After finishing the tournament on the St. Lawrence, I was glad to have an extra week off before our final Elite Tournament. The week off gave me an opportunity to drive to Connecticut and share a day on the water with the CFO of Smokey Mountain Snuff and avid bass fisherman Dan Calandro. Dan is a great guy to fish with and we shared quite a few good fishing stories. He is the only guy I know who has had two fires on his bass boat in the same day! Smokey Mountain Snuff is the leader in Tobacco-Free Snuff Products and I am lucky to be part of such a great organization.
The drive from Connecticut to Detroit wasn’t bad, and I had three days to rest and prepare for what was going to be the biggest battle of the season. With the points standings so tight going into the event, a good finish here would mean a year-end bonus for finishing in the top 50 in points and most importantly a berth into the Bass Master Classic. Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Huron were all accessible waters for this event and all are known to get extremely rough when the wind kicks up. It was important to tighten every screw on the Nitro and make the same checks on the bolts holding the Mercury to the transom. One loose bolt or screw in the middle of Lake Erie could be a disaster…
Without prior experience on the fishery, I had to go off internet research to make a game plan for practice. The last few years Lake St. Clair has been on fire, producing many of the tournament winning bags. St. Clair is pretty featureless, but with the amount of fish the lake holds, it is generally easier to locate fish on St. Clair than Erie or Huron. However, lately most of the bigger bags have come out of Lake Erie. The fish in St. Clair were exceptionally skinny and it was very difficult to catch much weight fishing “local” during our event (we launched out of St. Clair). I chose to spend my first practice day on Erie, as forecasts were calm and I like to swing for the fences on the first day of practice. By the end of the day, I had located a few high spots and boulder piles that held some three to four pound smallmouth. It felt like the area could produce 17-18 pounds on a good day, but didn’t have 20+ pound potential. Day’s two and three of practice; I tried to locate a school of good fish on Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River without much success. I caught quite a few small fish, but never found any groups of smallmouth over three pounds. It looked like it was going to be Erie or bust during the tournament.
It’s no secret that Lake Erie can be both difficult and dangerous to run when the wind blows. The area I had chosen was located near the lake’s north shore meaning a north wind would not affect me negatively. The day one forecast called for winds out of the south at 10-20 mph, not what I wanted to hear! Even if it was going to be rough, the waves were not going to stop any of the 100 anglers fishing the tournament… myself included. After a 60 mile run through some heavy rain and big waves I landed on my best rock pile and started fishing. Not two minutes later, fellow Nitro pro Matt Reed pulls up and we both get a laugh out of the fact that we had chosen the same tiny rock pile in this massive lake. We decided to share the spot, so we both caught fish and fought the waves together all morning. With the fish from this spot as well as a few other isolated boulders in the general area, my day one bag weighed in at 18 pounds 11 ounces, for 13th place. It was a good start, but maintaining that pace was going to be difficult with the increasing fishing pressure from Matt, myself, and BFL anglers pre-fishing for their Saturday tournament.
We were greeted with calm weather day two and I ran 70 mph all the way to the spot Matt and I shared. Never did I expect to be able to run that fast across Erie, but the conditions were great. We both started catching fish instantly; however the quality was down from the day before, and the 3+ pound bites were few and far between. Both Elite Series and BFL anglers were showing up by the dozens, and the shoals were getting hit hard. After hitting some other spots I was sitting with about 14.5 pounds at noon with an hour before it was time to head back to the ramp. I then hooked into the biggest smallmouth of the day, a 4.5 darkly colored bruiser that fought me all the way to the boat and jumped off just out of my reach. It was a big blow to my confidence, I knew I needed that fish to maintain my position in the standings and the bites were getting tougher to come by. Putting the game face back for the last hour of fishing produced a few more fish that didn’t help and I weighed in 14 pounds 7 ounces day two for 26th place and in the first cut.
Day three was the most important day of the season. The standings were close, and qualifying for the classic was coming down to the wire. It was simple…catch them today you are in, struggle today and you are out. It was time to make some adjustments and bear down on the fish. I had been fishing 8# Trilene 100% Flourocarbon leaders on my Nanofil all week. The fish were so highly pressure I decided to take the risk of dropping to 6# for day three. Normally I would have fished 6 pound test the entire tournament, but with the quagga mussels in Erie, you are at extra risk of breaking fish off with lighter line. I also decided to look beyond the obvious boulder piles I had been fishing and look for smaller isolated rocks that may not have been fished by other anglers. Both Matt and I started on our best spot again, and gave it about an hour. I pulled a few smaller fish pounder from the depleted honey hole before expanding my search. I had marked a new boulder on day two, and decided to check it as my second stop of the day. As I got over the waypoint, several arches hung over the boulder on the graph. As soon as the Gulp! Minnow got close to the bottom, a 4+ pounder had it. I pulled another 2.5 pounder off the boulder before the rest of the fish swam away. Over the next few hours I bounced around on new and old water picking up fish but nothing with much size. With an hour to go I found myself back on the boulder where I had lost the big one the day before. It was a great time for a little revenge… I felt a bite and reeled into the fish before it came rocketing out of the water, at this point I am 99% sure it’s the same one I lost the day before. A long fight on the 6# line and she was in the boat. After looking at her, I am now 99.99% sure she was the one I had lost day two. This fish put me at nearly 17 pounds, not a huge Erie bag but it was enough to hold in 26th place for the tournament and jump into 37th in AOY points, inside the classic!
Through the event, I caught all of my fish on a dropshot rigged 3” Berkley Gulp! Minnow on the 7’3” TFO Tactical Series Dropshot Rod, 8# Berkley Nanofil Line with 6# and 8# Trilene 100% Flourocarbon Leaders. Most of the biggest tournament weights came from lake Erie, although the tournament was won by Chris Lane on Lake Huron.
The 2013 Elite Series is in the Books! It’s been a wild year, some more major highs and some major lows. I was literally too upset to even write about my tournaments on the Alabama River and West Point. I realize it is part of fishing, and I learned a great deal in both the struggled and successes of 2013.With the Classic being held on Lake Guntersville in February I am beyond excited. It was awesome to rub elbows and learn many lessons from my fishing heroes all season. These guys are incredibly hard workers and great people to boot. I want to thank all of my family, friends, and sponsors for the tremendous support they have given me this season! Rigid Industries LED Lighting, Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff, Knight Transportation, Hatch Toyota, Nitro, Mercury, Bass Pro Shops, Temple Fork Outfitters, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Trilene, Power Pole, Pepper Custom Baits, Pro Swimbaits, Topwater Clothing, and A&M Graphics…Thanks for taking the chance on a rookie this season and I can’t wait for 2014.