MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. — Catching a drum isn't usually much of a reason for a bass fisherman to get excited. They don't count in a bass tournament, and they can waste valuable fishing time while the angler fights and lands them.
But it certainly excited Jason Christie this week — mostly because every time he'd catch one, the smallmouth bass in the area would get excited, too.
Christie caught five smallmouth that weighed 22 pounds on Championship Sunday to push his four-day weight to 88 pounds, 8 ounces. It was enough to win the Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair and keep the Oklahoma angler in contention for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
The drum were one of the keys to his week.
"Everything is lying on the bottom, and they were all eating crawdads," said Christie, who is now a five-time B.A.S.S. winner. "I can't tell you how many times I've caught a drum here this week — and as the drum was coming up, it would be spitting out crawdads. There would be smallmouth out there below them, just eating everything they could get their mouths on."
That commotion seemed to set the bass on fire.
"It's just something that gets the bottom moving," he said. "It may sound stupid, but I honestly believe that. I would take a drum off as fast as I could and throw my tube right back in there. I caught a lot of bass doing that.
"I don't think I caught a drum under 6 pounds. It takes a lot of time fighting them because you don't want to mess up your bait, and you don't want to straighten your hook. But it definitely had something to do with it."
Christie caught most of his bass with a Yum 4-inch tube in green pumpkin on a 3/4-ounce tube head. He used a Lew's Custom Pro reel with a 7.5:1 gear ratio spooled with 10-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon. His rod of choice was a 7-3 Falcon Cara Amistad Casting Rod.
"I chose a baitcaster for one reason," he said. "I would rather use a spinning rod. But the grass is just thick enough that I couldn't keep the bait clean on a spinning rod, and they wouldn't eat it with grass on it." The stiffer baitcast rod enabled Christie to rip the lure and shed any weeds clinging to it.
Garmin Panoptix helped Christie identify the smallmouth that were tagging along behind the drum in 15 to 20 feet of water. He said there seemed to be one solid window each day when the fish were really biting.
"Every day, there was an hour to hour-and-a-half spurt," he said. "The first two days, it was the first hour. Saturday, it was 9 to 10, and today it was about the same time.
"I don't know what makes them do that. I don't know if you get a school fired up and you catch them real quick or what."
Another important factor for Christie was fishing clean.
Smallmouth are notorious for their high-flying acrobatics, and they'll often throw a bait when they jump. But Christie said he was pleased with his execution during the landing process.
"I lost a few," he said. "But in a four-day event, you're not going to catch every smallmouth that bites. I'm proud of myself, I really am. I found an area. I expanded on it during the tournament, and I narrowed it down to three basketball-sized sweet spots."
Mississippi angler Brock Mosley finished in second place for the second time in the past three Elite Series events with 86-5. Rookie Mark Daniels Jr. of Alabama earned his highest finish ever in an Elite Series event — third — with 85-7.
Besides winning the $100,000 first-place prize, Christie held onto to his second-place spot in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. With 796 points, Christie is just 15 points behind Brandon Palaniuk (811).
Jordan Lee finished fourth in the St. Clair event with 82-3 — a catch that was anchored by a 6-13 smallmouth that earned him $1,500 as the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week.
Now that the final regular-season tournament is done, the Top 50 anglers in the AOY standings will advance to the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Minnesota's Mille Lacs Lake next month.
For retaining his lead in the AOY race, Palaniuk was awarded $1,000.
Mosley won the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award of $500 for leading the tournament on Saturday's second day of competition.
Christie was awarded the Toyota Bonus Bucks Award of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program. He also earned the Power-Pole Captain's Cash Award of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who is registered and eligible and uses a client-approved product on his boat.
Lee also received $2,000 for being the second-highest-placing eligible entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program.
The Detroit Sports Commission, Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce and Macomb County hosted the event.