By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
How hot was the action at Lake St. Clair last week during the final FLW Tour regular-season event of 2018? Try this: Among the top 5 finishers, there was exactly one bag that came to the scale that was shy of 20 pounds, and that one weighed 19-14.
Three anglers finished with 4-day totals that exceeded 90 pounds. The daily average required to qualify for the final day (top 10) was just an ounce short of 21 pounds.
A good number of 6-pound smallmouths (and a figurative ton of 5-pounders) were caught, and many others of that size that were hooked came unbuttoned before they could be detained for a boat ride to the launch in Harrison Township, Mich. The big bites often came during short periods of intense activity – the type of scenario that causes BassFans from all over the country to burn vacation time and disposable income on trips to the North Country every summer.
Here are some pattern details for the four competitors who finished closest to winner Chad Grigsby.
2nd: Dylan Hays
> Day 1: 5, 23-06
> Day 2: 5, 26-07
> Day 3: 5, 22-06
> Day 4: 5, 23-02
> Total = 20, 95-05
Hays, a second-year pro from Arkansas, finished the season with a flourish – he'd place 14th in the previous derby at Kentucky Lake. He ended up at No. 45 on the points list, just one place shy of qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup, due to 160th- and 142nd-place stinkers at Smith Lake and Lake Cumberland prior to Kentucky.
He caught the biggest stringer of the tournament on day 2 and entered the final day with the lead, but came up a little more than 2 pounds short of victory as Grigsby posted a 26 1/4-pound bag.
He shared a locale near the South Shore (within shouting distance of where Grigsby fished) with 3rd-place finisher Brad Knight. The place wasn't really structure- or cover-oriented, but was teeming with perch that the smallmouth were feasting upon in 17 to 18 feet of water.
"It was windy in practice and on that one little stretch I made six stops," he said. "I'd catch a 4-pounder and then move about a quarter-mile and do it again. That area was full of 5-, 4- and 3-pounders and they were all really fat."
A Ned rig was his primary weapon.
"Really long casts were definitely better when it was calmer, but it was also easier to lose fish that way," he said.
> Ned rig gear: 7' medium-heavy Falcon Cara rod, Shimano Stradic Ci4+
2500 spinning reel, 10-pound Hi-Seas braided line (main line), 8-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon (leader), 3/16-ounce Mustad Grip-Pin Ned jighead, Z-Man Finesse TRD (green-pumpkin).
> He caught two weigh-in fish on a dropshot rig featuring a 6-inch Roboworm (Aaron's magic) on day 1.
Main factor in his success – "Finding an area and calling it home. I knew there were lots of good fish around and I stuck with it."
Performance edge – "The Minn Kota trolling motor with Spot-Lock, the Power-Pole Drift Paddles for slowing down in the wind and the Lowrance graph. I used different colors on the graph for my trails each day so I'd know where I'd been and where I hadn't been and it made the waypoints real easy to manage."
For Brad Knight, the St. Clair event was a good finish to a tough season.
2nd: Brad Knight
> Day 1: 5, 22-01
> Day 2: 5, 23-00
> Day 3: 5, 25-05
> Day 4: 5, 21-15
> Total = 20, 92-05
Knight, the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup winner, had by far his best finish of a tough season – his previous high this year was a 42nd. It was his maiden trip to St. Clair and he's naturally already looking forward to returning.
He found the spot he divvied up with Hays (located about 20 miles from the take-off) in practice, but didn't realize its potential until competition got under way.
"I found a big concentration of fish on the first day of the tournament and for the first 2 days I didn't fish there later than 10 o'clock," he said. "(On day 3) I stepped it up a little bit more and started expanding and learning more about the place.
"I knew it had good ones and the more I fished, the more I learned about it and where the little sweet spots were. Dylan and I worked really well together and my hat's off to him. He had his little places and I had mine and we'd chat throughout the day and compare weights and try to leave at the same time to make sure we got back (for check-in). It was very affable and there were no problems whatsoever."
His weigh-in fish were split about evenly between a dropshot rig and a tube.
> Dropshot gear: 7' medium-fast Lew's Custom Speed Stick Magnum spinning rod, Team Lew's Pro Speed Spin 300 spinning reel, 10-pound Gamma Torque braid (main line), 6-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon (15' leader) 1/0 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook, unnamed goby imitation (perch) or Strke King Z Too (Arkansas shiner), 3/8-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tungsten weight.
> Tube gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Lew's Custom Speed Stick Magnum Tube rod, same reel and line, 5/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tube jighead, 3 1/2" Strike King Coffee Tube (green-pumpkin/purple or copper flake).
