Every angler I've spoken to recently about this week's Elite tournament on Lake Erie sounds anxious for the event to begin, and I think it's because the fishing is so phenomenal, not because they're ready for this season to end. Erie is all about smallmouth, of course, and what bass fisherman wouldn't look forward to a week at the best smallmouth fishery in the world?"The only drawback to fishing Erie is that you have to cover so much water to find the largest fish," Edwin Evers told me while en route to Buffalo. "For some reason, the smallmouth segregate themselves by size at different depths on Erie. You can catch them from two feet out to 50 feet, but the biggest fish are not everywhere."
Evers won here last year with 65-7 for three days — one day was cancelled due to rough water conditions — so you're looking at an average weight of more than four pounds per smallmouth, and he caught them drop shotting depths of nearly 40 feet. When you're fighting wind and waves at the same time, it can make for some hard fishing.Skeet Reese, reigning Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year, finished 13th at Erie last year drop shotting 17 to 25 feet, and he told me he fished between one-half and two miles offshore. He thinks this year the key depth will again be 30 to 45 feet.
"The smallmouth hold on rockpiles and reefs," he explained, "but some of those rockpiles are only as big as a small table. They're not the easiest to find, but that's what we're looking for."The primary forage for Erie smallmouth is the round goby, an exotic intruder that feeds on zebra mussels and snails. It really isn't harming the lake's ecosystem that much, and many credit it with improving Erie's smallmouth fishery, since the bass love them and apparently they're easy prey. Most tackle shops around Erie's shore carry a wide selection of plastic goby imitations, although using them certainly isn't a prerequisite to win. Evers used a 4-inch Yum Houdini worm last year, and thinks he'll probably use one again this week, along with a 3-inch Yum Dinger.Because it will be a drop shotting tournament, and because he feels very confident, Edwin Evers has to be on anyone's "Pick to Win" list. That part of Erie that touches the state of Pennsylvania has not been off limits, and Edwin told me he'd taken advantage of the opportunity to fish there last week, and he thought he might have figured out a key depth range for larger fish.It wouldn't surprise me a bit to see Kotaro Kiriyama make a Top 12 final here, if not win outright. He's also an expert in deep water drop shotting, and he loves the technique. Besides, with five runner-up finishes in his BASS career, he's ready for a win.
Aaron Martens and John Murray could also be major players this week, because both are as good with a drop shot as anyone in the Series. Both are also previous BASS event winners so they know how to win the mental game.
Matt Reed is ready to win, too. Reed is so laid-back and easy going you hardly notice him until it's time to issue checks. Drop shotting is not his favorite technique, but I promise you he'll have plenty of drop shot rods in his boat this week.Should I pick Kevin VanDam, the present leader in the AOY race? I'm not, because while he's an experienced smallmouth angler, KVD would much rather catch his fish on one of Strike King's sexy shad-colored jerkbaits, and he won't win doing it. Nonetheless, he does know what he has to do to win the AOY title. He pretty much lost the title right here in '07, so I know he will be out in the deep water doing his best with Evers & Co.How about Todd Faircloth? Todd was 14th here last year, and yes, he told me he is beginning to feel some pressure about the opportunity to win the AOY title, but he isn't going to change his approach now, which is simply to take each tournament a day at a time and keep throwing a Yamamoto Senko. I do think he'll do well, however, and probably re-take the lead in the points race Sunday afternoon.My longshot? Skeet Reese. Last year, he just wanted to come out of Erie with AOY points. He won't repeat as the Angler of the Year, but he won't miss it by much. He started too slow this year (by my standards) but he's such a good all-around angler he could easily find that table-sized rock covered with big smallmouth that everyone will be looking for.