By Todd Ceisner
The Lake St. Clair Elite Series that concluded on Sunday will be remembered for a long time as arguably the best smallmouth tournament the circuit has seen since its creation in 2006. A total of 50 stringers in excess of 20 pounds crossed the scales, including 30 on day 2 alone. Several 6-pounders showed themselves along with untold numbers of 5-plus pounds.
“They wrecked ‘em,” as the saying goes.
It was an event that won’t be remembered, though, for the quantity of fish caught by the competitors, rather the stout quality. Smallmouth gorging on perch, crayfish and various other baitfish were spread all across the massive lake that sits between lakes Huron and Erie, neither of which played near as big a role as they have in previous tournaments centered around St. Clair.
St. Clair was the unmistakable star last week and those who fared well had to be patient and persistent in the face of challenging conditions in practice and some rough water during the tournament. Reaction baits served as search tools for some, while others kept a dropshot in the water at all times, probing the expansive grass flats while waiting to collide with a small group of fish or a rogue big one.
Below is additional information on the rest of the top 5 finishers did their damage.
2nd: Brock Mosley
> Day 1: 5, 20-05
> Day 2: 5, 25-08
> Day 3: 5, 20-08
> Day 4: 5, 20-00
> Total = 20, 86-05
When Brock Mosley competed in the 2014 Bassmaster Northern Open at Lake St. Clair, he spent some time in the Detroit River and gained some confidence around current breaks. When he came back this year for the Elite Series, he
On the first day of practice, he launched his boat at Elizabeth Park and checked same areas, racking up 18 pounds worth of bites in short order.
“I knew those places were there if I needed them,” he said. “In the Open, the river dried up so I knew I needed something on the lake to get up the leaderboard.”
He came with a set goal of finishing in the top 25, which he figured would be enough to push him into the top 50 points.
“I needed a place on the lake where I could catch a big one each day,” he said.
His search last Monday afternoon came up empty, but he started to get dialed in the following day on the Metro Flats. It was windy and rough and rather than run around the lake, he opted to stay put and drift the area.
“I didn’t want to run in those waves so I drifted 5 miles and went 2 1/2 hours without a bite,” he said. “Then all of a sudden I catch three over 4 pounds within 100 yards. I expanded on it a little and caught a few more.”
On the final day of practice, he caught 23 pounds by 10 a.m. in the same area.
“I knew the potential was there and made the decision after that morning to start there,” he said. “I could save those river fish and grind out five on the flat on day 1.”
On both days 1 and 2 of the tournament, Mosley had a 5-pounder in the boat before the entire field had blasted off.
Rather than mix in a crankbait or other reaction baits like others did, Mosley stuck with the finesse presentation throughout.
“I was the only one slowing down,” he said.
He was focused stretches where the water was 16 to 17 feet deep with grass that grew up two feet tall.
“On day 1, I caught a few off the grass edge, but on days 2 and 3 when the wind slacked off, I caught more in the grass,” he added.
When he did go to the river on day 2, he finished off his limit by skipping a jig around docks that had current eddys under them.
> Drop shot gear: 7’2” medium-action Spiralite Defiant spinning rod, Ardent C-Force 3000 spinning reel, 16-pound unnamed braided line, 8-pound unnamed fluorocarbon line (leader), 1/0 Owner dropshot hook, 6” NetBait Contour Worm (green-pumpkin), 1/4-oz. unnamed dropshot weight.
> Jig gear: 7’2” heavy-action Spiralite Defiant casting rod, Ardent Apex Elite casting reel (6.4:1 gear ratio), 15-pound unnamed fluorocarbon line, 1/2-oz. Angler Assets Big Money flipping jig (green-pumpkin with orange tips), NetBait Paca Slim trailer (green-pumpkin).
> He also used a Bagley Knocker B when fishing a slack water grass flat behind a seawall in the Detroit River.
> Main factor in his success – “Slowing down and keeping it simple. For the lake, I had two rods on my deck – both dropshots with different baits. I saw guys throw a crankbait and jerkbait and spinnerbait and dropshot. I stuck with a dropshot knowing I was going to get seven or eight bites a day.”
> Performance edge – “I ran the Garmin Fishing Chart on the satellite image and that helped read me the grass lines a little better.”
Mark Daniels, Jr. had a one-two punch of a crankbait and dropshot working at Lake St. Clair.
