PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — The big bites mostly eluded Kyoya Fujita, but the Bassmaster Elite rookie’s diligence delivered the coveted blue trophy, as the Japanese superstar amassed the winning total of 86 pounds, 12 ounces in the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain in New York.
“This feels great!” Fujita said. “My dream (has been) to win an Elite Series tournament. My dream came true.”
After placing 10th on Day 1 with 21-5, Fujita added 23-14 — the VMC Monster Bag of the event — and took over the Day 2 lead. Fujita held onto the top spot with a semifinal Sunday limit of 22-9 and closed the deal with his championship Monday bag that weighed 19 pounds.
The week brought a diverse meteorological mix, which included a storm system that postponed day two from Friday to Saturday. Days one and three brought mostly sunny conditions, while the even number days saw dimmer, cloudy skies. Wind was a constant challenge.
Heavily geared toward sight feeding, smallmouth like sunshine, so Monday’s dreary conditions, plus a week’s worth of heavy fishing pressure, seemed to be curbing the fish’s aggression. After three days with multiple 4-pounders, Fujita had only one fish over 4 Monday and fell short of the 20-pound mark for the first time.
“It was a struggle today,” Fujita said. “I got on a school of fish (later in the day) and they wouldn’t bite. I kept dropping on them and finally a big one bit my bait on the way down.”
A multiple-event winner and four-time Angler of the Year on the Japanese professional bass scene, Fujita edged third-year pro Justin Atkins by 1-6. For his efforts, Fujita won the $100,000 top prize plus a $2,000 bonus for catching the VMC Monster Bag.
Making his fourth Top 10 for the 2023 Elite season, Fujita spent his entire event in the Inland Sea, where he used Garmin LiveScope to target smallmouth bass that were following schools of baitfish. Mostly targeting the east side of Dameas and Knight islands, Fujita worked in depths of 12 to 30 feet.
“I found a big-fish area in practice,” Fujita said. “I found the bass first, then I found the bait.”
Fujita caught his fish on a drop shot with a 4.5-inch Jackall Yammy stickworm cut down to approximately 3 inches and a Damiki-style rig with a 5.2-inch Jackall Revoltage RV-Drift Fry on a 1/8-ounce ball-head jig.
Fujita’s tournament got off to a rocky start, as a mechanical issue limited his fishing time. He made up ground on day two and continued expanding on his area for the next three days.
Day four saw Fujita briefly departing his main waters, as he visited the west side of the Inland Sea and fished the City Reef area. Fujita caught fish there, but none of them contributed to his final weight.
“Thank you Daiwa and Jackall and the many Japanese and the American (sponsors) and the Bassmaster crew,” Fujita said.
Finishing second with 85-6, Atkins kept himself near the top all week. He placed fourth on day one with 22-6, then slipped to sixth after weighing 21-6. Atkins’ day three bag of 21-3 lifted him to third. His final-round limit weighed 20-7.
Hailing from Florence, Ala., Atkins caught all of his fish on a 1/4-ounce underspin with a Berkley MaxScent Flatworm. He fished a dark-colored bait during dim conditions, while a white bait excelled during sunny times. His darker bait carried a gold willow-leaf blade, while the white version had a silver blade.
“I caught a few on the dark color this morning when it was cloudy and when the sun came out, I caught them on the light color again,” Atkins said. “I didn’t catch quite enough weight on it, but it was a good program.”
Atkins fished the Inland Sea and focused on an area where deep water swung close to a water cabbage edge. This, he said, was the zone where he found his biggest bass chasing bait in practice.
Cody Huff of Ava, Mo., finished third with 85-5. His daily limits weighed 23-3, 20-10, 21-2 and 20-6.
Fishing the Inland Sea, Huff committed to a straightforward game plan based on his dual prowess with forward-facing sonar and the Damiki rig. His rig comprised a 1/8- to 1/2-ounce VMC Sleek Jighead with a 5-inch Strike King 3X Z-Too. The larger profile seemed to trigger the bigger fish.
“The key was just to keep moving, throw at as many fish as you could throw at and the aggressive ones would get it,” Huff said. “Normally, if you get a calm day, you cast to them out there at 60 to 80 feet and you catch a lot more of them.
“When it was windy, there was a lot of noise from waves slapping the boat, so a lot of them were coming really close.”
Jacob Foutz of Charleston, Tenn., took home the day four Phoenix Boats Big Bass and an additional $1,000 for his 4-13. Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., and Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ky., shared the $2,000 prize for the overall Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the tournament. Each angler weighed a 5-4. Jason Christie still has a firm grip on the $10,000 check for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the year with his 9-4 Lay Lake largemouth.
Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 652 points. Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, S.C., is in second with 646, followed by Drew Cook of Cairo, Ga., with 622, Przekurat with 616 and Walters with 613.
Joey Cifuentes III of Clinton, Ark., leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 610 points. Fujita is in second with 595.