By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Dropshot rigs on humps and tubes bounced along with the current have long been the most effective methods for catching smallmouth bass in and around the Great Lakes. The Bassmaster Elite Series anglers certainly didn't break any new ground in that department last week when they visited Lake St. Clair and its connecting bodies.
Winner Chris Lane employed both tactics (for more on that, click here) and the four anglers whose weight totals were closest to his relied on at least one or the other.
2nd: Mark Davis
> Day 1: 5, 22-01
> Day 2: 5, 20-10
> Day 3: 5, 20-15
> Day 4: 4, 13-03
> Total = 19, 76-13
Mark Davis, a former Bassmaster Classic winner and three-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, posted his highest finish since returning to the circuit in 2008 (he was an FLW-only pro for 2006-07). Needing a strong showing to qualify for next year's Classic, he made a long, perilous journey to Lake Erie each day hoping to coax an average of a couple of bites per hour.
He was highly successful in that quest for the first 3 days as he popped 20 pounds or more on each occasion and sat atop the standings for the 2 middle days of the event. On day 4, the big bronzebacks pulled off of the shoal they'd been inhabiting and he had to scramble for his four-fish, 13-pound sack. He farmed two bites that day, including one in excess of 4 pounds.
"The place was just a regular shoal out around some islands in the middle of the lake," he said. "It was really textbook smallmouth structure – rock, zebra mussels and boulders. I found it by looking at the map on my Lowrance (electronics unit) and drove out there in practice, and the second hump I came to had fish on it. Those first fish I found weren't big, but one thing led to another and I stayed in that general vicinity until I found the big ones.
"I've only spent about 9 days on Erie in my life and I don't want to say I was totally out of my element, but a gamble like that was necessary this time for me. I was behind the 8-ball (on the points list) and I knew I had to do something like that."
> Dropshot gear: 7' medium-action Team Lew's rod, Team Lew's Gold spinning real, 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce Strike King tungsten weight, size 1 or 2/0 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook, nose-hooked Strike King Dream Shot (green-pumpkin/gold/purple flake with tail dyed chartreuse) or wacky-rigged 4 1/2" Roboworm Fat Worm (margarita mutilator).
Main factor in his success – "I really had to be diligent in the way I fished every day. I used a lot of patience."
Performance edge – "That's a tie between my Skeeter/Yamaha for getting me there and back and my Lowrance HDS-10 for keeping me around those fish the whole time. I could see them and drop right down on them."
Alton Jones focused on big, goby-eating smallmouths from Lake Huron.
3rd: Alton Jones
> Day 1: 5, 16-01
> Day 2: 5, 16-10
> Day 3: 5, 21-08
> Day 4: 5, 22-03
> Total = 20, 76-06
Jones, like Lane, made the northerly run to Lake Huron each day instead of accompanying the majority of the field on its south-bound journey to Lake Erie. He spent the entire tournament around the bottom end of that massive lake and he and Lane alternated making a 250-yard drift along a current seam for the final day and a half.
He believes the presence of a strong population of gobies, the invasive baitfish that make smallmouths fat and happy, is the reason the area was so fertile.
"I went and pre-practiced before the (off-limits period) with a good friend of mine who won a big tournament up there at this time last year," he said. "He showed me about a 10-mile stretch of the (St. Clair) River and the lake. We didn't go to that exact spot, but I used similar patterns and it gave me something to expand on."
On his primary drift, it was important to follow a sort of mudline that was formed by waves crashing into the shore.
"Not knowing about that is what caused me to miss the fish that first morning. They were using that mudline as a type of structure. Once I got set up on the right drift, I'd get a bite on almost every pass."
He dragged a tube through 30 to 40 feet of water. The bottom composition in the area was primarily zebra mussels.
"When I'd hit the lower end (of the drift), I'd just motor back up and start over. When (Lane) and I were both doing it, we were usually about 100 yards apart. There was plenty of fish for both of us."
