Not just the "lake"

With so much focus on the main lake there might be other fishable water in play. Why is that? The early reports we have seen from the water. Mark Zona reported seeing big 25- 30-foot bowlders turning around at the entrance to Lake St. Clair from the Metro Park. In practice came reports from the anglers about being unable to cross the lake. The guys here in the Media Trailer coming off the lake say the same thing. 

That could make the rivers and canals accessible by the tournament rules a player.

The official rules for the AOY championship say the tournament waters will be all rivers, creeks and canals connected to Lake St. Clair. Anglers will not be allowed to travel south of the Ambassador Bridge in downtown Detroit. Further south is where the river empties into Lake Erie. Further north, the St. Clair River will be open to fishing south of the 1-94 bridge. That is where Lake Huron connects with the river. Anglers also have access to the Black River until it meets I-94. The Black is a tributary of the St. Clair River. 

That is a lot of water and it’s loaded with fish. His name shall remain anonymous, but one angler caught a 7-pound largemouth in one of those “other” areas. The only hitch is the south wind, which makes the St. Clair River very treacherous. The reason why is the river topographically runs north and south. The strong southerly flowing current out of Lake Huron collides with the northerly blowing wind that is coming from the south. When those worlds collide it creates a wind-blown countercurrent. 

Even so, it’ll be interesting to see just how much the rivers and canals play into the overall successes of the top finishers. Looks like it already has for Brandon Lester. 

Zaldain has been "sharpened" most

Chris Zaldain has had more days of Elite Series competition over the last three tournaments than his other Angler of the Year competitors. And he thinks that's important.

"I'm hot - three top 10s in a row," said Zaldain after his second-place finish at Oklahoma's Lake Tenkiller on Sept. 22. "The more time I spend on the water, the deadlier I get, the better decisions I make. I've stayed sharp."

To quote Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." 

Also working in Zaldain's favor at Lake St. Clair is the fact that he concentrated on smallmouth bass at Tenkiller, when largemouths and spotted bass were also in play. 

"I'm in smallmouth mode," he said. "I've been in smallmouth mode the last couple of months."

Granted it doesn't sound like a big difference, but for comparison's sake, Zaldain's 12 competition days over the last three events are two more than Scott Canterbury, who made the Day 2 cut at Cayuga and Tenkiller, but not the Day 3 top 10 cut, and two more than Chris Johnston, who missed the Day 2 cut at the St. Lawrence River. 

Johnston's plenty sharp though. If you remember, he would have been in contention for the title at the St. Lawrence River, if not for a "brain freeze" that led to a 7-pound late penalty there. And he fished all four days at Cayuga in finishing 7th and all four days at Tenkiller in finishing 3rd.

Although Stetson Blaylock has the biggest hill to climb, 4th in the AOY race, trailing Canterbury by 20 points, he's sharp too. Blaylock has fished 11 of the possible 12 competition days, finishing 23rd at the St. Lawrence River, 8th at Cayuga and 8th at Tenkiller.

The drum that became a bass

Brandon Lester catches his share of freshwater drum from the smallmouth-fish waters of the Tennessee River. Just now, what he thought was a drum became a big, fat smallmouth. And with that, another cull. That fish weighed over four pounds, and now there are three fish of that size in his livewell. Lester is now an early contender to be fishing on Championship Tuesday. 

He’s got the BASSTrakk lead now with 17 pounds. All he needs to do is cull out the smallmouth weighing 1-8 and 2-4 to reach the 20-pound mark that was predicted as the daily benchmark for winning the tournament.

Lester's homestyle pattern

Brandon Lester is from my neck of the woods in Middle Tennessee. Lester spent his entire practice in one of the undisclosed rivers, and for good reason. 

“Back home I like to fish for smallmouth in the current-driven rivers,” he said. And this feels just like home." 

Indeed it does. Lester just culled a smallmouth and put a fish weighing 4 pounds, 4 ounces into the livewell. 

Home for Lester are places like Pickwick Lake. It’s a short drive from his home in Fayetteville, Tenn. 

