I liked Lake St. Clair when I arrived last week, and I liked it even more when I left. Of course, walking away with the Bassmaster Elite Series trophy was huge, but this win gave me the biggest boost possible in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. There’s nothing better than that because I achieved two goals at once.
Now I, at least, have a mathematical chance to win the AOY title at the championship event in two weeks on Mille Lacs. We’re going to one of the nation’s best smallmouth fisheries, and Brandon Palaniuk is Mr. Smallmouth. If he finishes 15th or higher, nobody can catch him, so the ball’s in his court. I expect him to show up with his game face on, but I’m confident that I’ve done all I could to make this an exciting race to the end.
You know, a lot of things have to go well for a guy to win one of these Elite events, and if I had to point out the most important variable, it would be having a big area to myself. It was about two miles by two miles, it was near the main channel where the current blows through the strongest and it had the components I was looking for — a good mix of rock and weeds and all kinds of fish, which told me it was a lively area.
Honestly, when I found this area in practice, I didn’t think it had the winning potential. It was a big area, but by the last day, I had it narrowed down to three pretty significant spots within that area. Fortunately, there weren’t any other boats fishing around me, and I committed to spending my entire tournament here.
A two square mile area is a big area when every inch of it is fishable water. I spent a lot of time there in practice and got confident in the area. The thing that helped me decide to commit was that I didn't have any other spots to fish. If I wasn’t getting bit, I’d move a 1/4 mile or so, but I wasn’t moving 10 miles or 15.
I had committed to fishing that area before the first day of the tournament, and I honestly thought that was the best decision to get a good finish. Obviously, you want to win, but I wasn’t thinking about that.
Looking back, I can recall one particular fish that was particularly pivotal. I said on the Day 2 weigh-in stage that I didn’t think I was around the winning caliber of fish because I hadn’t seen a fish over 5 pounds.
But on the third day, I had about 20 pounds and I caught a 5-10. Not only did that help my weight for that day, it gave me confidence that there were some bigger fish in the area.
On the week, I probably only lost two or three that would have helped, and honestly, in a smallmouth event, that’s not too bad. It wasn’t anything that I did wrong, it’s just how squirrely they are. Every time you’d hook a big one, you’d have about three seconds before he’s jumping.
Usually, if you can survive that first jump, you pretty much have them whipped. All three of the good ones I lost, I lost on the first jump. Fortunately, I kept enough good ones buttoned up to earn that trophy — and some important AOY points.