Lake St. Clair
15 fish, 62-02
Heading into the final Elite Series event of the 2013 season
there was a big gap between me and Edwin Evers in the Angler of the Year race.
I was in 2nd place, but it was a very distant second. He could seal
the deal with a strong finish, and I knew that under any circumstances I’d
probably have to win or come close to steal the title away. The fishing reports
indicated that the fish close to the launch site in St. Clair were skinny and
light, so the combination of those factors made it easy for me to decide to
make the long run to Lake Erie.
Of course, making that long run is perilous even under good
conditions. I figured that at least one day out of the four we’d get strong
winds and I’d have to make a decision whether it was worth the pain, but in my
heart I knew that I could do it as long as the wind wasn’t much over 20 miles
Even though I’ve done well on Erie in the past, most of that
success was up around Buffalo. I hadn’t fished this side of the lake too much,
but it didn’t take me long to figure out a few sweet spots. I looked deep and
shallow and on the second day I pinpointed a big area that I felt had the
potential to produce a win. It wasn’t going to give me a lot of fish – maybe 10
or 15 a day – but there were lots in that 4 to 6 pound class.
It was pretty rough on the first morning of competition but
it only took me about an hour and a half to run the 70+ miles to my spot. The
fishing started off slow, and I lost a few good ones early. That was
frustrating, because during practice I couldn’t shake them off. After a couple
of moves I settled down and the fish stopped biting funny. Pretty quickly I
culled up over 20 pounds. My final weight for the day was 21-14, which had me
in 3rd place behind Chris Lane and Mark Davis. Meanwhile, Edwin only
weighed about 13 pounds, which meant that if things stayed the same I’d be AOY.
Still, a 20 pound bag on Day Two could put him back in contention, so I didn’t
allow myself to think about anything but my own performance.
Day Two dawned a little calmer or at least the wind had
shifted. That made the boat ride easier but the fishing a little bit tougher. I
caught lots of drum but the bass were finicky. They’d mouth a bait and then
spit it out. You could see on the graph that they weren’t in feeding position.
I gradually got a few in the boat and once again they were the right size. My
19-19 moved me up to 2nd behind Mark Davis. The wind shifted again
the next day, but the fish didn’t leave. I was persistent and it paid off with
another 20+ limit. To be precise, I had 20-11 and that had me in 3rd
behind Davis and Lane. I could only hope that their fish were running out
because I knew that there were plenty left where I’d been fishing. Just as
importantly, there was no way I could fall below 12th, which meant
that I’d clinched the second AOY title of my career.
The fourth day of competition had some of the roughest water
of the week. It didn’t prevent me from getting to my fish in a reasonable
amount of time, but once I was there I had to keep the trolling motor on high
to maintain my position. It still seemed like it was out of the water at least
half the time.
I ran straight to what I thought was my best spot. It hadn’t
produced much on the second or third days, but it was on once again. I caught a
limit pretty quickly and then it got really good. I culled and culled until my
smallest bass was 3-07. It wasn’t easy to land them in that rough water and I
lost a few that might’ve helped, but overall my equipment enabled me to get the
The wind seemed to die down the as the day progressed, but I
didn’t want to take any chances. The day before it had taken me an hour and 20
minutes to get back, so with a good limit onboard I left myself an hour and 45
minutes for the ride. I pushed it a bit at first and then when I got near the
mouth of the river it seemed to get worse. There were five footers out there
and when I looked at the flag at the mouth of the river it was ripping hard.
There’s current in there, too, and more big boats than you’ve ever seen in such
a confined area.
When I got about three-quarters of a mile from where I was
going to gas up, there’s a spot with an island and two channel markers. There’s
also lots of rock there, so I played it safe and went right down the middle.
There was a 50 foot boat coming at me, pushing a big bow wake. I still had over
an hour to go the last 36 miles so all seemed in order. Meanwhile, the wakes
from two other 40 footers were coming at me as well. I was trying to stay on
top of things, but when the wakes converged all I could see was a cavern in the
water and I was going right into it. Normally when you hit a wake it’ll jar you
a bit, but there’s a certain amount of give. This time the boat just stopped.
When we impacted the swirling water, there was a loud snap
and a popping noise. That can never be good, but I could only hope that it was
something inconsequential rather than catastrophic. I was able to keep going
for a short distance, but then I hit a 3 foot wake and the motor jumped off the
studs. I’d broken one of the bolts that held it in place. There was nothing I
could do at that point except try to contact another competitor. I called Randy
Howell, who I figured was my last chance, but his phone was in a dry
compartment and he never heard it ring.
I started heading toward the gas station but it was too
late. With only 40 minutes to go, even if my boat miraculously came back
together there was no way to make it in time. I tried calling Trip Weldon but I
couldn’t get through, so I called Mark Zona and verbalized the bad news. At
that point I got out my scale, weighed each fish individually, and let them
swim away. My scale is a spring scale that tends to read a little light and it
had me at 20-08, which probably means I was within an ounce or two of 21
I got the motor going to where I could idle and started the
long trek back to the ramp in the river. Meanwhile Lesley had to drive through
Detroit traffic to meet me. It was late by the time we got it on the trailer.
At that point, we couldn’t really drive it anywhere without the motor falling
off, so we headed to Lowe’s to get any kind of bolts that would secure it until
I could get it to a certified mechanic. While we were in the parking lot my
cameraman looked up the standings on the phone and told me that I would have
won the tournament. All of the good feelings I had from winning AOY were soured
and I could feel the blood drain from my face. I’m still frustrated about it,
but there’s nothing I can do. Hindsight is 20/20, but I’d still take the risk
of that long run if I had it to do over again. The same risk that cost me in
the end was the one that put me on the fish to win the event. I’m mad that we
suffer through so many needless no-wake zones and they let those big yachts fly
around there at warp speed, but everyone had those same conditions to deal with
so there’s no one to blame.
For the record, every fish I weighed in during the
tournament came on a dropshot. Most of them were on the Orochi XX Drop Shot rod
(F3-611XXS), but I also caught some on the Destroyer Aaron Martens Limited
(F3-610XS). I fished 3/8 and ½ ounce weights below a variety of Roboworm
products, including the 4 ½ Straight Tail worm in Aaron’s Magic and Pro Blue
Neon, as well as the smaller Alive Shad in similar colors. Unlike other
tournaments where I use straight fluorocarbon, in this one I used a main line
of 10 lb. Sunline SX1 braid with a leader of either 8 lb. or 7 lb. Sunline
fluoro. I attached the two with a swivel, and then had 12-15 inches of line
before the hook, and another 20-25 inches of line from the hook to the weight.
Next up for me is the US Open on Lake Mead, one of my
favorite lakes and an event that I’ve won three times. We’re filming MLF this
week and then I have to drive back to Alabama before heading to Vegas. Maybe
that will give me some recuperation time. We’re headed from some serious rough
water on the Great Lakes to the furnace of the desert. As my career has
progressed, I’ve learned to deal with extreme conditions better and better and
I think the proof is in the results.