Late launch changes St. Lawrence strategies

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Andy Crawford
Jesse Tacoronte at Lake Lanier.

Getting to your first fishing location in time to leverage the early morning bite is the norm in tournaments. And we tournament anglers normally miss any late-afternoon action. However, that’s being turned on its head for the Berkley Bassmaster Elite Series at St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet this week.

We won’t even be launching our boats until well after daybreak, and many of us won’t even start fishing until the sun is way above the horizon.

Why? Takeoff isn’t scheduled until 9 a.m. because a high St. Lawrence River means the locks just upstream of Waddington, N.Y., will be in play. That’s something with which we Elite anglers have never had to deal: The gates at the dam were open during our stops there in 2017 and 2018 so we could buzz right through. We could launch early and still get all the way upstream without any problems.

This year it’s just going to be a crazy deal. Those of us hanging a left out of the launch and running to the Thousand Islands area of the river might not start fishing until 10 a.m. — or later, depending on how the lock schedule works. We truly don’t know how long it will take to get through the locks. Nobody knows what the lock duration will be. It could be a 40-minute lock time; it could be an hour. Nobody knows.

If you leave the lock at 9:30 a.m. and you’re running to Alexandria Bay, with the no-wake zones and all, you’re not going to start fishing until 10:30 or 11 o’clock in the morning. If you’re going any farther than that, it’ll be lunchtime before you start fishing.

How does that change the tournament formula? Well, first, it means the early morning bite is irrelevant and the late-afternoon period could be critical since weigh-ins won’t start until 5 p.m. Bassmaster’s Ronnie Moore posted some stats from the previous Elite Series events on the river, and the highest fish catches came from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Well, on a normal tournament schedule, the earliest flights might miss some of that window. We don’t usually get to take advantage of any late flurry of action, so that’s a question mark for us We don’t have a clue if that window lasts even longer. We will probably have to be back at the lock by 4 p.m., just to ensure we make it back to the weigh-in, so we have an extra two hours to fish. That could be huge.

The late launch also changes where you’re going to fish. If you were going to run to the top end of the river, you might not want to do that now, or you’ll have even less fishing time to ensure you make it through the lock on the way back to the weigh-in.

The good news is that, according to my research, the weights have been pretty good this year: 26, 27, 28 pounds. So it could be a repeat of last year’s monster-bags event. Last weekend’s three-day Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Championship on the St. Lawrence River, for instance, required 59-11 to win. We should see large numbers of 20-pound-plus limits going across the scales again this year.

What about patterns? There’s going to still be some shallow fish; there might even be some spawners. But it’s been an especially hot summer up there. I still say the fish are going to be caught anywhere from 18 to 70 feet. You just have to find the right deal.

I, personally, like the idea that we get to sleep in. We can get some rest. You can go to bed at 10 p.m., 11 p.m., and still get eight hours of sleep. We can actually go get some breakfast.

Of course, it’s going to spoil us for the Cayuga Lake Elite Series event the following week. We’ll be on banker’s hours, and then we’ll go back to 4 a.m. starts.