2015 Bassmaster Elite Series
St. Lawrence River
Waddington, New York
78th Place / 10 fish, 26-05
When we first traveled to the St. Lawrence in 2013, I managed to figure things out pretty well and got to fish all four days, ending up in 3rd place overall. As a result, I was definitely excited to go back, but when that’s the case you have to be a little bit careful. It’s easy to get locked into what you did before rather than keeping an open mind.
I launched on the first day of practice excited to go find some big smallmouths. The water was only in the high 60s that day, but it warmed up substantially while we were there. That was a little bit surprising, because with all of that current and so much water it usually takes a long time for those kinds of changes.
I quickly checked out out some of the areas where I’d done well last time around, but the fish weren’t grouped up as well. In a couple of drifts I caught two fish, whereas last time I typically caught three to six of them on every drift. They weren’t as big, either, just 2 ½ to 3 pounders. That prompted me to go shallow and I got bit again, but this time they were even smaller. To say the least I was baffled – the quality fish should either be deep or shallow but I couldn’t find them in either area.
Gradually I worked my way up the river toward the lake and managed to catch another dozen or so fish. In one place I caught a couple close to 4 pounds and another about 3, all on a dropshot in 12-15 feet of water, but I never found any really good groups. Mostly what I learned was that the bigger fish were not grouped up out deep.
On the second day I went down toward the lake to look around in some areas where I knew other anglers did well the last time around. I only caught a few bass in the morning, but eventually I found a flat past Clayton where I caught four or five fish pretty quickly. I also lost a few and had some followers. Most importantly, they all seemed to be 3 pounds or bigger, which meant that it clearly had the potential for a 15 to 17 pound bag. Later in the day I went largemouth fishing and caught six of them, but none of them even hit the 3 pound mark. I knew they would be there if I needed them, but at the same time I figured they’d only be good for 12 or 13 pounds if everything went well.
For the third day of practice I was torn about whether to try to find something up near the ramp where I hadn’t fished, or down near Clayton. I ended up splitting the day between the ramp area and the spots I’d fished on the first day. It was a waste. I wish I had gone toward Clayton.
The best thing I had going into the tournament was the flat past Clayton, so that’s where I started on Day One after a 75 minute run. There was a storm front blowing in with big clouds and rain and in the first hour and a half I didn’t get a bite. Then I lost two on a small swimbait and a third fish bit my off. That last fish was probably a pike, but I was zero for three, which doesn’t feel good.
Between 9:30 and 10:30, I caught two 3 ½ pounders, a 3 ¼ pounder and a solid 3. Those four had me at over 13 pounds with lots of time to fill out my limit and then upgrade, but I fished until noon without getting another bite.
I was close to my largemouth area so I figured I’d head over there, move up to 15 or 16 pounds and then head back to smallmouth territory to increase my weight. In 20 minutes I caught four largemouths and two of them were 2 ¾ pounds. I figured that was as good as it would get, so I left and only caught two more, a 3 pounder and a 4 pounder. One more stole my bait and another one cut my line.
The largemouth ended up not helping as I weighed in all smallmouths for 17-12, which had me in 33rd place. I felt OK about that. I was worried that I didn’t catch quite as many from my best area as I’d expected – they were all back in the little bay. I had thought they would also be out on the points. Nevertheless, it was the best area I had so I was committed to starting there again, even though my gut told me I shouldn’t.
My gut was right. I didn’t get a bite there in the first two hours of fishing. In fact, the only fish I saw was a big smallmouth that I’d seen the day before guarding a little weed patch. He was either on a bed or guarding fry but I couldn’t get him to settle down enough to look at a lure. Finally I decided to head to my largemouth water, figuring I’d catch 12 pounds in an hour or so and then head back to track down the smallmouth.
On my first cast in the new area I had a fish wrap me around a dock pole and break my line – not a good way to start. I did manage to box a limit in less than an hour, but none of them even touched the 2 pound mark. I’m not sure where those bigger fish went. At that point I made a critical mistake. I left the area to fish my way back to the ramp hitting isolated smallmouths spots up the river. It wasn’t quite 11 o’clock but over the next hour and a half I never caught one.
Eventually I found myself near a known largemouth area so I ducked in there and culled a couple of times. Finally I got to where I could see a boat leaving in front of me. I figured he’d cleared out the better fish and that completely shot my confidence, so I left.
After hitting a few more unproductive smallmouth spots I moved into another largemouth area and caught a few more small ones. That’s the way my day went. I never focused enough on one species or one area enough to make it work. The decision to leave that first largemouth area was the nail in the coffin. I weighed all largemouth for a total of 8-09 and dropped to 78th place.
Usually at an Elite Series tournament the cut weight doubles on Day Two. Sometimes it even goes up a pound more than that. Occasionally it goes down, like on the Sabine, but I certainly didn’t expect it to go down 2 pounds on a fishery as good as the St. Lawrence. I’d kept trying to push the smallmouth issue because I figured I needed 14-plus that second day, when in reality I just needed about 12 pounds.
I hate that I dropped to 29th in the Angler of the Year standings. As a result of my poor second day, I gave away a lot of ground. Still, I’m inside the Classic cut and the AOY Championship cut. As long as I can keep the train on the tracks over the next few tournaments I should be OK.
Next up is the Upper Chesapeake Bay and I’m excited about it. I’ve never been there, but two of my checks this season have come on waters I’ve never fished before. I’m hoping that it sets up like the Potomac, a place that I like and where I’ve fished a fair amount. After that is St. Clair. I’ve done OK there in the past, but I’ve never really felt like I’ve understood it. Maybe the 10th time will be the charm.
I caught my fish on a variety of lures at the St. Lawrence. Last time we were there I just about ran out of Berkley Gulp, which is always great on northern smallmouth. This time, because I used some different presentations, I have enough left over for St. Clair and Sturgeon Bay. The real equipment star in this event was my Nitro Z21. I have a ton of confidence to make long runs in that boat and I was burning 50 gallons of gas a day. Other guys making the long run had to plan to get gas, but with 60 gallons of gas capacity that wasn’t a concern for me and saved me time. For the first time, I took the Talons off of my boat. I might’ve had some use for them when I went up shallow, but I felt like it was more important in this case to lighten my load for the long run. Unlike certain other shallow water anchoring systems, it was easy to do. Just a couple of bolts and 10 minutes later they were off. I assure you they’ll be back on for the next tournament and I plan to use them a bunch.