DETROIT — Although this week’s tournament will be won again on smallmouth, Lake St. Clair is much shallower than the St. Lawrence River and features much more vegetation, both submergent and emergent. So don’t load your Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing rosters with just drop shotters and tube draggers. Power fishing tactics like crankbaiting and spinnerbaiting will be in play as well, as will topwaters, jerkbaits and big swimbaits.
But Lake St. Clair is not the only fishery in play this week. Also fair game are several connecting waterways: the Detroit River, which hooks up Lake St. Clair southward to Lake Erie, and the St. Clair River, which links Lake Huron to the north of Lake St. Clair.
The Great Lakes are a drop shotter and tube dragger’s dream but will require long, risky runs to get to four days in a row. So be sure to balance your roster with both power fishermen and finesse guys willing to make a long run.
I’ve handicapped the buckets to highlight the best bets, safest picks and dark-horse, high-risk/high-reward picks.
Pick and choose from this menu as your strategy needs dictate, based on where you are in the Fantasy Fishing points race. If you’re protecting a lead, for example, make safer picks. If you need a Hail Mary to save your season, make a few high-risk/high reward picks.
KVD (53.9% ownership) – Best Bet
Although Kevin VanDam’s recent history in tournaments won on smallmouth does not contain any Top 12 finishes (18th and 16th on Lake Erie in 2007 and 2008; 19th on Green Bay last year; 14th on St. Lawrence River earlier this month), few observers doubt he’ll be fishing on Sunday this week.
Why? This is his last chance this season to make a Top 12, and he’s in third place in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) points. If AOY leader Edwin Evers were to stumble here as Skeet Reese did on the St. Lawrence River (finishing 93rd to fall from the Top 5 in AOY points), VanDam would have to pass only Aaron Martens to win his eighth AOY title.
This tournament plays to VanDam’s strengths better than it does to Martens’. As Bassmaster.com reported earlier, VanDam is in the best position of the three AOY leaders to do well here because he considers Lake St. Clair “home water.” He’s also an expert on the connecting fisheries, and his preferred power-fishing tactics work here on smallies.
I’m not convinced KVD will win this tournament, but I’m very confident he’ll be in the Top 12 – unless the weather is foul. If the weather is fair, the winner will likely be the angler that runs to Erie four days in a row for 25-pound limits of smallies. But only a few anglers can afford to make that gamble. Those below the Classic cut line will have to take some risks, hoping to win. Anglers who have a Classic berth locked up will fish more conservatively.
Aaron Martens (20.2.%) – Safe Bet
Martens is a safe bet in any tournament in which smallmouth and finesse fishing will be a factor. It will be interesting to see if Martens runs to big water to drop shot, or if he power fishes on St. Clair or one of the rivers. Although he’s known as a finesse specialist, he claims he enjoys power fishing better.
Martens’ history in late-summer smallmouth slugfests suggests he’s a safe bet to place in the Top 12 this week. He had a second and ninth on Erie in 2007 and 2008; third on Green Bay last year; and fifth on the St. Lawrence River earlier this month.
Edwin Evers (10.3%) – Dark Horse
If AOY leader Evers needed to win this tournament to qualify for the Classic or to win AOY, I’d give him good odds to do so. He won a late-summer smallie tournament on Lake Erie in 2008 and finished third there in 2007.
But Evers doesn’t need to win this week in order to win AOY – that’s the only reason he’s a “dark horse.” With a 30-point lead on Martens and a 39-point lead on KVD, Evers needs only to avoid disaster. Therefore, he’ll most likely follow a conservative game plan and bring in three consecutive 18-pound-plus stringers to finish close to where he did in the smallmouth derbies last year on Green Bay (31st) and earlier this month on the St. Lawrence River (25th).
But with Martens and KVD on one’s heels, trying to coast to an AOY victory might be riskier than an aggressive game plan aimed at a Top 10.
Evers told me prior to the St. Lawrence River tournament that his goal was to make Top 10s in both final tournaments, so he wouldn’t have to worry about being run down from behind. Listen to the interview here.
See picks for Buckets B, C, D and E on the next page.