A nice welcome up north

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James Overstreet

It’s an odd feeling anytime a southern boy makes his way above the Mason-Dixon Line. But I gotta tell you, those New York smallmouth gave such a nice country welcome that I felt right at home.

Finishing eighth on the St. Lawrence River kept me up near the top in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, but it was also a great start to our northern swing. It’s fun to fish up north, but brown fish for a southerner is a different kinda thing.

I’m just happy I did well in the first of four events where smallmouth will be a big part of the picture — and in some cases, all of the picture. This week’s tournament on Champlain will be 50-50 smallmouth and largemouth, but after this, we go to St. Clair and that will be all smallmouth. 

That’s why I’m happy I was able to catch ‘em good in this first northern event. It was important for me to get in the groove of smallmouth fishing and that was a big help. 

Overall, the key for me on the St. Lawrence River was fishing shallow. Most of the time, when I’m catching smallmouth, they’re going to be 10 feet or less. That’s when I feel comfortable fishing for them because when they’re up there and they’re feeding, they’re pretty dumb. 

I found my fish with a jerkbait, and during the tournament, I had to catch them on a drop shot and a swimbait. I had a spot the first two days where I’d catch 18 pounds in the first 30 minutes or so and that was pretty fun.

The other reason I like fishing shallow for smallmouth is that it’s more predictable. Here’s what I mean: With largemouth, I know what they do. I know what this wind direction will make them do, and if they move, they’re going to move here. I know what a high-pressure day is going to do to them and what baits I can use to make them bite.

With smallmouth, I don’t have a clue. I’m in another world because it’s something I’m not used to. If I stay shallow and find them, even if they’re not biting, I can see what they’re doing.

For me, going to the Great Lakes region and fishing out deep in that 30-foot range, it can take a long time to find fish. Up shallow, I’m more efficient. I target points, shoals, pretty much the easy stuff.

Now, I’m no smallmouth expert, but I can tell you this: The gobies have completely changed the fishing in the Great Lakes region. I know the fisheries folks don’t like this invasive species, but there’s no question that the smallmouth love them. 

When I first started fishing up here, 15 pounds a day was good. The fish were smaller and skinnier. But now that they have all of these gobies to eat, the smallmouth are fat and sassy.

Every day, I found a bunch of gobies that my fish had spit up in the livewell. The interesting thing I noticed was that all of them were pretty small. I also noticed that most of them were darker in coloration, so this helped me match my baits to the natural forage.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to dial in what the fish want for the next three events. I can tell you, this southern boy is happy to be fishing up north — I just hope the fish continue to lay out the welcome mat.