> Tube gear: 6'9" medium-heavy Kistler Z-Bone rod, Browning Midas casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 30-pound Power Pro braided line, 20-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader (4'), 3/8-ounce unnamed jighead, 4" YUM tube (green-pumpkin).
> He said the fish had no reservations about taking a bait attached to such heavy line. "Whenever I get in a situation like that, I always test to see if the fish are line-shy or not, and these were not. I could reel them to the top and fling them to the boat instead of cradling them like I would've had to do with spinning gear."
Main factor in his success – "My first choice would've been to fish Lake St. Clair, but when I saw how skinny those fish were, I knew I needed to look at other stuff. I knew the (fishing) pressure would be going toward Erie, and Erie can take it. The mouth of the St. Clair River can't take a lot of pressure, and I knew it would be less crowded there. It worked out."
Performance edge – "No question, it was my Skeeter FX20. Making those runs with all the wakes and waves was brutal, there's no other way to put it. At age 50, I need a soft ride and that Skeeter delivers it."
Takahiro Omori caught a 5-11 behemoth on the final day.
4th: Takahiro Omori
> Day 1: 5, 18-02
> Day 2: 5, 20-03
> Day 3: 5, 17-00
> Day 4: 5, 20-11
> Total = 20, 76-00
Takahiro Omori joined a couple of other high finishers in fishing a long, slow-tapering point in Erie. The run from the launch in Harrison Township, Mich. was about 2 hours each way.
He averaged about 10 bites per day and caught his biggest fish of the week, a 5-11, on the final day.
"I put so much into this tournament," he said. "When (B.A.S.S.) first announced the schedule last year, I came up 1 week later and fished St. Clair, and it was awesome. Then (earlier) this year I came back for another 7 days and it was still good. But when official practice started, I could only catch about 14 pounds.
"I went to Erie on the second practice day and I was able to find a few key spots."
> Dropshot gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Daiwa Black Label casting rod, Daiwa Zillion J Dream casting reel (7.9:1 ratio), 7-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Kanji International dropshot weight, 1/0 Gamakatsu dropshot hook, Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm (green-pumpkin) or Xzone Fat Slammer (green-pumpkin/copper, purple/blue neon belly).
> Tube gear: Same rod and reel, 10-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce homemade jighead, 3 1/2" Yamamoto tube (green-pumpkin).
> He currently fishes with only baitcasting gear because he has an elbow ailment that's greatly aggravated by using a spinning setup.
Main factor in his success – "I think it was being open-minded during practice."
Performance edge – "My Yahama SHO and Ranger boat held up on that long run with big waves for 4 days in a row."
Nate Wellman pulled fish from several places that had produced for him in previous events.
5th: Nate Wellman
> Day 1: 5, 17-07
> Day 2: 5, 18-03
> Day 3: 5, 20-08
> Day 4: 5, 19-09
> Total = 20, 75-11
Nate Wellman, the lone Michigan resident to make the final-day cut, relied on spots that had produced for him in the past. His best spot was near Pelee Island, about 85 miles from the launch.
"I fished the flats coming off the reefs that had scattered rock, and the fish would be right at the end in 25 to 32 feet of water," he said. "There's a lot of isolated rocks on those dropoffs and I was fishing those rocks.
"The bite was really tough. When I'd mark a fish (on the graph), I'd try to drop the bait right down on its head with the bail of the reel open. Then I'd have to drift away about 10 yards, click the bail and then hold the bait still or maybe shake it just a little bit. I had to get the boat away from the bait this time and I don't know why. Normally you can just drop straight down to them.
> Dropshot gear: 6'9" medium-action Cal West Custom rod, Shimano Stradic 2500 spinning reel, 6-pound McCoy fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce generic lead dropshot weight, size 1 VMC Spinshot hook, 3" Berkley Gulp! Minnow (black shad) or Poor Boys Erie Darter (mango magic).
Main factor in his success – "Having those places that I've fished for many years. In practice I caught two 4-pounders and a 5 on my main place in the first 5 minutes."
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