MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. — Tucked between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair may live in the shadow of its Great Lakes neighbors, but these bountiful waters will offer plenty of opportunities when the Bassmaster Elite Series visits Aug. 20-23.
Renowned as a smallmouth powerhouse, the lake shared by the United States and Canada has a history of impressive tournament showings, including last year’s Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, which Minnesota pro Seth Feider won with a three-day total of 77 pounds, 15 ounces.
Daily takeoffs will be at 6:30 a.m. ET from Lake St. Clair Metro Parks in Harrison Township. Weigh-ins will be held back at the park each day at 3:10 p.m. A first-place prize of $100,000 will be on the line, along with valuable AOY points that will help anglers earn berths in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.
Texan Clark Wendlandt took third in that event, and he’s looking forward to another shot at the waters known by some as “the Sixth Great Lake.”
“Going by local tournament reports, I think the fishing’s going to be great,” Wendlandt said. “A lot of fish are going to be caught and I think some big weights. Seth (averaged over) 25 a day, and I think we can expect something like that.”
At 26 miles long and 24 miles wide, St. Clair covers 430 square miles. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a shipping channel that reaches about 27 feet deep, but the lake averages only about 11 feet.
Due to Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions, anglers are limited to the U.S. waters of Lake St. Clair and all connecting rivers, creeks and canals, including Lake Huron. Anglers will not be allowed to travel south of the Ambassador Bridge (Hwy. 3) spanning the Detroit River.
Wendlandt believes all of the U.S. tournament waters could be in play. Most of the anglers will disperse across St. Clair’s main body where they’ll seek isolated rockpiles with scattered weeds, sometimes a little of both. Also, channel markers, particularly their anchor chains, have been known to give up sizable smallmouth.
“I think guys that spend time in the Detroit River will have a chance, but there will be plenty of tournament waters to fish,” said Wendlandt, who currently ranks sixth in the Bassmaster AOY standings. “Lake St. Clair is just perfect for smallmouth. Gobies and maybe perch are going to be the main forage. But just like all the Great Lakes, it has come on like gangbusters since the gobies entered the system.”
An invasive species that reached the Great Lakes during the 1990s, the round goby has played a significant role in the quality of St. Clair’s smallmouth fishery. Anglers will target their fish with drop shots, tubes, Carolina rigs and crankbaits.
Weather — St. Clair is notorious for turning brutally rough when strong winds blow. Big waves increase running time and decrease fishing time. With drifting a common tactic, inclement weather could limit opportunities for some.
The playing field — Much of the field has fished Lake St. Clair before, but with tournament waters reduced, some will find key waypoints are no longer in play.
Lake Huron — Traversing the west side of the St. Clair River, anglers have access to Huron’s west side, in particular, the fertile Saginaw Bay area. A long run could yield opportunity with little to no competition, but it will chew up a lot of valuable fishing time. Feider said he’s not expecting a lot of Huron reports.
“St. Clair is on fire and the good stuff in Huron, with the exception of the mouth of the St. Clair River, is too far to go,” he said. “Saginaw Bay is 70 to 80 miles from the mouth of the river.”
Wherever anglers fish, the weigh-ins will likely see most bringing five-bass limits to the stage. Several are likely to break the 20-pound mark each day, and the elusive Century Club (100 pounds) is not out of the picture.
After Chris Johnston came close during his win on the St. Lawrence River in late July, a triple-digit weight would mark the first time an angler has caught 100 pounds of smallmouth in a B.A.S.S. event.
That’s no easy task. But there are only a handful of fisheries where such a feat is conceivable, and Lake St. Clair is definitely one of them.
Real-time action from the Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair will be carried on Bassmaster LIVE at Bassmaster.com and ESPN3 beginning at 7 a.m. ET. Coverage will also be broadcast on ESPN2. Check your local listings for details.