Pipkens knows they're biting now

Chad Pipkens knows Lake St. Clair, as he's a resident of nearby Lansing, Michigan. And he knows the smallmouth bass are biting right now. But he's not on the fish he needs. BASSTrakk indicated Pipkens has a 10-3 limit at 11:15.

"The weather is right!" he said on the "Bassmaster LIVE Mix." "Ten to 15 mile-per-hour south winds. They are biting right now. I need to be a part of it."

So Pipkens is on the move, looking for a big flurry. He's considered one of the favorites here. He's coming off a 21st-place finish at Lake Champlain, which put him in 8th place in the AOY standings.

Yelas making hay in grass flats

Jay Yelas is back in familiar territory on Lake St. Clair. The 54-year-old veteran pro from Lincoln City, Ore., has frequented the grass flats at the northern end of the lake over the years. He mentioned that he's always liked to try something "off the wall" to catch fish and a Chatterbait has been that for him this morning. BASSTrakk shows him in second place with 19-2.

"Every time we come here I like to fish these grass flats," Yelas said. "But they haven't really been on them the last few years, so guys have just left them alone. It's a pretty good recipe for success when you've got nobody else around you, four-pound smallies and you know nobody has fished this all day."

Benton all smiles

Drew Benton just caught a long smallmouth that weighs close to 5-pounds.

We watched as he put it in his well. Weighed what he has and culled. He had a limit that will come in at 18 pounds.

He’s been showing zero. But he will soon rocket from a last-place tie to the top 5. 

Those kind of moves will start taking place as the time approaches for a text track update. That is when the anglers text their weight. As you can see on BASSTrakk a lot of guys have yet to make an update. Some may be out of service. But the weights will build regardless.

Like always St. Clair is showing us why this is a destination as more and more anglers approach that 20-pound mark.

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Ito carrying it over from New York

Taku Ito is just coming off a successful run of smallmouth fishing on the New York swing. The Bassmaster Elite Series rookie from Japan scored a 6th and 10th place finish to fish both times on Championship Sunday.

It's way early in the game on Lake St. Clair but he's inside the Top 10 according to BASSTrakk.

I have paid close attention to Ito since meeting him and covering him in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open Series. He wasn't there long, He qualified for the Elite Series after his first season in the Central division. This is only Ito's 10th event, and he is making it clear that smallmouth are also in his angling wheelhouse.

Ito is very meticulous, spending several hours after each day in the hotel parking lot fine-tuning his drop shot and other finesse rigs. Much of those are Japanese designed and only available in that country. He's also a lure designer, with a keen eye for lure design.

This morning he described having three separate patterns in play. Those are for cruising smallmouth, schooling fish, and loners that he spies on his live scan sonar.

He told me his goal for today is 19 pounds. Yesterday he caught a pair of 5-pounders to boost his confidence in his game plan. He will be fun to watch this week.

The northern Okeechobee

Yesterday Brandon Palaniuk used this quote to describe Lake St. Clair.

"It's like a northern version of Lake Okeechobee," he said.

Ironically, Bassmaster LIVE analyst Davy Hite made the same comparison. Both comparisons are actually valid. The average depth of Lake Okeechobee is 9 feet; it's only two feet higher on Lake St. Clair. That's remarkable considering it's part of the Great Lakes system of notably deeper lakes.

The shallow depth of Lake St. Clair is an oddity, yet it's more of an influence in other ways with bass fishing. Wind-driven current is a reason why. On deep lakes, the wind-driven current has little effect on positioning smallmouth inhabiting deep water. On Lake St. Clair, wind direction is everything when it comes to positioning smallmouth on offshore cover. The wind driven current penetrates deeper into the shallower water column.

This week will be a game of responding to changes in the wind direction, which also repositions smallmouth. Lure presentation angles will be key. So will avoiding getting too close to schools or individual smallmouth when live scan sonar use is in play. We saw how it made smallmouth "boat shy" as anglers reported seeing individual fish move off bottom and away from approaching boats. Guys could see them do it in real-time on the screens of their bow units.

A steady wind is a good thing here. When it rotates around the compass dial, not so good. Valuable time is consumed when the angler must find the repositioned fish.

It's all part of the game and will be interesting to watch. What will be a key here this week is using those high-tech electronics to quickly and effectively find the fish.

Auten’s great start

We just pulled up on Todd Auten, and he’s got a nice foundation of bass to build on.

“I’ve got 15, 16 pounds,” Auten said.

That’s not what BASSTrakk shows because the angler hasn’t taken the time to stop and enter his catches.

He’s just working an area on the edge of Lake St. Clair, fishing moving baits in fairly shallow water.

My boater, Jerry Doucette, said Auten’s area is primarily sandy bottom with scattered grass.

But he might not be here long.

“I might need to find a new hole,” Auten said. “It’s been a while since I caught one.”

Paquette seeking redemption at St. Clair

As a 24-year-old rookie, Garrett Paquette had a memorable 2019 Elite Series season. The highlight was topping the 100-pound mark with a second-place finish at Lake Fork. But his season ended with a surprising thud, as he was the first man out of the Bassmaster Classic cut. The surprise was where the nail was put in the coffin for his Classic chances - Lake St. Clair, which the Canton, Michigan resident knows pretty well.

"It was a brutal three days, to put it lightly," said Paquette of the event where he finished 48th out of 50 anglers. "Obviously, I've got a great deal of motivation (this week). I definitely want to go out and get redemption. That was tough in front of friends and family last year. It was not how you want to perform."

Lake St. Clair is close enough to his home to be Paquette's "home waters," but he has concentrated on other lakes and rivers in the area. He's not unfamiliar with it though, hence his surprising finish last year. Paquette slipped starting the 2020 season too, finishing next-to-last at Florida's St. Johns River. But he's tightened it up big-time since - posting 22nd-, 14th- and 29th-place finishes in the next three tournaments. The St. Johns River was a wakeup call. He's moved up to 36th in the AOY standings since.

"After St. Johns I was able to sit down, re-evaluate and get better organized," Paquette said. "I'm fairly organized anyway, but I stepped it up. It's made a difference."

We'll see if that difference can bring him some redemption on Lake St. Clair. Paquette put his fourth bass in the boat at 9:20 a.m. Only one of those would he like to have in his weigh-in bag at the end of the day, but it's early. It's also early in Paquette's pro fishing career. He won't turn 26 until Novermber 29th, and he looks like a guy who will be around the Elite Series for a long time.

No trouble working around

Speaking of dialing in. There are about 8 boats within 100 yards of each other. All of them hooking up every once in a while.

In some cases one grenade would take a bunch of them out with one blast. But even crowded they don’t seem to be having any trouble working around each other. This is common and almost expected.

The whole picture

I mentioned the right drift earlier. While these guys are focused on what they see on their electronics we get to sit back and see the whole picture.

Like some are figuring out there are some definite veins within a drift that are holding the better fish. We saw that earlier with Austin Felix. And on the same line Bud Preuett added a good one.

As the day progresses these guys will get more dialed in to the key spots. That’s when you start seeing the cream rise to the top.

Yelas hammers em

Jay Yelas rocketed out of the gate this morning catching 17 pounds of smallmouth by 8:30. That has him sitting unofficially in 1st place.

Yelas is fishing a massive grass flat in five feet of water.

“I’m sort of random casting,” he said. “But I’m targeting areas where I marked fish in practice. I usually like to be more specific with my casts.

Yelas is using a two bait approach, alternating frequently.

“This is such a vast area. I’m hoping to get a big bag and then explore some.”

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