2015 Bassmaster Elite Series
Lake St. Clair
92nd Place / 8 fish, 24-05
I’ve spent more time in tour level competition on the waters in and around St. Clair than just about anywhere else. Between Erie, St. Clair and the Detroit River, I’ve fished two or three FLW events, two or three EverStarts, an Open and now two Elite Series events there. Despite all of that experience, the region has been a constant challenge. I finished 43rd when the Elites visited in 2013, and I think I got one check in an EverStart, but I’ve never had what I would consider a good tournament up there. It has been a constant thorn in my side.
The last time we went there Chris Lane won the event in Lake Huron, a place I had not previously fished, so I was determined to at least take a look at it this time around. On the first day of practice, I launched in St. Clair but wanted to run up the river to Huron. I stopped a couple of times, but made my way to the lake pretty quickly and managed to get bit pretty quickly. I was using my AquaVu camera – I’d drop it and drift, and I saw plenty of fish, including some large concentrations.
Within a few hours of arriving at the lake I’d had four or five bites, and except for one 2 ½ pounder, they were all in the 3 ½ to 4 ½ pound range. The area had the right type of potential. After four or five hours I started working my way back down the river, stopping here and there, and again I had a few bites, including a 5 ½ pounder. Most of them were coming on a Carolina Rig. I liked that because I felt like most people would be using dropshots and tubes, and if I could show the fish something a little bit different that might give me a little bit of an advantage.
The day ended with eight or 10 bites, only one of them under 3 ½ pounds, and I made the decision to spend my entire practice in Huron. With that in mind, I trailered up there on the second morning. My Humminbirds have been rock solid all season long, but when I got to the ramp I had some issues with my front graph. After an hour of looking at it, I figured that it was a blown fuse, so I drove back down to St. Clair to get it fixed. The service crews are exceptional and they got me running again, but with all of that trailering it was probably 11 o’clock by the time I was ready to go. Rather than drive all the way back up to Huron, I elected to stay in St. Clair to maximize my time. It had been windy the first day and it was windy again, so I stayed close and managed to catch a few, but unlike the previous day they were all small. I’ve never been a big fan of St. Clair – it’s flat, with few contours – and that day didn’t do much to change that opinion. It was a waste of time.
On the third day I drove up to Huron again and fished around, being careful to avoid the places I’d fished the first day. I only caught one fish in a few hours, but it was a 4 pounder, reinforcing in my mind that this area had the right caliber of bass to do very well. Eventually I left and went into the river. I didn’t get many bites, but I found one shallow eddy that had a couple of big smallmouths sitting in it. The bottom line was that after three days I knew that I was unlikely to do well in St. Clair but I had a chance for a good finish in Huron. I was committed.
On the first day of the tournament I was in the first flight and I got worried when I saw that several boats ahead of me were headed up to Huron. After I pulled into my starting spot, a few more came along. Oddly enough, though, it must’ve been a first flight thing, because in the end there were only eight or 10 of us up there and it was more than manageable.
I started on a buoy, a pretty obvious target, and hooked up on my second cast, but it was only a 13-incher, not big enough to keep. Then I fished down a way and had a solid bite on my Carolina Rig, but I swung and I missed. At that point I started alternating between the rig and a tube, because sometimes they prefer one over the other. After 30 minutes, I hooked up on the tube and the smallmouth was pulling hard. Then it jumped and came off. I could see that it was probably a 3 ½ pounder. That hurt. It happens, but I was fishing it on baitcasting gear and 15 pound fluorocarbon to minimize the chances of losing fish and it happened anyway.
After hitting a few more waypoints I headed out further into the lake. I spied a big rock on my Humminbird 360, fired a cast over and caught one around 3 ½ pounds. It took four bites to get my first keeper in the boat.
I could see a group of boats making constant drifts near the mouth of the river – they included JVD, Alton Jones, Brandon Palaniuk and Casey Scanlon. They were close to the good eddy I’d found, so I slid down that way around 11 o’clock and stopped to talk to JVD, who had 18 pounds. Then I moved to the eddy, made a long cast with a dropshot, and it started to swim off. I’m still not sure if my line was around a sharp rock, or if I swung too hard, or both, but the line got heavy for a second and then broke. Five bites, still only one keeper in the boat.
