Interesting spot

This little area these four boats are sharing is interesting in a lot of ways.

It’s on the edge of the river channel. When they channelized this portion they piled the spoil on the edge so there is a ridge of rock etc piled up here.

The wind is basically blowing north to south and the river is flowing south to north in general terms. The current is strong enough to drift these anglers down that seam and basically moving them against the wind.

They are all following that basic line.

Currently and since we’ve been here Johnston has boated three for about 9 1/2 pounds. DiPalma has two for about 7 pounds.

Paquette and Pirch have yet to hook up while we’ve been here. But with a fish being caught every few minutes all of these guys could have a limit by now.

Day 1: What to watch for

On this first day of any given tournament, there are more questions than answers about how game plans will pan out. Here are a few things that I've written down in my notebook over the past couple of days for us to consider.

  • Lake vs. river. When the schedule was announced, the buzz was the new opportunity to fish Lake Ontario, a renowned Great Lakes smallmouth fishery. More water, bigger fish, unpressured fish, and so on. That, versus the reliability and past history the anglers have downriver. Which will play out?
  • Fishing the past. This morning I shot about 20 BASSCam videos. The question I asked? "Are you going right (downriver) or left (to the lake?) The percentage of anglers choosing to make the run to the wide-open lake was small. In fact, I can't remember anyone planning to fish the lake. Guys are going to fish their strengths, their past successes downriver toward Waddington, site of the previous Elite Series events in recent years.
  • Canadian waters off-limits. This is a biggie. Sure, the river is in play, but not all of it. In previous years, Canadian waters were open to fishing. This year they are not. Stay tuned for a blog post from me about how legit it is when the anglers say taking out Canadian waters is a big deal. Note to us all: The playing field is now level in the river.
  • The weather: Today's forecast calls for cloudy skies and light winds. Smallmouth don't like either of those conditions. Will it affect the fishing? Maybe, maybe not. What to remember is smallmouth take cover in the sunny, clear waters, which provides concealment so they can ambush baitfish. But ... this is the St. Lawrence River, right?

Changed game

This year the game has changed for the Bassmaster Elite Series on the St. Lawrence River, with the Canada side of the river out of play.

That’s huge, since most of the best fishing is on the Canada side.

Guide Bill Lortz of NY North Country Bassin said the closed border has forced him to learn new water on the U.S. side - and it’s the same challenge for the Elite anglers.

“There’s boulders over there, and there’s boulders on the U.S. side,” Lortz said. “The difference is there’s more grass on the Canada side.

“What it does is allows them to do all three phases in one location before they get to their summer haunts. They spawn in the U.S. side, but they stay there.

“It’s not one-stop shopping.”

The bottom line is the anglers will have had to identify not only those spawning areas where the bass did their spring rituals and then find offshore areas those fish pull out to as they transition to the post-spawn, which Lortz said is just about over.

“They guys who are fishing deep are fishing for bass coming to them,” he said. “The guys fishing shallow are fishing for resident fish or fish that are leaving.”

Community hole

Our first stop was in the end of an island near the mouth of the St. lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

We expected to find Chris Johnston here. He is and with company.

Greg DiPalma, Clifford Pirch and Garrett Paquette are all milling around each other. We have no idea who showed up first or last. But evidently it’s a great spot.

Johnston quickly proves that by boating what appears to be a 4-pound plus smallmouth. As he was landing it the other boats were slowly passing. It almost looked like those first few moments before a take off as a group of anglers just mills around.

Soon after DiPalma boats one that looked like it was in the 5-pound range.

While I’m sure everyone of these guys wishes they had it to themselves. It looks as if this will be a hotspot for the group of them.

An accidental storm chasing

Bassmaster photographers Shane Durrance and Dalton Tumblin were New York bound for the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on the St. Lawrence River. Little did they know that their faith would soon be tested.

Just after 6 p.m. CT, they were entering Chambersburg, Penn., when jokingly they called themselves tornado chasers because the weather was looking a bit serious. Though Durrance never heard his weather alert go off, he checked the local radar and realized they were entering a thunderstorm warning area. Durrance then noticed a hook in the cloud formation right over where they were driving.

“Everything went dark, and there was absolutely nowhere for us to go. We could only stop in the middle of the interstate, so that's what we did for a second — until we saw trees bending over to the ground,” Tumblin said.

"Hail was pelting the truck, lightning was popping all around us and it was just crazy,” Durrance continued.

Durrance grabbed his video camera and started recording the weather event, and the pair parked under the first bridge they came to hoping the cover would provide some protection. After a few minutes, the storm subsided enough for them to feel safe enough to hit the road.

Working for Bassmaster frequently requires the coverage team to be out in the elements, but this was an experience neither Durrance nor Tumblin want to go through again.