“I know these fish live in that current and I feel comfortable fishing right here,” he said of the river connecting to Lake St. Clair. 

Lester also has no pressure on him to perform. He was sixth in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race coming into this tournament. What else is an advantage for Lester is by spending three days of practice in the river has enabled him to learn all the intricacies of where the smallmouth will be. Carefree fishing, knowledge of his area and experience in smallmouth river fishing might all add up.

Zaldain strikes again

Chris Zaldain is working over a small area thoroughly, and he just caught his second keeper. 

It looked to be a 2-pounder, although it’s too windy for me to communicate with him. 

Conditions continue to be a factor. Zaldain is fishing what my boater says is a protected area on the north end of Lake St. Clair, and it’s the roughest shooting conditions I’ve ever faced. Garrett Paquette and Patrick Walters just ran by, heading farther into the “protected” area from the main lake. 

I can’t imagine what the anglers down south are facing. 

Headed to Cory Johnston

I spent the first half hour of my day at the mouth of the Metropark where the Top 50 head out to their spots. And the waves were easily 3-footers—I’m already wet.

After I dropped my camera card off with Overstreet, my boater and I trailered the boat and are headed to a launch site in Detroit at the mouth of the Detroit River. 

The goal is to make a shorter run with the boat in relatively big seas to find Cory Johnston. Johnston is in third place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year race, and he’s hungry. 

Plus, Johnston isn’t afraid of big waves. And that puts him in a fine position to improve his standings.

Stand by, we’re about to launch and go battle the waves for a few cool photos.

Canterbury's dilemma

So often we attribute bad luck to missed opportunities. A fish coming unhooked at boat side. Too much fishing pressure on a spot. The list goes on and on. 

Sometimes other factors come into play. And there is one huge factor that just came into play for Scott Canterbury. The Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year has an inoperative front graph. He can’t track fish below the boat. And he can’t mark hot spots with waypoints. He’s more or less adrift at the front, being forced to blind cast, or step back and forth to the console unit. 

“That’s not good,” he said on LIVE.

No kidding. And on top of it all, it’s only 8:30 a.m. local time. There is a whole day of fishing remaining. And Chris Zaldain is in hot pursuit of the AOY lead.

No sun, now what?

Rain, wind and cloudy skies. It all adds up to prime smallmouth fishing, right? Well, kind of. Northern smallmouth live in clearer water. They get spoiled by having the advantage of better and expanded vision. From afar, they can see round gobies and all the other cornucopia of exotic baitfish that make them fat. Here’s a few comment made to me yesterday by Chad Pipkens. 

“Northern smallmouth love sun, no matter where you are. That goes for if they are shallow or deep. They just bite better in sunny conditions. They feed visually and they can see the bait in the clear water. In cloudy they scatter and roam a lot more.”

On the flip side, Hunter Shryock had this to say. 
"I’ve also had phenomenal days in the wind and clouds. The key is being able to adapt to how the fish will be positioned under the varying skies. They will scatter in cloudy skies and bunch up to use bottom structure as ambush points in the sun.”
No matter what though, the smallmouth are going to eat. My takeaway from the above is the sun makes it easier to pinpoint the locations of the smallmouth. In the cloudy conditions they are just tougher to find. You’ve got to grind it out.
Another takeaway is the forecasts call for rain and cloudy skies through Tuesday. Only then does the forecast show partly cloudy skies. 

Accelerating the fall bite

That’s how Chris Zaldain just described his fishing spot as he added a quality smallmouth to the live well. 

Zaldain said the key to his area is a mixing of cooler water from the St. Clair River where it comes into the lake. 

“With the 61 degree river water mixing with the warmer lake temperature it’s accelerating the fall bite,” he said. 

Interesting. Zaldain’s game plan is to spend some of the morning in an area with a rocky bottom with isolated grass. He will use a jerkbait and then go deeper. Maybe. The wind might factor into that move.

Zaldain lands his first

It is rough as a cobb where Chris Zaldain set up shop this morning, but he just put his first bass on the board. 
The fish weighs “just under 4” pounds, so the angler who went Into today nine points behind Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year leader Scott Canterbury has a good start. 

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