Main factor in his success – "My objective in going there for the first time was to keep things simple. I did a lot of fishing in practice for the purpose of catching fish and marking concentrations of fish instead of places where it seemed like I was getting bites randomly."
Scott Dobson mined quality fish from near the mouth of the St. Clair River.
4th: Scott Dobson
> Day 1: 5, 23-07
> Day 2: 5, 22-14
> Day 3: 5, 22-05
> Day 4: 5, 21-01
> Total = 20, 89-11
It would've been a big surprise if Dobson hadn't ended up among the top 5, as the resident of Clarkston, Mich. is arguably the top tournament angler on St. Clair. But even he didn't anticipate the quality that the three anglers who finished in front of him would uncover from some of the deeper haunts along the South Shore.
He focused his entire practice within 5 miles of the mouth of the St. Clair River.
"I took the place where the middle channel dumps out and where the north channel dumps out and drew a circle around it," he said. "The post-spawn fish move into the current where the water's a little cooler. They're in predictable places and I like casting to targets.
"I fished divots, seams and breaks in the current and a log here or a boulder there."
Most of the fish were sitting in the 10-foot depth range or shallower. He caught them with a combination of a jerkbait, a dropshot rig, a tube, a swimbait and a crankbait.
"These weights were the best I've ever seen in an event here," he said. "They were just insane!"
> Jerkbait gear: 6'8" medium-action Dobyns 684 CB rod, Shimano Metanium MGL (7.5:1 ratio) or Shimano Core (7:1) casting reel, unnamed 12- or 14-pound fluorocarbon line, Lucky Craft Pointer 100 (chartreuse shad) or Megabass Vision 110 + 1 (pearl/chartreuse).
> Dropshot gear: 7' medium action Dobyns 703 spinning rod, Shimano Stradic Ci4+ spinning reel, 10-pound PowerPro Maxcuatro braided line (main line), 10-pound unnamed fluorocarbon leader, 1/0 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook, discontinued Jackall Eye Shad (pearl), 3/8-ounce Provider Tackle cylindrical weight.
> Swimbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Dobyns 734 rod, Shimano Core casting reel (7:1 ratio), unnamed 12-pound fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce ball-head jig, Keitech 3.8 or 3.3 (sexy shad).
> The tube he used was a Provider Tackle model (green-pumpkin with copper and gold).
> The lone crankbait fish he weighed was enticed by a deep-running Duo Realis 100 (twilight).
Main factor in his success – "My plan was to catch 22 to 23 pounds every day. The only thing that hurt me was the amount of fish already out (on the main lake) and a handful of guys finding mega-schools of them."
Performance edge – "I used my Power-Poles and the Spot-Lock on my Minn Kota trolling motor a lot every day."
Bryan Thrift settled into one area and logged yet another high finish.
5th: Bryan Thrift
> Day 1: 5, 23-02
> Day 2: 5, 23-02
> Day 3: 5, 19-14
> Day 4: 5, 21-11
> Total = 20, 87-13
Thrift began the tournament employing his usual frenetic style, bouncing from one place to another, but ended up doing the majority of his work during the latter part of the tournament along a 200-yard grassy stretch on the Canadian side of the lake. He had it all to himself.
"The first 2 days I ran everywhere that I got a bite in practice," he said. "After that I realized where my best potential was and I made myself stay there until I caught them every day.
"I was trying to make long casts to get the bait as far away from the boat as I could. There was one place where I was catching them pretty shallow and they were real spooky, so I downsized my bait a little bit."
About 75 percent of his weigh-in fish were enticed by a Damiki Stinger fished on a standard jighead. For his more subtle approach, he went with a Damiki Pen 2 worm on a dropshot rig.
Most of the fish were holding in 16 to 18 feet of water.
> Worm gear: 6'9" medium-action Fitzgerald Stunner rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier 30 spinning reel, 20-pound P-Line TCBX braided line (main line), 8-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon leader, 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jighead, 4" Damiki Stinger (green-pumpkin or baby bass).
> Dropshot gear: 6'10" medium-heavy Fitzgerald Versa rod, same reel and line, 1/0 Berkley Fusion dropshot hook, Damiki Pen 2 worm (green-pumpkin), 3/8-ounce round dropshot weight.
Main factor in his success – "Making myself stay put instead of running all over the place."
Performance edge – "The combination of the rod, reel and line. It gave me the confidence to catch those big fish on light line without having to worry about them breaking off."
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