Bays de Noc
43rd Place / 5 fish, 20-06
I’d fished Lake Michigan before this event, but never anywhere near Escanaba. I’d been to Green Bay, which is the same lake, but somewhere between 150 and 200 miles away, so as far as I was concerned I’d be starting with a clean slate. With the possible exception of St. Clair, the northern smallmouth fisheries have been good to me and I continue to get better at figuring them out. Additionally, I’d heard that the Bays de Noc were loaded with big fish. All of that combined made me excited to head up there for the tournament.
There were only two things that made me slightly less than thrilled: First, the possibility of big winds could make it uncomfortable or even dangerous. Second, I was in 32nd place in the AOY race, and I’d already made the Classic through my win at Douglas, so there wasn’t a whole lot for me to gain or lose. I hoped to double-qualify for the Classic to help another Elite pro get in, so there was some incentive, and I always want to do well, but there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure.
On the first day of practice I put in at Little Bay de Noc and spent about an hour there without catching any fish. The wind had blown pretty hard on Sunday and there were some rollers out there, but it was a nice day and they didn’t really prevent me from moving around.
I got to the far side of the bay’s mouth around mid-morning and there was a really defined point that looked great. It was 2-3 feet on top, then dropped off to 4-5 feet and then to 10 feet. In that deeper range I could see some nice chunk rock and I caught a few on a tube pretty quickly. Then I caught a few that had several friends with them. Overall I probably landed a dozen or so and most of them had others following them in. More importantly, two of them were over 4 pounds, a couple around 5, and none under 3 pounds. I didn’t see any of those rumored 6-7 ponders, but it would’ve been pretty easy to catch 20 pounds, as long as you could make the 20 mile run. That had me pretty excited and I felt that if I could find a few more places like that I’d be in very good shape. Andy Montgomery, who I room with on tour, was in the area and he caught some, too. There were plenty to go around.
I left and tried to find some similar areas. On one point I caught three fish, but they were all under 2 pounds. Other than that, it was all dead water. That surprised me – I had one place that was on fire but overall I didn’t find much.
On the second day of practice I put in at Little Bay de Noc again and fished there until noon or 1pm, trying out all kinds of different things. There wasn’t much rock there, mostly just sand and a little bit of grass. I never got a bite, and the wind was starting to blow, so I loaded up the boat and drove over to Big Bay. The wind limited my options and in one protected bay I caught two fish and missed another on a spinnerbait. Those were my only three bites of the day, which left me pretty discouraged. I had one good spot and I figured other people would find it, too.
On the final day of practice the wind was scheduled to start blowing 10 to 15 mph out of the southwest around mid-day and it was amazing how quickly the 4-5 foot waves built up. I hadn’t had a bite at 11am and decided to put it on the trailer. I had one place and I intended to stay there all day and make the most of it.
Of course I started the tournament on my one and only spot. I was boat number 32, and while it was a little choppy heading over there, it wasn’t dangerous by any means. It probably took me 35-40 minutes to go the 22 miles. I started a little bit off of the really good stuff and as I worked my way toward it I caught a 16 or 17 pound limit in 45 minutes. They all hit a Terminator spinnerbait, but I only landed three of them on the spinnerbait. I threw back at the other two with a tube and caught them on that. I was fishing the blade pretty fast – not burning it – but they just slashed at it sometimes. One of them hit it three times before I threw back with the tube to get him. I managed to cull a couple of times and then saw Andy, who was struggling. We share everything and I knew he needed a good tournament to get into the Classic, so I left it to him and set off to find something else.
I headed around an island and caught a 3 pounder that didn’t help me, then moved again and caught a random fish over 4 pounds that did help. Then I found a really defined bar with a little bit of grass that fell off into 14 or 15 feet of water. A smallmouth hit my tube pretty quickly, but I broke him off, then I grabbed another tube, fired it out and lost one around 3 ½. There were several more with it, so I just opened my bail, let it drop and I caught one that helped a little. I had to retie so I drifted along and caught a couple more that didn’t help.
They were hitting the tube a little funny so I switched to dropshotting a Berkley Twitchtail Minnow. It’s only a little 3-inch worm, but the bites would swim off with it and steal my worm. I knew they couldn’t all be little fish, so finally I let one swim a long way with it and when I set the hook he was on. It turned out to be a solid 4 pounder. At that point I had around 19 pounds. I was within sight of Andy. It was too far to talk, but I motioned him over. He had a limit but three of them were small. He’d need to cull to stay in the Classic running, so I brought him back over. I sat way out in the sand and told him to fish the good stuff. I got lucky, though, and caught a 5 pounder, my best fish of the day.
It was a really neat experience to fish around each other like that and to see him catch the fish that put him into the Classic. The 21-02 he had that day put him in 7th place. He added 21-10 on the second/final day of competition to finish 5th. My 20-06 had me in 10th.
After that first day of competition we got our equipment ready, but we knew that the forecast was not good. At 5:30, we got a text that the day would be shortened because the wind was supposed to get bad in the afternoon. We were scheduled to take off at 7:30, but a little bit before that we got another text that the day would be canceled. It was the right call by BASS, but it was unfortunate because they had to make that same call three days in a row.
Our three days of leisure in Escanaba were relatively uneventful. We had the sponsor expos on Saturday, and that was a lot of fun. Other than that, we just ate a lot, watched a lot of TV and shot the breeze. Fortunately, we got to hang around with Cliff Crochet, who never fails to provide entertainment.
The wind finally laid down enough to fish on Monday, but I had a sponsor engagement on Tuesday. There was simply no way I could fish Monday and be back on time to fulfill my obligation. I’d never left a tournament early before, but I had absolutely no choice, and there was little to gain in the standings by staying. I spoke with Trip Weldon and he understood, but it was still a tough situation. As a result of not fishing both days, I fell way down the leaderboard, but still finished 37th in the AOY race, fulfilling my goal of double-qualifying.
I caught my fish on three techniques in Michigan. The first was a ¾ ounce double willow Terminator spinnerbait (Yellow Perch), fished on a 7’ medium-heavy Fenwick Aetos baitcasting rod paired with a 7.1:1 Pflueger Patriarch reel spooled with 15 lb. Trilene 100% fluorocarbon. The second was a generic 4-inch green pumpkin tube on a ¼ ounce VMC tube head. Normally that’s something I’d fish on spinning tackle, but these fish weren’t line-shy, so I put in on a 7’ medium-heavy Fenwick Elite Tech Bass baitcasting rod. I used the lightning fast 7.9:1 Pflueger Patriarch with 30 lb. Trilene braid and a 15 lb. Trilene 100% fluorocarbon leader. The final lure was a 3-inch Berkley Twitchtail Minnow on a #1 VMC Spinshot Dropshot hook. I fished it on a Fenwick Elite Tech 6’10” medium-light spinning rod with a size 35 Patriarch reel spooled with 10 lb. Trilene braid and an 8 lb. Trilene 100% fluorocarbon leader.
With the season now over, I’ll spend some time with the family and rigging up my new Tracker aluminum boat. I’ve had some time to reflect on my performance, and while I’m not mad at myself – anytime you make the Classic you can’t be too upset –37th place is by far my worst finish in the AOY race. I had two pretty bad performances that messed up my season, and I didn’t make any Elite top twelves, so I’m not particularly proud. Making the Classic is always my number one goal, but I want to be in the thick of the AOY race like I was my first couple of years and I plan to get back to that level in 2015.