It's tighter than a tick at the top

This would be the definition of a bass tournament shootout: When a mere one ounce separates the top three anglers after three days at Lake St. Clair. For the third day in a row, John Cox is atop the leaderboard. His three-day total is 66 pounds, 2 ounces. Cody Hollen and Cory Johnston are as close as you can get behind him with 66-1 each.

A 20-pound average over three days will get you to the final of most bass tournaments, especially on a smallmouth fishery. But six anglers did that this week and won't be fishing tomorrow. Destin DeMarion finished 16th with a total of 60-2.

There were 18 five-bass limits of 20 pounds or more on Day 1, 26 on Day 2 and 14 on Day 3, when only the top 40 anglers were fishing. There have been 1,019 bass brought to the scales the last three days weighing a total of 3,675 pounds. That's an average of 3.6 pounds per bass. A 3 1/2-pound smallmouth is a good fish most places in the country. At Lake St. Clair this week it's, uh, below average.

Talley moved to Plan B

Anchor Bay in the northwest corner of Lake St. Clair was very, very good to Frank Talley. At least it was on Days 1 and 2. He had bags of 19-10 and 22-10. But today was a completely different story. 

There was very little wind there today and Talley's bite all but disappeared. After four hours of fishing he had a 1-1 and a 2-8. He also had three fish come unbuttoned. That didn't happen during the first two days. 

Talley had three good spots in Anchor Bay, and nothing else to fall back on. 

At 11:15 he reluctantly said, "I'm going to go to Plan B." 

What might that be? 

"I suppose I'm going to go out into the big lake where there's some wind and see if I can find something."

If it sounds like Talley had a frustrating morning, he did. But despite that the big Texas kept his composure and his chipper attitude throughout.

Talley started the day in 10th place in the tournament and 27th in Angler of the Year. Whatever happens today, Talley certainly feels good about the trend of his Elite career. He has cashed checks (made the top 40) in five out of the last six Elite tournaments, going back to Tenkiller in 2019.

St. Clair fishing better than ever

The talk before this tournament was how the Lake St. Clair smallmouth bass weren't biting as well as they were in the Angler of the Year Championship last fall, Sept. 29-Oct. 1. That's when Seth Feider put 77-15 atop the leaderboard in the three-day event.

However, as we approach the end of Day 3 at Lake St. Clair, it appears it's fishing better than it did last fall. The story will be told at the end of the day in the number of three-day weights of 60 pounds or better. Last fall, 12 anglers had 60 pounds after three days. It's possible that 15 or 16 anglers could have 60 pounds or better today.

And with that standard in mind, if you compare St. Clair to the other fisheries on this northern/smallmouth dominant swing, only 9 broke the 60-pound mark after three days at the St. Lawrence River, and no one hit 60 pounds after three days at Lake Champlain. The top winning weight in a four-day B.A.S.S. tournament is Jason Christie's 88-8 in 2017. That mark is in jeopardy tomorrow.

Finally, there's this: Due to Canada's Covid-19 restrictions, all these bass are being caught in U.S. waters, which eliminates about two-thirds of Lake St. Clair's 430 square miles.

Cory Johnston's lure choice

Cory Johnston has had a big day on Lake St. Clair. He's atop the BASSTrakk leaderboard with 22-6, unofficially, after starting in 6th place. He's been weeding through smallmouth bass all day long. It seems that Johnston can spot a bass on his Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, cast a dropshot lure on it and catch it, like clockwork. 

"It's been a fun day," Johnston said on "Bassmaster LIVE." "I've caught all my fish on a Berkley Flatworm and a Strike King Baby Z Too. And I'm not sponsored by either one of them."

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Headed to the "hot spot"

Check out the number of boats in this one area! Every little black dot in this image is a bass boat, and that’s only about half of them... 

As one of the BASS photographers, today I have taken on the challenge of covering what I’m calling “the hot spot”. This area has produced an absurd amount of fish, keeping flocks of Elite anglers and locals on it all week. This large flat is fished by throwing drop shots and crank baits with the help of live sonar to locate smallmouth. This is an area that piles up with more boats as the day progresses. At the moment, I’m able to count out about 20 boats, all fishing this one area. 

I began the day trying to focus on the top 10, which have mostly been fishing here... But, the Elite angler count in this area is so high, I’ve managed to capture anglers from top to bottom of the leaderboard with fish catches on each one. With only tomorrow left, we’ll see if this spot continues to play a huge roll in this tournament.

From grassroots to big league

Just minutes ago Cody Hollen upgraded again, moving up one spot to 5th place. Part of the reason might be his background.

Growing up in Oregon, Hollen's father put a spinning outfit rigged with finesse plastic baits and taught him how to catch light line smallmouth.

Throughout his preteen years, there were regular trips to Oregon’s John Day River where they would sometimes catch 100 smallmouth in a day. Family fishing vacations took them to places like Lake Shasta in California, and to Banks and Roosevelt lakes in eastern Washington. All are top western smallmouth fisheries.

Eventually, Hollen joined the Cascade Bassmasters. He climbed the ranks through state tournaments, regional B.A.S.S. Nation events, and finally to the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, which he won in 2019. He competed in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic and is running a B.A.S.S. Nation wrapped Triton boat.

This morning on the takeoff dock I watched Hollen go out of his way to find a fellow Oregonian Jay Yelas. They both wished each other good luck. It was an admirable gesture from the veteran pro.

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Hollen's big cull

Cody Hollen has been bobbing around in Anchor Bay, dragging a drop shot rig in a lake chopped up with boat traffic. 

BASSTrakk showed him with an estimated 18-8 when we arrived, and he just upgraded significantly with a smallie that weigh “4, maybe a little more.”

That catch allowed him to dump a 3 1/2-pounder.

He estimates he has 20 pounds now - “maybe a little more.”

Busy day on St. Clair

It’s definitely Saturday on Lake St. Clair. Boat traffic is relentless.

Bill Weidler is right in the middle of it. This spot he’s fishing is like an interchange on the interstate. Folks and boats of all sizes coming and going from every direction. It’s a constant washing up and down. And the noise factor is off the charts. 

Makes me wish I had Weidler’s ear buds in my ears. And having the pedestal seat makes more sense as well.

Weidler is doing the same thing virtually every angler is doing in this lake, focusing on grass pods or hard bottom around grass to find and catch fish. 

He’s just doing it in that mid-range depth. Jay Yelas is up shallow. Everyone else is 18- to 20-feet deep. Weidler is fishing in 13-feet.

The area is big and it’s located on edge of a big bay where fish transition from bay to lake and vice versa.

Right now, though, it’s the boats that are doing the majority of transitioning.

Morgenthaler on his days

Chad told me that his big fish have been coming in the morning before 9:15 a.m. He’s been on a shallow water pattern up in the river and then he runs out to the flats in deeper water later in the day. He said that none of his bigger fish have come from the deeper pattern. But there are definitely more numbers.

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