How-To

Erie’s winning strategies

Take a peek into the tackleboxes of some of Erie’s best anglers.

<p> 	That the recent Bass Pro Shops Northern Open on Lake Erie out of Sandusky, Ohio, was dominated by a drop shot should come as no surprise. When it comes to Great Lakes smallmouth bass fishing, the drop shot has become the bread-and-butter bait of almost every angler. Devastating on a vertical presentation for sighted sonar smallies, the drop shot also works well cast short distances from the boat. Drop shotting was far from the only effective presentation, however. Here's a look at how the top 12 finishers caught all their fish over the course of the Northern Open tournament, from 12th-place Kyle Fox to winner Nate Wellman. It’s an eye-opening peek into the tackle boxes of some of Erie’s best anglers.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - That the recent Bass Pro Shops Northern Open on Lake Erie out of Sandusky, Ohio, was dominated by a drop shot should come as no surprise. When it comes to Great Lakes smallmouth bass fishing, the drop shot has become the bread-and-butter bait of almost every angler. Devastating on a vertical presentation for sighted sonar smallies, the drop shot also works well cast short distances from the boat. Drop shotting was far from the only effective presentation, however. Here's a look at how the top 12 finishers caught all their fish over the course of the Northern Open tournament, from 12th-place Kyle Fox to winner Nate Wellman. It’s an eye-opening peek into the tackle boxes of some of Erie’s best anglers.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Kyle Fox tossed Strike King Coffee Tubes in watermelon/gold flake on a 5/16-ounce jighead on Lake Erie in the most recent Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Kyle Fox tossed Strike King Coffee Tubes in watermelon/gold flake on a 5/16-ounce jighead on Lake Erie in the most recent Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Fox weighed in 49 pounds, 14 ounces to finish 12<sup>th</sup> on Lake Erie. He caught most of his fish targeting specific spots on the tops of rocky humps that had schools of fish he found in practice. </p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Fox weighed in 49 pounds, 14 ounces to finish 12th on Lake Erie. He caught most of his fish targeting specific spots on the tops of rocky humps that had schools of fish he found in practice.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Art Ferguson’s name is almost synonymous with tubes, so it should come as no surprise that the Great Lake’s guide was throwing them on Erie. His Provider Performance Series tubes and tube jigs accounted for all of his fish. Interestingly, Ferguson was actually using most of the reject tube heads from his business – he sells the good ones. “Lots of guys were throwing heavier stuff, but I was using 1/4-ounce most of the time, working it real slowly over structure,” Ferguson said. “I did more dragging, making a long cast. I was trying to cover water. The fish seemed to move up and off the reef, so I figured if I keep moving I will intercept them somewhere.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Art Ferguson’s name is almost synonymous with tubes, so it should come as no surprise that the Great Lake’s guide was throwing them on Erie. His Provider Performance Series tubes and tube jigs accounted for all of his fish. Interestingly, Ferguson was actually using most of the reject tube heads from his business – he sells the good ones. “Lots of guys were throwing heavier stuff, but I was using 1/4-ounce most of the time, working it real slowly over structure,” Ferguson said. “I did more dragging, making a long cast. I was trying to cover water. The fish seemed to move up and off the reef, so I figured if I keep moving I will intercept them somewhere.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Ferguson caught 51 pounds, 6 ounces and finished 11<sup>th</sup> overall. He was in good position until the final day, when he only brought in 12 pounds, 10 ounces. “This morning, I was zipping up my zipper when a fish bit,” Ferguson said. “I tried to set the hook, but a 2.5- or 3-pounder came off not long after that. That probably cost me 1,500 bucks. I’m not proud of it, but it happened.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Ferguson caught 51 pounds, 6 ounces and finished 11th overall. He was in good position until the final day, when he only brought in 12 pounds, 10 ounces. “This morning, I was zipping up my zipper when a fish bit,” Ferguson said. “I tried to set the hook, but a 2.5- or 3-pounder came off not long after that. That probably cost me 1,500 bucks. I’m not proud of it, but it happened.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	David Reault caught all of his fish on a drop shot, using a Jackall Crosstail Shad in Black Weenie to catch most of his fish. He used a standard ½-ounce weight, but went away from the norm with a two-foot leader between hook and weight. “I keep hearing guys that run them shorter, but they work well for me long,” Reault said. “All my co-anglers were making them longer.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - David Reault caught all of his fish on a drop shot, using a Jackall Crosstail Shad in Black Weenie to catch most of his fish. He used a standard ½-ounce weight, but went away from the norm with a two-foot leader between hook and weight. “I keep hearing guys that run them shorter, but they work well for me long,” Reault said. “All my co-anglers were making them longer.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Reault caught 56 pounds, 3 ounces and finished in 10<sup>th</sup> place for the tournament and weighed in every fish on a drop shot. “I like to throw a jerkbait and throw some other stuff for smallmouth,” Reault said. “But with the algae bloom it locked me into the drop shot.