Legendary Yelas went old school at St. Clair

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Alan McGuckin

Jay Yelas launched his pro career in 1989 by living in a van as a tournament fishing vagabond when gas was $1 a gallon. Now age 54, he is truly one of professional bass fishing’s living legends.

Yelas dominated the Bassmaster Classic in 2002 en route to victory, won the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title in 2003 and was recently voted a 2020 inductee of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. He has notched a Top 10 B.A.S.S. finish in five different decades 

At the recent Lake St. Clair Elite event, the former Oregon State forestry major finished ninth and taught the bass fishing universe that even now in the strangest of times, it’s not all about super high-tech sonar and drop shots.  Instead, Yelas proved the old school technique of burning skirted blade baits in shallow water still gets the attention of meaty, bad-attitude smallmouth.

“We used to catch ‘em really good here in the 1990s by burning spinnerbaits on shallow flats, but in recent years that pattern hasn’t worked very well,” reflects Yelas. “But man, it worked this week.”

“I fished in 5 to 7 feet of water all week on a flat with scattered vegetation that had current flowing across it. I put my trolling motor on high, made a ton of casts and burned that vibrating jig on a fast 7.5:1 Lew’s baitcasting reel, and the smallies smashed it like they did in the good old days,” grinned the Yamaha pro.

The vibrating jig known best as a ChatterBait was invented by Ron Davis Sr. in South Carolina, but it didn’t hit the market until 2004. So Yelas’ weapon of choice this past week on St. Clair wasn’t even available in those “good old days” 30 years ago. But they are now, and Yelas pays $17 a piece for them, just like you and me.

He doesn’t pay for their trailers however, as his longtime treasured sponsor Gary Yamamoto makes both a Zako swimbait style trailer and a Zako Kicker paddle tail trailer for vibrating jigs. Yelas used both versions of the highly effective trailers on St. Clair and chose a heavy 3/4-ounce vibrating jig so he could make long casts in clear water and be able to burn it back to the boat.

“I may not have won, but I’m proud of my Top-10 finish, and I’ll promise you nobody had more fun than me last week on St. Clair. That pattern is just so awesome, it’s addicting,” grins the longtime Toyota Bonus Bucks participant. 

“Mark Zona watched me fish for a while out there on the water and said, “Man, Jay, you’re going old school on us this week.”

I told him, “Heck yeah, I am old school,” laughed Yelas.