla., with fishing on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
“I was telling my buddy (fellow Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifier pro) Brad Leuthner, ‘I’ve never been to a Classic. I’ve never worked one (for sponsors). I’m not going until I fish one,’” Rasmussen said. “Now I’m going to Grand Lake. It’s awesome.”
After enduring the frustrations of a crowded fishery, Day 3 saw Rasmussen finally able to fish one of his intended targets. As it turned out, he could have trailered his boat in time for breakfast, sat out the rainy, blustery day and still won the tournament.
“It was a spot I didn’t get to fish all week because there were too many boats on it,” Rasmussen said. “There were probably 8 to 10 boats on it every morning, but with only the Top 10 boats out there today, I was able to fish it.
“This was some of the best stuff I found in practice, but I just had bad boat numbers where I couldn’t get there. It was wide open this morning and I landed on them.”
Rasmussen described his key spot as an offshore shellbed on the popular Decatur Flats. Hosting a vigorous morning shad spawn, the structure topped off in 2 1/2 feet.
“I caught everything I had in the first hour and a half — and thank God because it was not good after that,” Rasmussen said. “I looked at the clock after I had just caught an upper 5-pound fish and told my marshal, ‘I think I just won this tournament.’”
Rasmussen caught his shad-spawn fish on a 1/2-ounce Z-Man JackHammer ChatterBait with a new straight-tail trailer that will be released at ICAST. He also used this bait to catch his Day 1 fish on a different shad-spawn location.
Day 2 saw Rasmussen unsuccessfully try to capitalize on the early morning shad spawn. When it was clear that this plan was not going to pay off, he turned his attention to grass and offshore ledges and collected his limit with a VMC Swinging Rugby Head and a craw bait (also set for ICAST release).
“I grew up as a walleye fisherman, so I’m fairly new at this sport,” Rasmussen said. “I just started competitively fishing for bass a few years ago, but you watch all your heroes at the Bassmaster Classic and I finally got to the point in my life where I can stretch my neck out and do this.
“Now I’m going to the Bassmaster Classic. It’s a dream come true.”
Coming off his second-place finish at the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Lay Lake last week, Palaniuk placed 56th on Day 1 with a modest five-bass limit of 14 pounds. Adding a second-day limit of 19-9, Palaniuk gained 50 spots to sixth. With a Championship Saturday limit that went 20-15, the reigning Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year made a serious run at the top spot but fell just short with 54-8.
“I only got a day and a half of practice out here, so I can’t complain,” Palaniuk said. “I was still figuring them out on Day 1, then I got clued in enough that I was able to continue to dial it in a little bit better.”
Spending most of his time on the Decatur Flats, Palaniuk caught his bass on two Megabass jerkbaits — the Vision OneTen and the hulking Kanata 160 — the same bait Palaniuk used during his fifth-place finish at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes in April.
Austin Cranford of Norman, Okla., finished third with 53-7. He turned in daily weights of 18-9, 16-13 and 18-1. Cranford anchored his final limit with a 6-10 largemouth.
“My practice was not that great,” Cranford said. “I was on about 12 to 13 pounds a day and they just kind of showed up.”
Cranford noted that the weather impacted his options. On Day 1, he caught his bass on a jerkbait and a drop shot on the main river channel, but the strong winds of Day 2 killed that game plan.
“I went to the bank and landed on ‘em,” Cranford said. “There was a shad spawn on a small grass clump. I threw a ChatterBait over it and on five casts in a row, I caught (nearly) 17 pounds.”
In the final round, Cranford returned to his magic grass clump and caught most of his limit, including the big fish. He finished his day offshore, where he made a couple of small culls.
As part of the Yamaha Power Pay program, Palaniuk took home an additional $2,000.
Bobby Lanham of Eddyville, Ky., won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with the 6-14 he caught on Day 1.
Cranford won the $500 Garmin Tournament Rewards contingency.
During the 2023 Opens season, only anglers who fish all nine events on the schedule will be eligible to earn a spot on the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Through the first four events, Tennessee pro John Garrett leads the Elite Qualifiers standings with 755 points. Elite Series pro Kenta Kimura of Japan is second with 725 points, followed by Trey McKinney of Illinois with 722, Georgia’s Matt Henry with 706 and South Carolina’s JT Thompkins with 706. Rounding out the Top 9 are Brett Cannon, Keith Tuma, Logan Parks and Ben Milliken.
For complete EQ Division standings, visit Bassmaster.com.
The St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Wheeler Lake was hosted by Decatur Morgan County Tourism.
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Title Sponsor: St. Croix
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC