St. Clair: A love/hate relationship

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Steve Bowman

What’s not to love about Lake St. Clair? The superlatives produced in the last regular season Bassmaster Elite Series event were truly off the charts, at least for 2017. They included the highest two-day cut weight and three-day cut weight of the season. When you can’t make the Top 12 cut after averaging over 20 pounds a day on a smallmouth bass fishery, as both Jonathon VanDam (13th, 60 pounds, 5 ounces) and Brandon Coulter (14th, 60-4) experienced, it’s got to be one heckuva lake, right?

Well, that depends upon whom you ask. Even among the anglers who did relatively well at Lake St. Clair last week, there were some disparaging words.

Seth Feider qualified to fish the 2015 Elite Series at Northern Open No. 3 in 2014 on Lake St. Clair. Last week, with his 26th place finish at St. Clair, he moved up to 15th place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and all but qualified for his first Bassmaster Classic berth. Feider will probably need to catch a single keeper at Lake Mille Lacs in the AOY Championship to clinch his Classic berth. Nothing but fond memories of Lake St. Clair for Feider, right?

“I truly hate this lake with a passion,” said Feider. “But some special things have happened here. It will always have a special place in my heart, but I hate fishing here. I do.”

To understand those mixed feelings, you must grasp the seemingly random nature of bass fishing on Lake St. Clair. It’s a paradox. As Brandon Palaniuk said, “It’s the best worst smallmouth bass fishery in the country.” Let him explain. 

“It has got the best population of fish probably – big ones,” Palaniuk said. “But it is the toughest to fish. I think those go hand-in-hand. The reason it’s so hard to find ‘em and catch ‘em all the time is the reason it’s so good. You can’t just run to a big, long extending point and catch ‘em. It doesn’t exist. So you have to put in the time to find them. But they move, so you’ve got to find them again. I think that’s what protects this fishery.”

Palaniuk compared St. Clair’s circular-shaped 430 square miles to a giant NASCAR track, where the smallmouth bass swim in packs, always turning left, so you’ve got to intercept them somewhere, like when they’re slowing down to make a curve in the racetrack.

Again, it’s difficult to grasp how a smallmouth lake that produced 20 bags of 20 pounds or better on Day 1 and 30 bags of 20 pounds or more on Day 2 could create such mixed emotions, especially among the anglers who caught 20-pounds-plus.

“It’s just so random,” Feider explained. “You’re basically fishing a giant flat. You never know where you’re going to get a bite. There’s nothing to throw at. It would be an awesome lake if you knew nothing about fishing. Just throw something behind the boat, drift five miles and you’ll catch some fish. This lake drives me nuts.” 

Jason Christie, on the other hand, loves Lake St. Clair. The first and last of his five B.A.S.S. victories came here, first in a Northern Open in 2012 and last week with a four-day total of 88-8. 

“This is my favorite lake in the country,” said Christie, while hoisting the champion’s trophy on Sunday.

Obviously, Christie has figured out a solution to the puzzle that is Lake St. Clair – the best worst smallmouth bass lake in the country.

As you can see in the chart below, Lake St. Clair established some high marks for the 2017 Elite Series. Here’s a comparison of various weights in the standings from the nine regular season events: 

 

Day 1

 

Day 2

 

Day 3

 

Day 4

 

51st  Place

 

51st Place

 

12th Place

 

1st Place

Cherokee Lake

13-01

 

25-02

 

46-03

 

69-13

Lake Okeechobee

13-10

 

27-14

 

54-02

 

83-05

Toledo Bend Reservoir

13-12

 

26-04

 

46-14

 

77-10

Ross Barnett Reservoir

11-05

 

22-14

 

42-11

 

64-13

Sam Rayburn Reservoir

15-12

 

32-04

 

56-06

 

93-12

Lake Dardanelle

11-12

 

21-10

 

42-06

 

63-12

St. Lawrence River

17-10

 

34-13

 

59-15

 

90-03

Lake Champlain

16-09

 

32-00

 

54-04

 

——*

Lake St. Clair

17-12

 

34-15

 

60-09

 

88-08 


(High marks for the season are in boldface type.)

*Champlain was a 3-day tournament; Day 1 was canceled due to high winds