By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The big flat out in the middle of Lake St. Clair that Larry Nixon and several other top finishers fished during last week's Detroit River FLW Tour Open held a seemingly infinite number of quality smallmouths. That was a good thing for Nixon because if they'd run out, he had nowhere else to go.
"What it boiled down to after practice was I really had nothing else to fish except that one area," he said.
It turned out that was all he needed, as he mined it for an average of better than 21 pounds a day en route to his 18th professional victory and first since 2007. His 84-11 total for 4 days eclipsed runner-up Bill McDonald by just over 6 pounds.
Here's how he did it.
Nixon discovered the big flat – which is at least 8 miles from the nearest piece of land – prior to the Detroit event in 2007. It didn't surrender much to him that year, as he finished 94th, and it was even less helpful the following year, when he ended up 140th.
He hadn't seen it in the past 4 years, but this time he found it in a much more giving mood.
"Even though I'd never done well there in a tournament, it's an area I like to fish," he said. "I'd caught big ones in there on a dropshot before, although never of that magnitude, and I'd seen some nasty schooling fish there a couple of times.
"This time I caught a (5-pounder) the first day I was there and it had a 4 following it, and the boy I was practicing with caught a good one. I saw that there were a lot of fish in the general vicinity, and every time another tournament boat would come into sight while I was drifting around, I'd leave."
The flat was about a quarter-mile square and most of the water was in the 15-foot depth range. It was inundated by a species of baitfish that he couldn't readily identify.
"I don't know what that minnow was, but it was about 2 inches long and there were huge schools of them. You'd see them jumping out of the water when you were reeling up your bait and it got near the surface.
"Usually on St. Clair you find perch or rock bass on the bottom. There were no perch in this area – only smallmouth and whatever that minnow was."
He didn't know how things would turn out, but he knew he'd live or die on that one flat.
"The only way to fish a place like that is to grit your teeth, put the trolling motor down and go with the wind until you hit fish. You have to make several drifts to find the sweet spots. Sometimes they pan out and sometimes they don't."
> Day 1: 5, 17-13
> Day 2: 5, 22-15
> Day 3: 23-11
> Day 4: 5, 20-04
> Total = 20, 84-11
The big fish didn't cooperate for Nixon on day 1 as he got just a single bite that exceeded the 4-pound class, and that one jumped off. His near-18-pound stringer represented a decent start, but it left him trailing 36 other competitors.
The bruisers showed him a lot more love on day 2, when he boxed almost 23 pounds and gained 30 places in the standings. He had 20 pounds in the first hour and upgraded several times throughout the remainder of the day.
His day-3 bag was even bigger and it pushed him to the top of the leaderboard. It didn't come together nearly as easily, though, as all he could catch in the early morning were fish that weighed 2 pounds or less.
He stayed with the program, though, and the 4-pounders (and even a 5) eventually showed up. The sack gave him a 5-ounce lead over McDonald, who was fishing close by, with 1 day to go.
He got one exceptional bite on the final day from a fish that was at or very near 6 pounds. That stout specimen, along with a quartet of 3 1/2 pounders, proved to be more than enough to keep the rest of the Top-10 field at bay.
Nixon caught the vast majority of his weigh-in fish on a dropshot rig tipped with a Berkley Gulp! Alive! Jerk Shad. He substituted other baits, including a Berkley Gulp! Goby, at times when the action died down.
He picked up a few good ones on a Berkley Havoc Sick Fish swimbait.
"The fish could be anywhere inside that (quarter-mile square)," he said. "There were five to seven really clean spots on the bottom, some of them maybe 30 yards long, where you could really do your damage. When they were biting, it wasn't real complicated to get bit. I was casting (the dropshot rig) and fishing it back to the boat like a Carolina-rig, and if I'd feel any grass on the sinker, I'd pop it and drag it a little more.
A 5-inch Berkley Gulp! Alive! Jerk Shad in the in the chartreuse/pepper neon color was Nixon's primary dropshot bait.
"Smallmouth will bite just about anything, but one of the key things that helped me more than anything was the size of that (Jerk Shad). I could pick up a tube and catch lots of fish, but I couldn't catch the 4- and 5-pounders. That bait works good on the bottom for the bigger fish.
"Those fish were sitting right on the bottom," he continued, "and they wouldn't come up for anything unless you had the perfect of amount of breeze – not totally calm, but not windy. If it was just perfect, you could get a big one to eat that swimbait, but the rest of the time they were locked down on the bottom."
With conditions being what they were (extremely mild for this time of year), he had no real concerns about the fish totally vacating the area.
"They won't move out unless the bait totally leaves or the fishing pressure gets really bad. Then they may go in any of four directions, but they might only go half a mile and sit on the next sand spot they find.
"But if the water stains up, you can forget it."
Winning Gear Notes
> Dropshot gear: 6'10" medium-action Abu Garcia Villain rod, Abu Garcia Revo SX casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 10-pound Spiderwire Ultracast Ultimate braided line (main line), 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon (10' leader), 1/4- or 3/8-ounce unnamed dropshot weight, 1/0 Gamakatsu dropshot hook, 5" Berkley Gulp! Alive! Jerk Shad (chartreuse/pepper neon) or Berkley Gulp! Goby (green-pumpkin/copper).
> Swimbait gear: 7'1" medium-action Abu Garcia Villain rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel (7.9:1 ratio), 14-pound Berkley Trilene XT monofilament line, 1/2-ounce Yamamoto swimbait jighead, Berkley Havoc Sick Fish swimbait (Arkansas shiner).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "The main thing would be knowing there were a lot of fish in that area."
> Performance edge – "Definitely the Lowrance GPS. I couldn't have caught anything without that."
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