Whitney Stephens wins at Lake Erie

SANDUSKY, Ohio — Whitney Stephens’ tournament winning edge came not from a secret lure but a widely used electronic gadget rigged on the front deck of his boat. Knowing how to use it well paid at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate. 
 
Stephens, of Waverly, Ohio, won after three days with a final weight of 65 pounds, 1 ounce. He fished consistently all week, beginning in fifth place and moving to third on Friday. Jeff Lugar of Virginia took second place with 64-8, followed by third-place finisher Jason Root with 64-7. 
 
Stephens relied on his bow-mounted fish finder to pinpoint the location of smallmouth bass holding on isolated rockpiles. Those ranged in depth from the bottom at 28 to 23 feet on the peaks of underwater ridges. The rocks created a buffer of calm water for the bass until baitfish swept by in the current. 
 
“I found the baitfish first and the bass were nearby,” he said. “It would have been nearly impossible to find them without the fish finder.”
 
The electronics proved invaluable due to constantly shifting winds. The direction and velocity shifted each day, causing the bass to relocate their precise position on the rocks.  
 
“It was like starting over every day because the wind made the current shift and reposition the bass," he added.
 
He fished 8 different areas around the bass-rich waters of Pelee Island. Stephens, 
like most other anglers fishing similar patterns, had limited fishing time due to 
rough boating conditions. The trip to his fishing area took one hour each way. 
 
Stephens and the other top anglers used a drop shot rig. To make it he used a 1/2-
ounce VMC Tungsten weight and a size 1 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook. For 
bait he alternated between a Z-Man Lures Jerk Shadz, Jackall Crosstail Shad, and 
Gary Yamamoto Custom Lures Shad Shaped worm. 
 
“I do a lot of ice fishing and it led to a discovery for me this week,” said Stephens. 
“What I found out is tungsten shows up better and is detected more clearly by an 
electronic graph.”
 
To see the weight and lure he made short pitches, not casts, to the rockpiles while 
watching the screen. The high definition features of the unit allowed him to easily 
see the lure, bait and bass. 
 
Before even deciding to fish an area he idled around the rockpiles in search of 
baitfish and bass. If those fish appeared on the graph he stopped, sometimes leaving 
after 15 minutes unless getting a bite. 
 
“I just alternated around all of the spots,” he added.
 
Stephens collected $6,443 and a Triton 19TrX boat with accessories, a Mercury 200 
Pro XS outboard and custom trailer. The package is valued at $45,000. Just as 
important is the automatic berth he received for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic 
presented by GoPro. 
 
Mark Shopene, of Point Pleasant, N.J., took first place in the co-angler division. He 
received a NITRO Z18 boat with accessories, a Mercury 150 Pro XS and custom 
trailer. The package is valued at $30,000. 
 
Shopene fished a drop shot rig on all three days. His partners included Erhardt 
Tulgestka and Jamie Jacobus, whom he fished with on the first and third days. 
 
Finally, the Top 5 anglers from the 2015 Northern Open season received invitations 
to the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series, the top tier of professional bass fishing. 
Unofficially, that list is Adrian Avena, of Vineland, N.J., Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa., 
Shane Lineberger, of Lincolnton, N.C., Matt Vermilyea of Perrysburg, Ohio and John 
Hunter Jr. of Shelbyville, Ky.