3rd: Mark Daniels, Jr.
> Day 1: 5, 21-11
> Day 2: 5, 20-05
> Day 3: 5, 24-01
> Day 4: 5, 19-06
> Total = 20, 85-07
Mark Daniels employed a one-two punch of a crankbait and a dropshot in St. Clair and rode it to the best finish of his rookie season on the Elite Series.
“I was covering a lot of water with a crankbait and when I’d see one on my graph, I’d drop on it,” he said. “I caught three on day 3 doing that – two were big.”
He practiced everywhere but on Lake Erie, which turned out to be a solid plan.
“I didn’t choose St. Clair; it chose me,” he said. “I had a few bites there and wanted to see if I could get a couple good ones. If I did that, my plan then was to play it safe in the Detroit River to catch 16 to 17 pounds so I didn’t lose my Classic spot.”
After he caught a couple 4-pounders early on day 1 and filled out his limit by 9:30, he opted to stay put. Another good choice. He wound up with 21-11 on day 1 and never made a cast outside of Lake St. Clair the rest of the tournament.
“I decided I wasn’t fishing anywhere else,” he added.
The area he targeted featured some eelgrass and sand grass, but the bass were scattered out amongst it in 16 to 18 feet and relating to perch in the area.
“There was no rhyme or reason why or when I got bites,” he said. “The fish that I was catching were not grouped up. They were loner, rogue perch-eating smallmouth.”
He used a medium-diving crankbait made by Yo-Zuri/Duel that ran just above the grass and it was a bait fellow competitor (and Alabama resident) Clent Davis loaned him earlier this summer.
“Clent gave it to me a couple months ago at an Airport Marine tournament back home and I just left it on the rod,” Daniels said. “I just pulled it out and it looked good so I started fishing with it.”
> Cranking gear: 7’2” medium-heavy Kistler Feel & Reel cranking rod, Cabela’s Arachnid 100XD casting reel (8.1:1 gear ratio), 10-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, Duel Hardcore Crank 4+ (gizzard shad, baby bluegill).
> Daniels went against convention cranking wisdom and opted for a high-speed reel due to the aggressive nature of the smallmouth. “They don’t want it slow,” he said. “They wanted it coming by fast. It was a knee-jerk reaction type of deal.”
> Dropshot gear: 7’ medium-action Kistler Helium 3 spinning rod, Cabela’s Verano 2500 spinning reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line, 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line (leader), #1 Owner mosquito hook, 3.5” Poor Boys Baits Erie Darter (Steigers Ice), Z-Man StreakZ (smokey shad).
> Main factor in his success – “I was in a situation where I needed a good tournament here. I had to pull myself up and go for it instead of going the conservative route. When I did that, I fished more comfortable and got in a zone.”
> Performance edge – “The Power-Pole Drift Paddles were absolutely critical for me and controlling my drifts. I’d never used them before, but now I’m a believer.”
Jordan Lee used an aggressive retrieve on his dropshot to attract bites.
4th: Jordan Lee
> Day 1: 5, 19-09
> Day 2: 5, 24-11
> Day 3: 5, 25-09
> Day 4: 3, 12-06
> Total = 18, 82-03
Jordan Lee didn’t have to go far to catch the bass that nearly won him the tournament. He fished an expansive area not far from the MetroPark along with several others who finished in the top 12, including Mosley, Jamie Hartman and Takahiro Omori.
“Big smallmouth related to that area,” he said. “There’s no telling how many bass were there. I know I struggled on the last day, but there were still two 20-pound bags caught there.”
He was not getting more than 10 to 12 bites on his good days so felt very fortunate to have caught and landed the fish that bit.
“St. Clair is one of the luckier lakes in my opinion as far as finding the fish,” he said. “To win here, you have to have a lot of luck on your side and you need to make the right drift to find the fish.
“There are no real variations in grass. There’s nothing different. It’s all the same so I feel like I got pretty fortunate this week.”
The areas where he caught his bigger fish were gathering spots for baitfish. He said when his sonar screen would indicate bait in the area, it wasn’t long before he’d get bit. He relied mainly on a dropshot rig using a fluke-style bait. The bigger profile seemed to attract the magnum smallmouth.
“St. Clair is full of short grass and that area had spots where it got thicker,” he said. “You could barely see it on the unit. The key to that area was a lot of bait on the screen. You didn’t see that anywhere else.”
