WADDINGTON, New York – With his back to the wall while sliding further and further beneath the Top 45 cutline to fish Day 3 of Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite on the St. Lawrence River, Caleb Sumrall reached deep Friday.
The 34-year-old New Iberia outdoorsman in his fourth year as an Elite overcame a forgettable three-hour start to the morning, eventually culled to a five-bass limit of smallmouth bass and charged into Semifinal Saturday in 10th place with a hard-earned two-day total of 41 pounds, 1 ounce. He made the halfway cut for the seventh time in nine tournaments in 2021.
Sumrall was in fourth place in the 95-angler field going into Day 2 on the St. Lawrence River, a smallmouth bass haven. He had 22 pounds, 2 ounces, in a storybook day Thursday.
However, Friday rolled around. He didn’t put his first keeper in the livewell until 9:22 a.m. It was his biggest of the day, a 4-12, and halted a skid that saw him drop like he was on a greased pole into the 50s on BassTrakk.
Then Sumrall had an approximately 2-hour drought until he added a 3-pound, 12-ounce, brownie. BassTrakk showed he had two keepers at an estimated 8 pounds, 8 ounces, as he climbed to 37th place.
His game-changer came just after midday. It was a 3-6.
As Sumrall fought the brownie around 12:30 p.m., he said, “Please be a smallmouth bass. Don’t be a walleye. It’s not fighting, dude.”
He played the fish on the business end of the line, pumping the fishing rod, then got a good look at the fish and said, “Oh, yeah.”
Sumrall played it to the other side of the boat, the passenger side, adroitly maneuvering it around the trolling motor shaft, brought it to the side of the boat, leaned over from the front deck, cupped it with his left hand and lifted it into the boat. He stood up and proudly raised his right hand to fans in another boat to his left.
He turned to the camera as he unhooked the bass and said to his young son back in New Iberia, “Axel, that’s for you, buddy boy. You wanted one. You got it. Little chunker. But we’re working our way to a limit.”
That third bass obviously buoyed the New Iberian. It pushed him from 37th to 23rd on BassTrakk.
Less than 15 minutes later he set the hook and landed a 3-pounder for his fourth keeper, which pushed him to ninth, then boated a 2-7 just before 1 p.m. to give him his limit at an estimated 17 pounds, 5 ounces, to move into sixth for a total of nearly 39 ½ pounds.
“No. 5. I am so happy to have it,” he said to the cameraman.
A clutch 3-2 at 2:07 p.m. in the last hour of fishing culled the 2-7 and moved him to eighth on BassTrakk with an estimated 40 pounds, 2 ounces.
His Day 2 comeback efforts weren’t lost on emcee Dave Mercer, who recalled on air during the action that after the Elites’ Pickwick Lake tournament ended March 23 he saw Sumrall, who finished 15th, go back on the lake to fish. Mercer asked later in the week what he was doing back out there. Sumrall replied, “Man, I’ve got to work on my smallmouth game.”
Mercer said early Friday afternoon, as Sumrall filled his limit, “And it’s paying off!”
Davey Hite, B.A.S.S. television personality, chimed in and said, “He’s really become more of a well-rounded fisherman. Just in the last year. He certainly has.”
At Friday’s weigh-in in front of a large crowd here, Mercer introduced the former B.A.S.S. Nation National Champion and two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier as, “The Xpress Yamaha pro going to work tomorrow, looking to make back-to-back ’10 cuts’ on the Northern Swing.”
Sumrall undoubtedly is on a roll in the Northeast. He finished ninth July 11 in the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain out of Plattsburgh, New York. He will try to make his fourth Top 10 cut as an Elite after finishing seventh at the Dovetail Games Bassmaster Elite on April 8-11 at the Sabine River out of Orange, Texas, and fourth at the 2019 Academy Sports + Bassmaster Elite on June 21-24 at Lake Guntersville, Alabama.
Now, 1,648 miles from home, he has extended his regular season at least one more day. He hopes to qualify for Championship Sunday like he did July 10 at Lake Champlain.
Sumrall’s family, including his wife, Jacie, daughter, Clelie, and Axel, plus many friends, will follow his every move Saturday starting at 6 a.m. when the Top 45 anglers leave Whittaker Park.
Leading at the halfway point is Gainesville, Florida, pro Bernie Schultz, who maintained the top spot with a two-day total of 47 pounds, 14 ounces. Schultz added 22-9 on Friday to the 25-5 he weighed on Day 1.
Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Canada, is in second with 46-5. Having tied his older brother Cory for second on Day 1, he added 22-14 to Thursday’s bag of 23-7.