DETROIT — You couldn’t ask for a more perfect battlefield than Lake St. Clair where the final leg of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open #3 presented by Allstate kicks off Sept. 4-6.
St. Clair is a unique body of water that is fed by Lake Huron via the St. Clair River and empties into Lake Erie via the Detroit River. The lake only averages 11 feet deep and is chock-full of smallmouth, largemouth, walleye, muskies and Northern pike, along with various panfish and other species.
It’s 26 miles long, 24 miles wide at its widest point and borders Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario.
Opens anglers seeking that final divisional Bassmaster Classic spot shouldn’t have much trouble catching fish, but they will be faced with some tough decisions when they launch the first of the three-day event.
Do they stay in St. Clair, where limits come easier?
Do they commit to making the grueling run down the Detroit River and into Lake Erie, where big bass are plentiful?
Do they do as Chris Lane did in the Bassmaster Elite event held here in 2013 and target bass in the St. Clair River?
Or, do they gamble on largemouth in backwater canals?
“Anyone making the risky run to Erie is fishing to win,” said The Bassmasters TV host Mark Zona, a Michigan resident who has made several trips to St. Clair this summer. “The problem is that weather/wind conditions have to be good for three consecutive days to accomplish that, and that doesn’t happen often.”
Zona says that anyone who finds the right Lake Erie school for three days can blow it away. “But if you want to play it safe and shoot for a Top 20 finish, St. Clair is the place to be,” he added.
On the other hand, St. Clair fishing guide Gerry Gostenik believes St. Clair could produce the winner. “It’s taking 22 to 23 pounds to win local tournaments here this summer,” he said. “The fish are healthy, and the water is up about a foot compared to when B.A.S.S. was here last year.”
Nonetheless, it has been a strange year for the veteran guide, who said his clients will have some great days and struggle on others.
“The fish don’t seem to be as tightly schooled as they have in previous years,” he noted. “One thing, there’s more cabbage in the lake than I’ve ever seen. You used to be able to find a small patch of cabbage and catch 20. Now there are large cabbage beds and the fish aren’t as easy to target.”
The key is to locate large concentrations of forage fish. On Erie and in the rivers, it’s gobies. And while there are gobies in Lake St. Clair, they tend to run smaller; hence yellow perch are the primary targets of smallmouth.
“Finding perch schools will be key,” Gostenik said. “That’s what the bigger bass are eating.”
Also, early September is a time when a lot of the baitfish migrate to the rivers, and bass will follow them.
“From the first full moon in August and into October, the rivers become a player,” Zona said. “We haven’t seen many tournaments in September, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the mouth of the Detroit River becomes a big factor this time. When the bait is moving into the river mouth, you don’t get on schools of 20 bass — there are schools of 200 there, if conditions are right.”
Tournament anglers will take off daily from Metropark in Harrison Township at 7 a.m. The first two days, weigh-ins will be held at Metropark at 3 p.m., but on Day 3, only the Top 12 finalists will compete, and the weigh-in will be held at Bass Pro Shops in Auburn Hills beginning at 4:15 p.m.