March 22, 2021
FLORENCE, Ala. — Tomorrow, there can be only one winner, but Bill Lowen and Chad Pipkens share the Day 3 lead at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake.
Both anglers head into Championship Tuesday with 62 pounds, 10 ounces.
If a tie occurs in the tournament’s final round, the winner will be determined by a fish-off between the tied competitors.
Hailing from Brookville, Ind., Lowen improved from second place by adding 17-10 to his previous days’ limits of 21-3 and 23-13. Pipkens, who lives in Holt, Mich., moved up from sixth. His daily weights were 21-2, 18-5 and 23-3.
Since last week’s fierce storm, the Tennessee Valley Authority has been moving a tremendous volume of water through Pickwick. Lowen started his day fishing main-river current breaks on the backside of Kogers Island and continued his quest to determine how the fish are adjusting.
As the water level slowly declines, warming conditions have set the stage for a possible spawning movement.
“It just seems like every day the morning has been the deal, that first three hours,” Lowen said. “After that, I just have to beat around and try other things. I’m just trying to find out where the fish have gone.
“I feel like the current is pushing those fish off the flats. I have some areas that they should be going to. I keep checking them, but they haven’t shown up yet.”
Lowen caught his fish on his signature series 3/8-ounce Lure Parts Online jig with a chunk trailer. This bait’s weight and buoyancy allows it to sweep across shallow wood cover without snagging.
Later in the morning, Lowen started exploring other habitat features, including tall stands of flat reeds where spawners may eventually move. Signs are pointing in that direction, he said, but Lowen’s not ready to commit his final day to this uncertain stage.
“At the end of the day, I had some fish come up on a swim jig that didn’t get it,” Lowen said. “I’ve been saying it all day that it’s time for that to happen. Tomorrow, I’m going down there and starting on that same stretch. The only thing I was missing today were those big bites. Hopefully tomorrow some of those big females will move up.”
Spending his day on the backside of a small island upstream of Kogers, Pipkens focused on a grassy ditch. Receding water seems to be working in his favor.
“The first day I caught every fish I weighed up close to that island on a current seam because the water was so high,” Pipkens said. “At the end of the day I caught a couple about 100 yards back, and yesterday I caught most of them [farther] back.
“Today, I caught them all there, except for one at the end. I think they’re starting to scatter back throughout that ditch. I’m ready to move around tomorrow.”
Pipkens anchored his bag with a 5-pounder around 10:46 a.m., but a 4-pounder at 2:14 p.m. gave him a key cull that secured his first-place tie. He caught his fish on a ChatterBait with a trailer hook and a swimbait trailer. Pipkens said his bites were subtle.
“There’s so much current, they’re just sitting down there and they’re not eating until the bait comes over them,” Pipkens said.
Pipkens is hopeful that tomorrow’s forecasted rain and dim skies could trigger a more aggressive bite.
“With tomorrow’s weather, it could get right,” he said. “I’ve said if you can catch 15 to 20 fish in this area, you can weigh in 25 to 30 pounds. I was one big bite away today and I only caught six. The right ones bit today.”
Cory Johnston of Cavan, Canada, is in third place with 59-1. Moving up from 22nd place, he added the day’s heaviest bag, 25-5, to his previous weights of 18-9 and 15-3.
“I caught most of my fish offshore in the Kogers Island area on current breaks in 3 to 8 feet, and then I went looking for some other stuff,” Johnston said. “I ended up finding some stuff on the bank and caught a 5-pounder.
“Up shallow, it was wood and junk they’re sitting behind out of the current. I was just trying to expand my options, but it’s hard to say which might play tomorrow. I’ll try both.”
Johnston said he rotated through a selection of 10 reaction baits. Continuously giving the fish different looks was the key to his success.
Hank Cherry of Lincolnton, N.C., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 7-11.
Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., leads the Angler of the Year standings with 264 points. Seth Feider of New Market, Minn., is in second with 246, followed by Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, with 245, Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., with 242 and Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., with 239.
Tuesday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. CT at McFarland Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3 p.m.
Live coverage of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms.
The tournament is being hosted by Florence-Lauderdale Tourism.