By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Justin Lucas arrived in Wisconsin last week looking for a second straight Bass Pro Tour top-10 finish that would put him in next year's Redcrest Championship. He left with not only that berth in hand, but also a big trophy and the first-place paycheck after pillaging Sturgeon Bay smallmouth to the tune of 105 pounds per day.
He set new BPT standards for single-day weight (141-09), two-day weight (205-06) and Championship Round weight (110-05). He won his qualifying group by a 45-pound margin en route to his first tour-level victory since the Potomac River Bassmaster Elite Series in 2016.
When his initial idea about where to fish on the expanded venue that included a big portion of Lake Michigan didn't pan out on the first of two practice days, he fell back on some research he'd done on the fishery. That homework paid off in a big way.
"I'd read an article that said that 8,000 or 9,000 smallmouth spawn in Little Sturgeon Bay and I knew they weren't that far done from spawning," he said. "That got me thinking about where they'd be going in the big bay before heading out to the main lake (where they'll spend the summer).
"I started looking at my graphs in 12 to 16 feet of water and started finding isolated clumps of grass on a flat. I was sure they'd spawned on the flat and they were using the grass while they were moving from there back to the lake. There was a lot of grass out there, but I was looking for areas with less grass – that's where they had to be. I didn't want to go through vast amounts of it trying to find them."
He put waypoints on approximately 50 locations and ended up using 15 to 20 of them during the event. Fortunately, none of the other 79 competitors appeared to be keyed in on the same stuff.
Lucas didn't have to beat up his best stuff on his way to winning the Group A Qualifying Round by a 45-pound margin.
He caught a personal-best 6-07 bronzeback during practice. That fish was almost a pound heavier than any weighed in during the tournament.
"There just wasn't a ton of big ones biting, and the other thing was they were post-spawn and not super-fat. They don't weigh as much right now as they will in a month or as they did a month ago."
Saved Best for Last
Lucas didn't even have to fish his best grass until the Championship Round. He spent the first two days exploiting a nearby rocky point that was also loaded up.
"I could see all that other water from there and no one was fishing it," he said. "That made me even more confident because I could beat up an obvious spot to qualify for the Championship Round. I didn't know what anybody in the other group was doing, but no one in my group was touching the stuff I really wanted to fish."
The grass-oriented fish that he caught in the finals were usually gathered in groups of 10 or less, but there could be a bunch if there were multiple clumps of vegetation within the same small area. He'd make pitches in any direction, but kept them short because he wanted the ability to reel in quickly if he saw on his graph that one had swam underneath his boat.
He caught all 109 fish that he weighed during the event on a dropshot rig with a Berkley MaxScent Flat Worm. He made a single cast with another bait, but immediately put it down and went back to his mainstay.
He didn't have to manipulate the bait at all – there was plenty of wind-generated current to do that. He'd let it sit for 15 to 20 seconds before reeling in for another toss.
He noted that all three of his tour-level victories have occurred in the shadow of a giant body of water – the Pacific Ocean (California Delta), Atlantic Ocean (Potomac River) and now a Great Lake.
"You just don't get the opportunity to win very often. I thought I had a chance at the last one (he was 4th at Heavy Hitters on Florida's Kissimmee Chain), but then Jordan (Lee) ran away with it. It's just nice to get one of these red trophies that he's got two of."
Winning Gear Notes
> Dropshot gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod, size 30 Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley x5 Braid (main line), 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon (8' leader), size 2 Berkley Fusion 19 dropshot hook, 3/8-ounce teardrop-shape tungsten dropshot weight, Berkley MaxScent Flat Worm (green-pumpkin, black or smoke purple/black flake).
> He tied his hook about 14 inches above the weight.