Help make my Classic dream a reality

After competing as a pro angler in the second Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open of 2012 at Michigan’s Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, I could use some help. I know many of you are very capable anglers. I’d appreciate your input.

I have a few questions at the end of this blog that relate to what I did and didn’t do during the competition. I’m hoping some of you can provide advice that will help me tweak my approach and do better the next time around.

I could have – strike that – should have had a money finish in this event. I was on a load of smallmouths, but failed to catch the quality fish I needed the second day.

I hated to leave St. Clair after the tournament. Twenty smallmouths a day is slow fishing here. That’s about what I had on Day Two of the tournament when I sacked a 15-pound bag. I caught maybe 40 bass the first day and weighed in 17-11.

Of all the places I’ve been while competing in Bassmaster tournaments, Lake St. Clair would be my No. 1 choice for a family fishing destination. It teems with smallmouth bass, as you can tell by the weigh-in totals. Plus, it has abundant walleye, huge muskies and more.

You can fish the main body of Lake St. Clair or in the protected waters of the Detroit, St. Clair and other rivers connected to the lake. While this is big water, Great Lakes smallmouth fishing, St. Clair is less treacherous and more bass boat friendly than, say, Lake Erie when the wind blows.

Don’t let Detroit’s heavy traffic discourage you from coming here. Once you get north of the Motor City, turn right on the Metropolitan Parkway (16 Mile Road). It leads directly into the St. Clair Metropark, which is the nicest boat launching facility I’ve ever been to for a bass tournament.

The Metropark is huge, yet it has a laid back, seaside atmosphere. It’s worlds apart from Detroit’s bustling metropolis.

As for my fishing dilemma, I had settled on an offshore grassbed that was maybe three-quarters of a mile long and from a few hundred yards to a quarter-mile wide. The bottom was covered with a short, stringy grass. The key areas were small, sparse patches of cabbage grass scattered throughout the area.

In practice, almost every patch of cabbage held bass. They couldn’t resist a Strike King KVD finesse worm on a drop shot rig. The depth was 16 to 17 feet. I tried fishing a tube there, but the stringy grass on the bottom caught onto the tube’s nose, making it much less efficient.

I mentioned in my previous blog, “Detroit’s Aquarium,” that I could see smallmouth bass swimming over the bottom on a calm morning a few days before the tournament. This grassbed is where that happened. The bass were 17 feet deep, yet I could see them clearly.

Sometimes three or four smallies from 1 to 4 pounds would swarm around my bait before one of them nabbed it. I never set the hook. One bass would spit the bait and another one would grab it. Watching bass that deep is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had while bass fishing. I’ll never forget it.

I marked over 100 grass patches in that weedbed with waypoints during practice. They were typically 30 to 60 yards apart. My plan was to electric motor from one cabbage patch to the next and fish the drop shot vertically.

That lasted less than three hours on the first morning of the tournament when I fished with Michigan’s John Watts, an experienced Lake St. Clair angler. The water was bumpy, but I was able to control the boat well enough for drop shotting. We boated dozens of bass during that time, including my biggest of the day, a 4-pounder.

The wind and waves eventually increased to the point that I could no longer hold the boat in place and fish vertically. I adjusted by making repeated drifts across the width of the grassbed, using two drifts socks to slow the boat’s speed.

I cranked a deep diving No. 7 Bomber Fat Free Shad ahead of the drift on the first two passes. I had caught few 4-pound bass on the Fat Free in practice, but it enticed only four babies on those passes. Watts was dragging a tube and caught three or four more small bass.

I put the cranking rod down and switched to a Carolina rig. I noticed a bag of 3 1/2-inch Gene Larew Biffle Bug Jr. baits that Oklahoman Bobby Myers had given to me earlier that year in Florida.

Biffle bugs are similar to a Beaver, but they have a very thin and floppy pointed tail, tiny legs along each side of the bait and two little, hyperactive, boot-footed legs.

The Bugs I had were bright green on the bottom and black neon on top. The weather was cloudy and rainy. I figured the bass might like the bright belly and the lively legs.

