Hite Cruises, Vandam Squeaks Into Finals At Bassmaster Classic Bracket

Brett Hite has made a splash, piling-up the heaviest cumulative weight among all anglers with one lure on one spot this week. photo by James Overstreet/B.A.S.S.

It was hard to watch Koby Kreiger around midday during today’s semifinal round of the Bassmaster Classic Bracket.

He trailed Kevin VanDam by about 6 pounds. Then he lost 2 fish in short order. Each looked as though it might weigh about 3 pounds. Their weight, along with the 2-plus pounds he’d caught earlier, would have put him right there with VanDam.

Crushed as he was by the turn of events, Kreiger should have taken it as a sign of great things to come. The fish kept biting. He started putting them in the boat, and on the scoreboard, and eventually built a small lead over the most dominant angler in bass tournament history.

Each man now having a limit – Kreiger’s weighed 9-13 while VanDam’s weighed 9-9 – they needed big bass in order to gain ground.

While most locals took their lunch break, some at the Anchor Bar & Grill where Buffalo wings were made famous, Kreiger and VanDam tried to make 3-pound smallmouth eat.

Shortly after 1 PM Kreiger set the hook and exclaimed “big one”. After a tense battle he boated the bass, which weighed 2 pounds, 6 ounces, ran his total weight to 11 pounds and gave him nearly a pound and a half lead on VanDam. It also, perhaps, gave him some temporary relief from the agony of losing the pair of big ones this morning.

The split screen broadcast on Bassmaster.com showed VanDam continuing to fish in silence. He had caught a bunch on the new Strike King Half Shell dropshot bait that we got a look at during last week’s ICAST show in Orlando.

With a half hour left to go, the Half Shell produced another fish for VanDam. This one was big enough to narrow the gap between himself and Kreiger to 4 ounces.

The smallest bass on VanDam’s ledger weighed 1-11 so he needed a 1-15 to tie, a solid 2-pounder to take the lead.

He switched to a jerkbait and hooked a small fish right off. Very soon thereafter, a quality fish bent VanDam’s rod deeply and fought until it jumped off near the trolling motor. It was now VanDam who had let the winning fish get away.

Then, just as quickly as the lost fish had become a sore memory, another bass loaded VanDam’s rod. VanDam boated this one. It weighed exactly 1-15, forcing a tie between the two anglers at 11 pounds apiece.

A review of the tie-breaker rules revealed that VanDam would be awarded the win unless Kreiger could cull up once more in the remaining minutes of play.

Because his smallest limit fish weighed 1-14, it was Kreiger who now needed, ironically, a bass that weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces.

With roughly 9 minutes left to go Kreiger hooked a big smallmouth. “Be two pounds and an ounce! Be two pounds and an ounce!,” Kreiger repeated at the fish. But then the fish was gone.

As the marshall counted down the final seconds it was again hard to watch a dejected Koby Kreiger, silhouetted against a huge concrete piling, rod in hand, hoping against hope for one more last chance. He had missed 3 such chances, any of which would have made him a giant-killer and moved him one step closer to a berth in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic. Burried in 72nd place on the Elite Series, he’ll likely watch that Classic from the sidelines with the rest of us now.

Denny Brauer once told me that it’s not the big bass you catch that you will remember the most. It’s the big ones that got away that will never let go of you.

Right now I imagine Koby Kreiger understands that sentiment better than any man on Earth.

On the other hand, we got to witness vintage VanDam live as it unfolded. And he had to pull this one out of a magician’s hat.

“I almost blew it today because I was trying to save this area,” noted VanDam. It was the area he found while practicing late yesterday due to his big lead. He thought he had a comfortable lead today until Kreiger converted enough strikes into catches and then VanDam had to wring the pair of winning fish from his shallow grass bed.

He says the area is full of big fish and he expects them to feed heavily tomorrow morning when he plans on meeting them there. He will hold nothing back during Friday’s final round.

“It’s going to be a shootout tomorrow,” said VanDam.

In the finale VanDam takes on Brett Hite who coasted to a win over Dean Rojas.

Hite was able to box what he needed and then rest his stretch of the big bridge that has produced all of his weight this week. He shared the bridge today with Kreiger who agreed to stay off of Hite’s best pilings. As a result, Hite now knows there are smallmouth all over that bridge, should he need to expand his waters.

Early on it looked like Hite might be in trouble. Rojas kept pace for the first couple of hours. Then Hite caught the kind of bass that make a difference. The difference was 5 pounds 11 ounces as Hite won with a weight of 13-9 to Rojas’ 7-14.

Just as one bridge has produced all of Hite’s weight this week (the heaviest total of all competitors at 35-7) so too has a single lure, the Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm. It’s a soft plastic lure designed for dropshoting. Apparently, it was designed well.

A very interesting format has led to a very interesting week, which has led up to what will certainly be a hot finish as Kevin VanDam and his grass bass square off against Brett Hite and his bridge fish.

Catch it all live on Bassmaster.com!