By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
(Editor's note: In observance of the Labor Day holiday, BassFan will not publish on Monday unless breaking news emerges.)
As winner Larry Nixon pointed out, "It wasn't real complicated to get bit" at last week's Detroit River FLW Tour Open if you were on the right fish and they were in a feeding mode. Dropshot rigs and tubes drug along the bottom have long been the staples for enticing strikes at that venue and other Northern smallmouth meccas, and that derby was no exception.
Following are some pattern details for the four anglers who came closest to matching Nixon's winning weight.
2nd: Bill McDonald
> Day 1: 5, 21-09
> Day 2: 5, 25-02
> Day 3: 5, 17-07
> Day 4: 5, 14-08
> Total = 20, 78-10
Indiana pro Bill McDonald fished the same flat in the middle of Lake St. Clair that Nixon exploited, and it resulted in his best-ever finish at the tour level. He used a drophot rig exclusively, with a Poor Boys Baits Erie Darter attached to the business end.
The flat was located not far from a popular St. Clair locale known as the Belle River Hump.
"I found the place on the first day of practice – I pulled up and caught two 5-pounders, and then I left," he said. "I came back one other time and caught a 4. There was a ton of baitfish in that area, along with some scattered grass and a little bit of rock, and the fish would be on the clean spots.
"All the fish were between 14 and 15 feet deep. I'm a flipper, and anything over 4 feet deep, I kind of feel like I'm out of my element. I just kept a tight line on the dropshot and the better fish I never felt – they'd just load up like the line was on some grass. The smaller ones, I'd feel them peck at it."
> Dropshot gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Dobyns Champion Extreme rod, Daiwa spinning reel, 10-pound Berkley FireLine braid (main line), 8-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon leader (12 to 14 feet), 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Strike King tungsten weight, 1/0 Gamakatsu splitshot/dropshot hook, Poor Boys Baits Erie Darter (smoke/purple).
Main factor in his success – "Just staying persistent in that area instead of jumping the gun and taking off running. I believe that you don't leave fish to find fish."
Performance edge – "Definitely my Garmin GPS and depthfinder. There's no way I could've even found that spot without GPS."
Chad Pipkens was the lone Top-5 finisher who made the run to Lake Erie.
3rd: Chad Pipkens
> Day 1: 5, 21-11
> Day 2: 5, 17-06
> Day 3: 5, 19-10
> Day 4: 5, 19-03
> Total = 20, 77-14
Tour-level neophyte Chad Pipkens of Michigan, this year's Bassmaster Northern Opens points champion, was the only Top-5 finisher who spent his days on Lake Erie. He plied the big lake's north shore and lost some quality bites each day, but put enough big bronzebacks in the boat to stay near the top of the leaderboard throughout the event.
"The only day that was different was the first day," he said. "I had over 20 pounds at 9 o'clock and I caught a bunch after that.
"The fish were in mostly 18 to 22 feet (of water) and they weren't right on the structure. They were off to the side in little patches of gravel."
He caught one good fish on a Lucky Craft crankbait on day 1, but a dropshot setup accounted for all the rest.
> Dropshot gear: 7' light-action Powell spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, unnamed 3/8- or 1/2-ounce round dropshot weight, 1/0 Gamakatsu splitshot/dropshot hook, Poor Boys Baits Erie Darter (smoke/purple).
Main factor in his success – "I didn't wait for any fish – I moved around a lot. I hit some places two or three times a day."
Performance edge – "My Ranger boat for getting me out there and back. Also, a 52-inch trolling-motor shaft makes a difference for staying in the right position under the conditions we had."
Spencer Shuffield topped the 20-pound mark on each of the first 3 days.
4th: Spencer Shuffield
> Day 1: 5, 21-08
> Day 2: 5, 20-07
> Day 3: 5, 21-00
> Day 4: 5, 14-13
> Total = 20, 77-12
Spencer Shuffield was consistent as all get-out for the first 3 days as he compiled a 21-pound average. His weight fell of dramatically in the strong wind that showed up for day 4, but it cost him only one slot in the standings.
He fished near the big flat where Nixon, McDonald and 5th-place finisher Shinichi Fukae were, but had his own deal going off to the side. He worked scattered clumps of eel grass in the 15-foot range.
"I'd been fishing a couple of little areas (in practice) and I was running pretty slow, and I started seeing all these little clumps through my Typhoon sunglasses," he said. "I was fortunate enough to find just that one real good spot, and it held up for me. There was about 115 pounds of bass caught off that one spot (between him and his co-anglers)."
He caught one quality fish on a dropshot rig, but the rest were enticed by a tube.
> Tube gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Shimano Cumara spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 10-pound Spiderwire Ultracast Ultimate braided line, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon leader (12 feet), 3/8-ounce unnamed jighead, Crunchers tube (green-pumpkin/purple flake) or Strike King Coffee Tube (natural goby).
> Dropshot gear: Same rod, reel and line as tube, 1/4-ounce Mojo Pineapple weight, 1/0 Gamakatsu splitshot/dropshot hook, Berkley Gulp! Goby (natural goby).
Main factor in his success – "Staying in that same area."
Performance edge – "My Evinrude E-Tec. Running 40 miles there and 40 back, there's no doubt it was the deal. It's gotten me to a lot of places this year."
A mediocre first day kept Shinichi Fukae from finishing higher than 5th.
5th: Shinichi Fukae
> Day 1: 5, 16-01
> Day 2: 5, 21-01
> Day 3: 5, 19-13
> Day 4: 5, 19-03
> Total = 20, 76-02
Shinichi Fukae was the third member of the high-finishing trio who worked the quarter-mile flat on St. Clair. He made a mistake, however, by not going there immediately on day 1, when he ended up with what was easily his lightest bag.
"I found two good areas in practice," he said, with wife Miyu translating. "One was a quality (bigger-fish) area and the other was a numbers area. I was in the early flight on day 1 and that meant my fishing time was shortened, so I decided to get a solid limit quickly at the numbers area and then go to the quality area to cull.
"When I went to the quality area, I was kind of shocked because (Nixon) was on the exact same spot. We shared the area all week and my hat's off to him."
He caught most of his fish on a tube, but picked up a few on a dropshot rig.
> Tube gear: 7' medium-action Megabass Orochi rod, Shimano Vanquish spinning reel, 14-pound YGK Yoz-Ami sinking braided line (main line), 8-pound YGK Yoz-Ami fluorocarbon leader, 3/8- or 5/16-ounce Bite Me Tackle jighead, unnamed tube (smoke/blue flake).
> Dropshot gear: 6'10" medium-light Megabass Orochi rod, same reel and line, unnamed 3/8-ounce dropshot weight, size 1 Gamakatsu Swivelshot hook, Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm (green-pumpkin).
Main factor in his success – "Deciding to go to Lake St. Clair, because I practiced at Erie, too."
Performance edge – "I had good co-anglers. That's a mental thing. They beat me on the first day and the second day. If I get a co-angler who can't fish, that mental edge goes away."
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