We motored upwind of the weedbed, threw out the drift socks and began another pass over the grass. I cast the Carolina rig a short distance behind the boat. It was time for the ol’ drift-and-drag.

I started with about 15 Jr. Biffle Bugs. They were gone in 30 minutes, during which time I culled four bass with fish that weighed well over 3 pounds each. Each Bug was good for only one bass because the hook would rip through the bait’s nose, rendering it useless.

I don’t think I dragged a Bug for more than 60 seconds between bites. While my Biffle Bug frenzy was going on, I believe John caught three bass on a tube.

When the Bugs were gone, the frenzy abruptly ended. I dragged a variety of other lures with the Carolina rig. They caught bass, but not at near the pace the Bug did. And I never culled another fish that day.

That evening, I bought $70 worth of Jr. Biffle Bugs at Bass Pro Shops. The store didn’t carry exactly the same color, but I figured they would do.

The next day I fished with fellow Buckeye Kevin Webb, another experienced and capable St. Clair fisherman. Kevin is former Air Force. He’s clean cut, super organized, and I knew right off he was going to put the hurt on some bass.

The weather started out overcast, windy and more bouncy than the previous day. You could feel that the barometric pressure had gone up.

As we commenced with the drift-and-drag over the weedbed, the bite was slower than the previous day, much slower. I stayed with my Carolina rig, which consisted of 50-pound braid on a baitcasting outfit, a 3/4-ounce tungsten sinker and a 4-foot, 12-pound fluorocarbon leader. I Texas rigged the Bugs with a light-wire, straight-shank 4/0 hook.

Kevin had brought only spinning tackle. The reels were spooled with a light braid matched with a 7-pound fluorocarbon leader. He was dragging a drop shot rig with a 1/2-ounce weight. He nose-hooked his baits with a small drop shot hook.

During the first two hours or so, we caught roughly an equal number bass that weighed up to 2 1/2 pounds. Kevin finally nailed one that would go 3 pounds and culled.

We continued to catch about the same number of bass over the next 30 minutes when Kevin caught a 3 1/2-pounder and culled again. I stayed with the Bug for another 30 minutes. That’s when Kevin landed another 3-pound bass.

My five bass weighed around 2 1/2 pounds each. It was time to give the Bug a rest. Kevin was dragging a variety of 3 1/2- to 4-inch fluke and goby type baits. The closest thing I had was a 4-inch Strike King Caffeine shad in the KVD Magic color.

I stripped the Bug off the hook and replaced it with the little Caffeine Shad. My next bass weighed 3 pounds.

I stayed with the Caffeine Shad the rest of the day. Kevin and I continued to catch the same number of bass. However, the three he weighed in averaged 3 1/2 pounds, and he lost another of about the same size just before I could net it.

My five bass averaged 3 pounds, and I hooked only one bass that would go 3 1/2 pounds. Here’s where I’d like your input. Please reply with your answers to the following questions. Help me make my Classic dream a reality.

  1. I was catching just as many bass as Kevin was on the Bug, but he was catching bigger fish. Did the minnow-type baits really make the difference, or was I just not getting the Bug in front of the fish I needed?
  2. Kevin was using a 7-pound leader with his drop shot rig, while I was using 12 with my Carolina rig. Was the lighter line the reason he caught bigger bass?
  3. Did Kevin catch bigger bass because he was dragging a drop shot rig rather than the Carolina rig I was using?
  4. Would I have fared better with bigger bass had I dropped to a 1/2-ounce weight with my Carolina rig? Kevin was using a 1/2-ounce weight with his drop shot rig.
  5. I thought about switching to a 5-inch Caffeine Shad to tempt bigger fish, but I wimped. Should I have made that switch?
  6. At one point, I started to cast the No. 7 Fat Free ahead of the drift. I quickly caught a small bass. Immediately after that, Kevin caught a 3 1/2-pound bass. I put the crankbait rod down and never picked it up again. Was that a mistake?

I look forward to your replies.

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