Green Bay was full of surprises

I’ve been fishing for smallmouth bass for 30-plus years, yet I’m amazed how they can have different, little idiosyncrasies within the same region.

Lake Michigan and the Green Bay Challenge served yet another example. I’ve fished Traverse Bay on the eastern side of the lake for years, yet the smallmouth don’t react the same.

The weather in Green Bay also threw us a surprise.

We were looking forward to going north to escape the heat, yet we ran into 90-100 degree temperatures during competition. That’s typical of the Elite Series; weather follows us around. A few years ago, it was rain and cold weather.

Also, never in a million years would I have thought we would have seven straight days of 5-mph-wind-or-less on Lake Michigan.

I was counting on the wind because that makes smallmouth bite my reaction baits better. I spent my practice looking for areas where the water was clean and I could fish spinnerbaits and get reaction bites for when the wind did blow hard.

It never did.

Here’s another oddity. On the east side, smallmouth won’t bite anything when the water is slick. These Green Bay fish would bite a spinnerbait early and would still eat a drop-shot rig once the sun got high. You don’t see that many other places on the Great Lakes.

The combination of clearing water and no wind made it easy to see the bottom and fish swimming around it. The bass were coming off the spawn and were hanging around rock trenches and sandbar drops in water 10 feet or less. Although they were in a bit of a funk, they would still bite.

They were typical smallmouth in that they moved around and changed every day and you had to adjust with them and wait them out. You may not get a bite for three or four hours then suddenly catch four or five big ones.

My hat is off to nephew Jonathon (VanDam) who won his first Elite Series event. I was fishing the same part of the lake that he and second-place finisher Brandon Palaniuk fished, but I had the same problem with losing key fish that’s plagued me all year.

Jon and Brandon simply did a better job.

I’m especially proud of how Jon kept it together despite not having a fish by late morning on the last day. I’ve watched him grow up and develop as an angler, and it was awesome that both of our families were there together to enjoy the moment.

It’s also cool that he did it in our part of the country. Wisconsin was a great host and the crowds at LaCrosse and Green Bay were awesome and made us feel welcome.

The fishing was better than most of us expected, but it could have been incredible had we been allowed to spread out more and go into nearby Sturgeon Bay. Several sponsors went fishing there during the tournament and caught a lot of 5-pound-plus fish.

So it’s off to Lake Oneida, N.Y. next month for the season finale, where I have to swing for the fence. I’m in seventh place overall and still have a mathematical chance at another Toyota Tundra Angler of Year title.

It’s a long shot, but like Yogi Berra said, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

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