After about 11:30 I had to make a decision because I felt like I wasn’t going to get it done up in Huron and I had a 3 pm check-in. I worked my way down the river but didn’t get any more bites so once I got into St. Clair I headed to some largemouth areas I knew from the past. They weren’t likely to produce a monster bag, but I figured that if I could catch 12 or 14 pounds it would salvage the day and put me in position to make a move then next day.
I flipped down a sea wall with my Berkley Pit Boss and when I got to the end I got the hardest bite I’d had in a long time. My rod loaded up and then the fish just came off. I’m not going to say it was a monster, but it made a pretty big boil and I’d be surprised if it was less than 3 pounds. I then went another 10 feet and got another bite. This one was 2 pounds and I got it in the boat, but then I saw that it was hooked in the chin. Almost all flipping fish are hooked in the mouth, but this one wasn’t and under Michigan law it had to go back.
I moved a little further and threw my swimbait up under a little bridge. Immediately a 2 ½ to 3 pounder smoked it, but halfway back to the boat it just turned and came loose. Another missed opportunity. Then I had another fish follow my swimbait back to the boat and turn away at the last second. I saw him just drop down in the grass so I let my swimbait fall and watched him eat it. That 3 pounder ended up in my livewell and things were looking up. Unfortunately, it was my third and final fish of the day. As time ran out, I was fishing a marina, where I threw my frog up onto a little grass mat, saw it get toilet flushed, and then came up empty on the hook set. That was it. I headed back to weigh in with very little to show for my efforts. My 7-02 had me in 103rd place, which I believe is the worst I’ve ever been in an Elite Series tournament.
By my math, I was locked into the Angler of the Year Championship, but my tough first day knocked me outside of the Classic field. I was still in 44th, which was slightly comforting, but I knew that I’d have to have a big second day to gain any of those lost points back. I entered Day Two in salvage mode.
I knew that the top five and six of the top seven were fishing in Huron, near where I’d started. Even though they’d seen me up there, I wouldn’t have felt right if I’d barged into their little party. I wouldn’t want any of them to do that to me, so I chose to stay away. Since I’ve never really gotten along with St. Clair, I made the decision to run to Erie. I was going to go to Colchester where I’d caught some fish in the past.
After the hour run to Erie, I caught a small keeper pretty quickly, but by 11 o’clock or so he was still lonely in the livewell and I was getting pretty tired of it. I wanted to go and throw at something, rather than just throwing into open water. I went up into the Detroit River, found a stretch of docks I’d never fished before, and vowed to keep the trolling motor down until it was time to go in. Of course, that worked like a charm. I caught 15 to 18 fish – all largemouths – and two of them were over 4 pounds, plus a couple over 3. I kept it simple, throwing a ½ ounce Terminator Pro’s Jig (black/blue) on the docks and a bladed jig in between them.
At one point I told my Marshal, “We try so hard to make this so hard,” referring to my days of pounding my head against the wall offshore. In hindsight, it’s often clear that we’re unwilling to take the obvious and run with it. It should’ve been so easy for me to come out of this event in great position to make the Classic, but I squandered that opportunity. Right now, I’m 43rd overall, outside the Classic cut, but we still have Sturgeon Bay left to go and I’m excited to fish for those big smallmouths. I’ve never been there, and my back is against the wall, but I have very little to lose and a lot to gain with a big performance.
I really need to thank not only the Humminbird service crew, but also the folks at Nitro and Mercury for all of their support in this tournament and throughout the year. There’s no place that puts a beating on bass boats like the Great Lakes, but they consistently put us in position to make runs that would’ve been unthinkable a generation ago and we never have to worry about getting back safely. I would also like to thank Lithium Pros for making the best performing and most reliable batteries out there and taking so much wasted weight out of my boat. Every ounce counts!