Skeet Reese finished second at the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship, and like the first- and third-place finishers also fished Little Bay de Noc. But while Jacob Powroznik (first) fished a swimbait and Mark Davis (third) fished a tube, Reese's fished other baits for what appeared to be surprisingly finicky smallmouths.
The first day of practice he tried Big Bay. "I spent the whole day there," he said. "I went all the way out to the islands and didn't find anything. Then I came back [into the bay] and found one group of fish."
He cranked a Lucky Craft 2.5 DD ("crack" color) and caught 20 pounds "off that stretch pretty easily," he said. "But that was it. The rest was one here and one there."
Day two of practice he fished Little Bay. "That set up a whole lot different – it didn't have all the humps and reefs that Big Bay did," he noted. "It was points or flats."
Reese put the trolling motor down, fished around and "wound up finding two little areas in the 3- to 6-foot zone – isolated rock piles with grass."
This time his best bait was a 3/4-ounce Lucky Craft spinnerbait (chartreuse shad, with nickel double-willow blades).
The last practice day he went back to Big Bay and tried to find the same shallower bite he'd found the day before in Little Bay, but had no luck. "I don't think I caught a keeper fish," he said.
Quality-wise he didn't see much of a difference between his best spots in Big Bay and Little Bay, so with more fish in Little Bay and a shorter boat ride, he chose to start the tournament there.
"I really didn't have much to gain or lose in the event, so I figured I might as well stay close and see what I could catch, Reese said.
Day 1 not what he expected
On his first pass down his best stretch on day one, he "never had a bite." Second stretch: one small keeper. "I had a couple fish bump the spinnerbait, but I didn't know if they were bass or perch or what," he said.
It was after a cold front and the water temperature had dropped about 4 degrees, so he thought maybe the bite would be later. But after 2.5 hours, he didn't have a fish.
"I was going to pull the plug on Little Bay," he said, "but I decided to go back to that first stretch of water and try it again." The result: nothing. But just before he bailed, he changed spinnerbaits.
He grabbed a rod with a 3/4-ounce all-white bait: white skirt and white blades. In an hour and a half, he had 20 pounds.
"I was shocked," he said. "I couldn't believe it made that big a difference."
Why the color change? "It's worked before," he said. "I was thinking I was going to go to a squarebill next, but I already had [the white spinnerbait] tied on, ready to go. So it was the quickest change I could make."
He added, "Chartreuse on chartreuse or white on white seem to be good painted-blade combinations for smallmouths."
He fished the spinnerbait with is signature series 7' 2" Wright & McGill Pro Carbon spinnerbait/worm rod, Pro Carbon 7.9:1 reel and 50-pound Spiderwire.
"I threw it as far as I could and reeled as fast as I could," he said. "The key was casting over those little isolated rock piles [about boat-sized] those fish keyed on." The bait ran 6-12 inches below the surface.
Day 2: Another bait change
During the three days on the bank waiting for the second and final competition day, Reese kept thinking about something he'd seen on day one. "I'd hooked a fish, and as I was fighting it it spit up two bluegill that were 3- to 3.5 inches long. That's when I realized these fish were eating bluegills too, not just crawdads, gobies and whatever else."
That prompted him to rig up about a half-dozen more rods, including one with a green-pumpkin Chatterbait and 4-inch Berkley PowerBait Rib Shad (racy shad).
When the fishing started again, he ran to his first spot and started with the spinnerbait. He use the white/white and the chartreuse/nickel, and "never never had a bite." Then he tried the Chatterbait, caught a 5-pounder and moved to his secondary spot.
"That's where I caught a couple the first day, including the big one that spit out the bluegill," he said. It ended up being his money spot, generating another 20-pound day for him.
Reese said the biggest key to his pattern was the rock-grass combination. That's where the fish were.
He fished the Chatterbait with the same rod, the same reel except in 6.4:1 and the same line.