By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Chad Grisgsby's professional fishing career bottomed out last year on the Bassmaster Elite Series and his return to the FLW Tour this year didn't start out any better. Matters improved greatly as the campaign wore on, though, and culminated last week with his victory in the regular-season finale at Lake St. Clair in Michigan.
Competing in the state where he resided for the first 32 years of his life, the 46-year-old Grigsby, now a Minnesota resident, notched his second career triumph in Tour competition – the first came in 2011 at Kentucky Lake. He pillaged an area on St. Clair's famed South Shore to the tune of 97-08 over 4 days, which was far more weight than even the most clued-in local experts anticipated it would take to collect the trophy and the six-figure paycheck. For an all-smallmouth derby, the numbers bordered on the ridiculous.
For Grigsby, who concluded 2017 with four consecutive triple-digit finishes on the Elite Series and notched a 162nd in this year's FLW Tour opener at Lake Okeechobee, it was the highlight of a career-revival season. As an added bonus, the performance gained him a berth in next month's Forrest Wood Cup.
"I'm back where I need to be," he said. "I'm just so relaxed and comfortable now.
"(His time with) B.A.S.S. was a train wreck. I was always more nervous that I wouldn't catch a fish than I was excited about going out and trying to catch one, and that's not the way you want to be."
Following are some of the specifics of his St. Clair smallmouth smack-down.
Grigsby has fished about two dozen tournaments at St. Clair and has traditionally favored the Canadian side of the lake.
"I've always been a fan of the South Shore, so I wanted to concentrate on that," he said. "I still went to some other places, like Mitchell's Bay, and I found some other stuff, but it wasn't the same quality.
"As soon as I caught a couple on the South Shore, I knew that's what I was looking for."
He went in thinking that 14 to 17 feet would be the key depth range, but discovered that more post-spawners were holding at approximately 19 feet. Because of the lake's relative flatness, those ranges are usually far apart in actual distance.
He used his Garmin electronics to find sparse patches of vegetation that he termed "cabbage." It was only found in small clumps and usually had sandy spots around it.
The area where he wound up spending the entire tournament was about 2 miles from the Belle River Hump.
"I didn't realize how special it was until the first day of the tournament," he said.
> Day 1: 5, 25-13
> Day 2: 5, 24-04
> Day 3: 5, 21-03
> Day 4: 5, 26-04
> Total = 20, 97-08
Grigsby led day 1 with a 25-13 sack – a day that saw 32 bags of 20 pounds or more come to the scale (that total would actually increase by three the following day). He caught all of his weight early, picking up a couple of 4-pounders on a tube and then employing a spybait to haul in a trio of 5-pound-plus specimens in quick succession.
Day 2 was almost as good and he hit the halfway point with just over 50 pounds on his ledger. Day 3 was a bit slower, however, and he attributed that to the wind – the spybait was ultra-effective with just a slight ripple on the water's surface, but wouldn't get touched in any thpe of significant chop.
He went into the final day trailing Dylan Hays by 15 ounces. Feeling like he'd mined most of the quality from his area, he opted to move a few hundred yards toward shore, where he'd seen some big bronzebacks busting mayflies on day 2.
He quickly caught two big ones on the tube, and then put it down and picked up the spybait. The wind had slowed down considerably and he recognized that conditions were ideal for that offering.
He proceeded to wail upon one big, brown fish after another for the next 45 minutes. When it was over, he had a sack that was about half a pound bigger than the one he'd caught on opening day.
Grigsby was able to keep St. Clair's big, hard-fighting smallmouth hooked up on a spybait.
"The scale in my boat had me at 26-06 and it had been just a little heavy all week," he said. "I was doing the math in my head while I was driving and I knew if Dylan caught another 26 like he did (on day 2), he'd beat me by a pound, but I'd done all I could do.
"I left at 2 o'clock because it was getting rough and I didn't want to kill any of my fish on the way in. What good was it to keep fishing trying to gain 4 ounces if I was going to lose 8 (the penalty for two dead ones) when I got back in. If he caught 26 again, he deserved to beat me."
Hays scaled 23-02, leaving Grigsby's winning margin at 2-03.
Whether he was fishing the tube (a smallmouth staple in the Great Lakes region) or the spybait, Grigsby made extremely long casts. His throws were not directed at specific targets, as the vegetation clumps were scattered all over the bottom in every direction.
The spybait was a big-fish killer, but he believes the primary reason it didn't work in roiled water is because his quarry couldn't detect it.
"I'm not sure about this – I asked one of them that I caught, but he wouldn't give me an answer," he cracked. "It's a small-profile bait and I just think they couldn't see it looking up when the water got choppy. When the sun's shining through the whole water column, the bait becomes really flashy."
Trying to fish it anywhere near his boat was fruitless.
"If I got it even halfway back, I wouldn't get a bite."
Winning Gear Notes
> Tube gear: 7'6" medium-heavy St. Croix Legend Elite rod, Lew's Tournament Pro Speed Spool casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 10-pound unnamed braided line (main line), 10-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader, 3/4-ounce Venom Lures jighead, 4" Venom Lures tube (green-pumpkin/gold).
> Spybait gear – 7'6" medium-light St. Croix Legend Extreme rod, Lew's Mach Crush Speed Spin 3000 reel, 10-pound unnamed braided line (main line), 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader, Duo Realis Spinbait 80 Spybait (various colors).
> He also caught two weigh-in fish on a hair jig.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "It was all about the weather and making adjustments, like (on day 4) when I caught a 5 and a 4 1/2 and then put the tube down. I could see what was happing and I knew I'd better make hay when I could."
> Performance edge – "The two biggest things were the Garmin electronics, because that's how I found the stuff I was fishing, and the medium-light St. Croix rod. People complain about losing a lot of fish on spybaits, but that rod has the perfect tip for fighting them and for throwing the bait a long ways. I missed some, but I didn't lose any that I had hooked up."
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