SANDUSKY, Ohio – Heading to the big waters of Lake Erie, Mike McClelland’s Stratos boat looks largely the same as it does on the Bassmaster Elite Series trail.
However, there are a few key differences that will help him stay safe - and effective – as he competes in the second Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open.
When his Stratos is on the trailer, the only noticeable difference is the prop. Rather than a standard three-blade, his Mercury’s sporting a five-blade unit.
“The whole thing with the five-blade prop is that it’ll turn more RPMs and will stay locked up all the time,” he said. “If you try to run a three-blade in this stuff, the chances of blowing out are significant. That’s the last thing you want to happen if you’re trying to climb a big wave.
"The most important thing I learned the first time I was here was how valuable a five-blade prop is.”
He went on to say that many boats give up some top-end performance with a five-blade prop, but most of the field will not run wide open on Erie, so having the better top-end of a three-blade prop is a moot point.
On the water, the front deck seat will be in use. “That’s a must for sure,” he said.
A five-blade prop is better for big water, despite sacrificing some top-end performance.
Below the back deck are three other items that he normally doesn’t carry. Two are to keep him on the fish, and one is for if the stuff hits the fan.
“If something major happens, like I start taking too many waves over the bow, I’ve got an auxiliary bilge pump ready to go,” he says. “But that’s only if it gets really bad. I hope I don’t need that.”
If, in the unlikely event that he does need it, it’s got gator clips on the wires so that it can be hooked directly to his batteries and run constantly.
The other two items below the deck are to combat wind. They’re a pair of drift socks kept at the ready in Hefty One Zip bags. If the wind is blowing 15 mph or better, McClelland will pull out one drift sock. However, they’re not his first choice.
“I like to troll around and move a bunch, so I don’t use them unless it’s blowing pretty good,” he says. “If it’s really blowing hard, I use one if I can get away with it. I point the nose into the wind and still troll, that way it’ll slow me down.”
The auxiliary bilge pump is something he hopes he doesn't need The drift socks are in the Hefty One Zips.
If conditions approach the outer limits of fishability, he’ll drop the second one overboard, but as a last resort.
The final thing he does is get all of the unnecessary gear out of his boat.
“When you’re out there fishing, you’re going to take some over the bow, and there will constantly be water running through the deck, so I’ll eliminate anything extra that I don’t need just in case the worst happens. That way you don’t lose everything, just a few things.”
With forecast of sunny skies and winds topping out at 13 mph Thursday, McClelland might not need his rough water apparatus, but he certainly feels safer knowing he has those options if it does blow.