In 1982, British punk rockers, The Clash, released a catchy tune, Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The song’s album title: Combat Rock.
A fitting allusion on Championship Sunday at the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River, as a few of the top-10 anglers will face nothing short of hand-to-hand, if not bow-to-wave, combat with Lake Ontario.
With a weather forecast indicating 10- to 20-mph southwest winds and brutally rough water on the easternmost Great Lake, several anglers have opted to stay inside the protected St. Lawrence River, while 3-day leader Paul Mueller, Chris Johnston and Clark Wendlandt made the decision to go directly to Lake O.
Who chose best will be revealed at today’s final weigh-ins, but for now, we can, at least, consider the calculations.
For starters, there are plenty of fish in the river — smallmouth and largemouth — but it’s generally understood that average fish weights are better in the lake. That’s because the massive volume of Great Lakes water pushing toward the St. Lawrence necks down as it enters the river and accelerates the current.
A fish that lives its life fighting swift water burns more calories than one that sits on a rock pile and moves with relative leisure. That being said, today’s decision — at least for those at the top of the standings — comes down to quality vs. quantity.
Fishing Time: Days 1-2 and the first half of Day 3 gifted lake anglers with surprisingly calm conditions that allowed competitors to reach their spots with ease and relocate at will. This morning required more running time, as finalists wisely balanced enthusiasm with safety.
As the day progresses and conditions likely deteriorate, efficiency will become more challenged and that typically decreases those precious seconds of accurate presentation to the fish that win tournaments.
If the rough water becomes too limiting, we might see is anglers trading their preferred areas for the leeward sides of Lake Ontario islands such as Grenadier, where respectable fish may be more easily accessed.
Electronics: Bow rise can interrupt sonar returns. This makes it considerably more difficult to monitor bottom structure and identify fish.
Accuracy: Pinpointing isolated rock piles and breaks takes skill in calm conditions. Add relentless waves to the equation and it becomes harder to put the bait where you want it to go. Increasing dropshot weight size helps, but the meddling force of big water cannot be overstated.
Time to Eat: Battling big water is no fun, but increased subsurface current rings the dinner bell for opportunistic predators that make their living by taking advantage of displaced forage.
A washing machine upstairs means a dinner buffet downstairs.
The Daymaker: This week has seen several smallmouth in the 5-pound range, with Mueller boating a 7-pound, 13-ounce Day-1 smallmouth that currently stands as the tournament’s biggest fish. Such brown beasts are rare, but on a day when conditions may decrease productivity, fortunes may rise or fall on one big bite.
The Big Finish: Bassmaster Elites don’t use dip nets, so they either boat flip or scoop their fish. The light line tactics most are employing make boat side scooping the right call for the larger fish. Big smallmouth seldom make this an easy task, but doing so while rocking in angry water could get dicey today.