DETROIT – The most useful piece of fishing equipment for the anglers fishing the first day of this week’s Bassmaster Northern Open on Michigan’s Lake St. Clair wasn’t a particular rod or reel. It wasn’t a super-secret lure. Nor was it a high-tech GPS unit.
All of those items came into play, but by far the most critical item was a good rainsuit. At times, the rain ranged from strong to very strong, and it didn’t stop altogether until the weigh-in started.
Many of the locals claimed that the precipitation and cloud cover would hurt the bite, but the evidence seemed to contradict that belief. If a rainsuit was the most important possession one could bring to the event, a good culling system was a close second.
“Heavy rain is the worst thing you can have on Lake St. Clair,” said local Mike Trombly.
If that’s the case, then it must be better than world class when it’s sunny, as Trombly weighed in 21 pounds, 14 ounces and is tied for fifth place with Brian Ward.
“It’s all about the sun,” Ward agreed.
He fishes St. Clair an average of three days a week, so he should know, Still, it appears that locals protest a bit too much. A 15-pound limit, the catch of a lifetime on most other smallmouth fisheries, was good for 107th place today.
The cut weight for the money, 40th place, stands at 17-14. Indeed, only 12 of the 147 anglers fishing the pro side of the event failed to bring a five-fish limit to the scales.
As a result of the inclement weather, there were tales at the weigh-in of trolling motors and depthfinders ripped from the decks of participants’ boats, but the vessel that seemed most taxed was the B.A.S.S. release boat – the weigh-in had to be halted multiple times in order for it to be emptied.
The day ended with Brian Metry of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., in the lead on the strength of a 23-5 limit. He too expected that the rain might put a damper on his bite, but in retrospect believes that the seasonal changes helped him out.
“It went better than planned,” he said. “I think the fish are just moving into my area. They’re holding there regardless of the weather. They’re aggressive. The water temperature is right so they’re on the feed bag right now.”
Metry used two different Jack-It Products crankbaits to amass his big bag. One dives to approximately 12 feet and the other plumbs the 15- to 18-foot range. He said he’s burning the bait back to the boat as fast as he can.
“They have no choice [but to strike it] when that crankbait’s zipping by,” he said.
Oklahoman Jason Christie is 5 ounces behind Metry and said that the slower-than-expected action played on his mind all day.
“I’m just drifting around,” he said. “I’m not getting many bites but the ones I’m getting are big. It tempts me to leave all the time.”
Unlike the many locals who populate the field, Christie has only fished St. Clair once before, but he believes that may work to his advantage, as he has no choice but to exploit the fish he’s found for all they’re worth. Even if the wind blows again tomorrow, he said he has enough protection from the elements to fish his areas thoroughly.
While Christie isn’t a local this week, a victory would provide him with home-field advantage on an even bigger stage. The 2013 Bassmaster Classic will be held on Grand Lake, virtually in his backyard, and the opportunity to earn a Classic berth has compelled him to duke it out with the northern anglers on their own turf.
Fellow Oklahoman Fred Roumbanis said it best: “If Jason Christie makes it, he’s going to be a favorite to win the Classic. That’s his home water.”
Two other non-locals sit directly behind Christie. Ryan Cooper of New Hampshire is third with 22-6 and Al Farace of Maryland is fourth with 22-3. Farace claimed, and his co-angler confirmed, that he lost a smallmouth well over 7 pounds at the boat today. With ounces separating slots all the way down the line, a fish like that can go a long way toward turning a good bag into a great one, or a great bag into a winning one.
The big fish on the pro side today was caught by Mark Modrak. The 6-2 brute came on a dropshotted smoke/purple Erie Darter fished in 18 feet of water. He said that there are normally more big ones in the same area, then parroted the conventional wisdom that you “need the sun to make them bite.” His limit totaled 18-4, which put him in a tie for 31st place.
Modrak’s big fish was matched by co-angler Mike Kiester of Davisburg, Mich., whose three-fish limit totaled 13-13 and has him in first place, 4 ounces ahead of second place co-angler Mike Simpson.
Kiester, who used to fish professional walleye tournaments, switched to bass fishing almost exclusively approximately 13 years ago. He said that he used the vertical jigging techniques he learned on the walleye circuit to claim the lead today.
The co-angler side of this tournament is every bit as crowded as the pro side – 12 pounds is the cut weight for the top 12, and the cut-off for a check stands at 10-13.