The St. Lawrence River may be the same old story in 2018 as well, but it’s a story that is worth repeating year after year. The top-notch smallmouth fishery pumped out big fish and heavy weights in 2017 when Kevin VanDam took the title. It’s notoriously one of the best fisheries on the schedule every year, and a bright spot to showcase the quality smallmouth fisheries of New York and the North.
This event has a new twist in implications. It’s always been the last regular season event of the season, but with the Chesapeake Bay cancelation, it’s even more important in 2018. Instead of nine regular season events, there are eight, which means the battle at the Top 50 cut will be as tight as they can be. The final event means anglers are vying for Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, Bassmaster Classic spots, AOY Championship slots and requalification for the Elites.
A lot is on the line in Waddington this year.
BUCKET A: CHRISTIE
My pick: Jason Christie
Jason Christie isn’t necessarily considered one of the “elite” smallmouth anglers, but he showed why he should be with his second win on Lake St. Clair last year. He will be underrated at the St. Lawrence because of other anglers in Bucket A. He missed the cut in his first trip in 2015 but notched a 19th-place finish last year. With almost 60 pounds for three days a top 20 is respectable, I’d expect another strong finish for the Oklahoma native this time around as well. He sits 18th in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year but is less than 30 points from the Top 12 in points.
Dark horse: Pirch and Bertrand
I have to go with the Arizona anglers Clifford Pirch and Josh Bertrand as my backup picks in Bucket A. These two have a great reputation with spinning rods in their hands, and they proved it at Lake Oahe, the only smallmouth fishery up to the point in the season. The only reason they are my backups is I expect their ownership percentages to be high.
BUCKET B: PIPKENS
My pick: Chad Pipkens
Chad Pipkens is a known smallmouth expert. His history on smallmouth fisheries is strong and he sits 24th in Toyota AOY Standings. A strong tournament could help him coast into the AOY Championship with a Bassmaster Classic qualification in hand. Finding the 4-pound fish will be key as plenty of anglers will catch 3 1/2-pounders and get left in the dust.
Dark horse: Seth Feider
In 2017 Seth Feider was in contention after a stellar Day 1, but he couldn’t sustain it due to misfortune on Day 2. He ended the event in check range, but he wasn’t happy with his performance. Redemption is on his mind, and the St. Lawrence is a dangerous place for Feider to fish with a purpose. He could wreak havoc and be a threat well into the weekend.
BUCKET C: JONES
My pick: Alton Jones
Alton Jones seems to always make a Top 12 at the St. Lawrence River, and he does so fishing similar areas. Drifting is a popular style of fishing up north and Jones does it well. It’s hard to know if another Top 12 is in his future, but he trails 50th in AOY by 52 points so a Top 12 is necessary if he wants to make the AOY Championship.
Dark horse: Bill Lowen
Bill Lowen may sound like an odd darkhorse at a stout smallmouth fishery, but he has good history here. He caught them well in 2015 and finished 34th. You may not think 34th is catching them well, but he found an area that yielded a Top 12 finisher. In 2017 he realized how good that region was and finished 15th, narrowly missing the Top 12 again. Lowen may produce once again and be an underrated pick. He narrowly sits inside the Top 50 in points in 47th place.
BUCKET D: MURRAY
My pick: John Murray
Arizona transplant John Murray now resides in East Tennessee, but his history and roots as a West Coast angler will always stick with him. That’s why he is a sneaky pick in Bucket D. He’s been successful in past years on the St. Lawrence, never finishing worse than 30th. That includes a Top 12 the first trip to Waddington, 30th in 2015 and 27th in 2017. History could be on his side, but on a big fish factory like the St. Lawrence you could be ounces from a good finish yet be 20 spots from the cut.
Dark horse: Jonathan VanDam
In no way is Jonathan VanDam a darkhorse pick, but he’s my second choice so that’s how we’ve arrived here. JVD notched a Top 12 in 2017 (fifth) and finished runner-up in 2013 to Brandon Palaniuk. Whether its dropshotting for deeper smallmouth or chasing those roaming fish on the shallow flats, JVD has found success doing both. Depending on what pattern he sticks with he could net another good finish up north to end the season.
BUCKET E: SCROGGINS
My pick: Terry Scroggins
Terry Scroggins is due for a big event. It’s been a while since his last Elite Series Top 12 (2016 at St. Johns River), but Scroggins should be prepared for this event. He fished the Eastern Open at Champlain and hung around to stretch his line in smallmouth territory a few days later. With this being his fourth trip to the St. Lawrence he probably knows how it should fish and where he should focus his efforts.
Dark horse: Bernie Schultz
Bernie Schultz sits 108th in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings after a tumultuous season, but one bright spot remains and that is the St. Lawrence River. It’s a long way away from Schultz’s Gainesville, Fla., home, but it’s like a second home to him. He’s fished 10 professional events on the St. Lawrence and has finished worse than 44th only once. His Elite finishes are even better with a 12th, 15th and sixth. Waddington, N.Y., has been good to Schultz, and it may be once again this year.