He spent his whole practice in St. Clair based on historical tournament outcomes and
He didn’t catch many on a vertical presentation of the dropshot. He often had to hop the rig pretty aggressively to get a reaction strike.
“They seemed to hit it in the first couple hops,” he noted. “The last few days I really worked it. I’d pitch it out and shake it a couple times and they’d have it. As the week wore on, it got slower.”
> Dropshot gear: 7’ medium-heavy and 7’4” medium-action Quantum Prism spinning rods, Quantum Smoke Inshore 30 spinning reel, 10-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line, Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line (leader), 1/0 Roboworm Rebarb hook, 5” Strike King 3X ElazTech Z Too (ice), 3/8-oz. Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten dropshot weight.
> He also caught several key fish early in the tournament on a Strike King Dreamshot.
> He used a longer than normal dropper to keep his bait up above the grass.
> Main factor in his success – “The biggest key on St. Clair is being patient and not running around a lot. I’ve stunk here before and ran around. This week, I ran around on day 1 and decided to stop and fish. That was the biggest key for me – just get in an area where you think there are fish and fish it out.”
> Performance edge – “My Lowrance Carbon 16. Just being able to see the details of the bait and seeing the fish in the grass, you can decipher a lot with that, even the subtle stuff.”
Matt Lee had an area all to himself on the Ontario side of Lake St. Clair.
5th: Matt Lee
> Day 1: 5, 21-13
> Day 2: 5, 23-03
> Day 3: 5, 18-08
> Day 4: 5, 18-06
> Total = 20, 81-14
Like Christie, Matt Lee had his area of St. Clair all to himself for the majority of the tournament.
“I loved that,” he said. “Champlain was the same way.”
Lee’s reason for getting away from the crowds was what he recalled from the 2015 Elite Series stop at St. Clair, where boats were grouped up on the flat out in front of the MetroPark blast off site.
“Where I caught fish back then was in Canadian water so I spent all practice this time over there,” he said. “I love finding stuff off to myself.”
He was catching fish that were gorging on perch in voids in the grass. When the wind blew, the bass related to the edges of the grass patches and he also thinks the algae bloom that occurring on the lake put enough stain in the water that his ice-colored fluke-style bait that he rigged on a dropshot became a go-to option.
“When (Larry) Nixon won here (in 2012), he threw (a fluke),” Lee said. “Last time, some guys caught them on it. In practice, Kelley Jaye was near me and I had it rigged up already, but I saw him catch a 2-pounder on a fluke.
“I wasn’t getting any fewer bites with bigger baits. I caught some real big fish on it. I wasn’t dead set on it when the tournament started, but the morning of day 1, I shared my first place with Jaye and Jesse Wiggins and I caught a 4-pounder on it. Then I got more dialed in on it. I threw a (Strike King) Dreamshot and a tube, but my first with that I’d get a bite. There was a little more stain in the water and I think I needed something they could see and get their attention.”
He was fishing the dropshot with a rigorous action as opposed to dragging the weight along the bottom. Most of the areas he caught fish were 12 to 17 feet.
“I never caught a fish where there was another one with it,” he added. “They were randomly scattered. You had to get it around one and let them know your bait was there. I was not fishing a school so I had to fish quick.”
> Dropshot gear: 7’4” medium-action Quantum Tour KVD spinning rod, Quantum Smoke Speed Freak 30 spinning reel, 10-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line, 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line (leader), unnamed 1/0 straight shank finesse hook, 5” Strike King 3X ElazTech Z Too (ice), 1/4- and 3/8-oz. Strike King Tour Grade tungsten dropshot weight.
> Lee tried other techniques, such as crankbaits, jerkbaits, Ned rigs, wacky-rigged worms on a dropshot, but all 20 of his weigh-in fish came on the fluke-style dropshot.
> Main factor in his success – “Getting away from everybody and finding places to myself that had isolated schools of smallmouth. I’d get two bites next to each other in practice. I’d mark them and go back to it and go three hours without a bite. Then I’d go back and catch 18 (pounds) in the tournament. I had four or places like that that I could rotate.”
> Performance edge – “That new four-blade Fury prop from Mercury was key for me. It kept the nose of my boat up. I don’t like rough water and that helped a lot.”
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