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Reault caught 56 pounds, 3 ounces and finished in 10th place for the tournament and weighed in every fish on a drop shot. “I like to throw a jerkbait and throw some other stuff for smallmouth,” Reault said. “But with the algae bloom it locked me into the drop shot.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Brian Metry was one of the few anglers to rely almost solely on a deep-running crankbait. He found success with a Jack-It Products Deep Runner 600. “I was running it along a shelf and once it dropped down a couple feet, they would hit it as it came out into the open,” Metry said. “I was burning it and it was so much work, I got blisters on my hands. But when there’s no wind, that’s what you have to do.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Brian Metry was one of the few anglers to rely almost solely on a deep-running crankbait. He found success with a Jack-It Products Deep Runner 600. “I was running it along a shelf and once it dropped down a couple feet, they would hit it as it came out into the open,” Metry said. “I was burning it and it was so much work, I got blisters on my hands. But when there’s no wind, that’s what you have to do.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Metry finished in ninth place with 56 pounds, 3 ounces. The key ingredient in his success was having the frame of mind and confidence to stick with the crankbait even when it was hard work. “Once you commit to it, you have to stick with it,” Metry said. “I’m full blast on my trolling motor and I’m full blast cranking. That first half hour, you are aching but you have to push through it and keep cranking.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Metry finished in ninth place with 56 pounds, 3 ounces. The key ingredient in his success was having the frame of mind and confidence to stick with the crankbait even when it was hard work. “Once you commit to it, you have to stick with it,” Metry said. “I’m full blast on my trolling motor and I’m full blast cranking. That first half hour, you are aching but you have to push through it and keep cranking.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Derek Remitz fished a drop shot with a Yamamoto Shad Shape worm in Natural Shad and a 3/8-ounce weight on the end. Like Reault, he went with a longer leader, probably close to 3 feet. “That’s something I remember from Buffalo,” Remitz said. “And it seemed to help with the drum – instead of catching 40, I only caught 20.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Derek Remitz fished a drop shot with a Yamamoto Shad Shape worm in Natural Shad and a 3/8-ounce weight on the end. Like Reault, he went with a longer leader, probably close to 3 feet. “That’s something I remember from Buffalo,” Remitz said. “And it seemed to help with the drum – instead of catching 40, I only caught 20.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Remitz was close to the lead after the first two days, but struggled on a tougher final day. His 56-pound, 10-ounce total was enough for eighth place.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Remitz was close to the lead after the first two days, but struggled on a tougher final day. His 56-pound, 10-ounce total was enough for eighth place.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	John Devries caught his biggest bass, a 6-pound smallmouth, on a tube and 3/8-ounce custom poured “pill head” jighead that he makes himself. He orders a light-wire hook from Japan that takes a month to get in. The rest of his fish came on a drop shot with either a Gulp 3-inch minnow or a Strike King Super Finesse Worm in the Easy Money color. “It was really that easy,” Devries said.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - John Devries caught his biggest bass, a 6-pound smallmouth, on a tube and 3/8-ounce custom poured “pill head” jighead that he makes himself. He orders a light-wire hook from Japan that takes a month to get in. The rest of his fish came on a drop shot with either a Gulp 3-inch minnow or a Strike King Super Finesse Worm in the Easy Money color. “It was really that easy,” Devries said.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Devries finished in seventh place with a weight of 58 pounds, 3 ounces that included a 26-pound bag on Day Two, the biggest of the tournament. “I caught all those fish in 15 minutes,” Devries said. “I was dancing a jig on the front of the boat. I played football in college and I never got as excited as that. I had to sit down for a minute to recover.” The 6-pound kicker he caught that day came “cracking” a tube up off the bottom.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Devries finished in seventh place with a weight of 58 pounds, 3 ounces that included a 26-pound bag on Day Two, the biggest of the tournament. “I caught all those fish in 15 minutes,” Devries said. “I was dancing a jig on the front of the boat. I played football in college and I never got as excited as that. I had to sit down for a minute to recover.” The 6-pound kicker he caught that day came “cracking” a tube up off the bottom.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	The most productive bait for Kyle Kempkers was a prototype Strike King Perfect Plastic bait that isn’t even out yet. “They don’t even have a full name,” Kempkers said. “It’s a KVD thing – a cross between a finesse worm and a leech. I would say the color is green pumpkin with blue flake. That blue flake was the key.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - The most productive bait for Kyle Kempkers was a prototype Strike King Perfect Plastic bait that isn’t even out yet. “They don’t even have a full name,” Kempkers said. “It’s a KVD thing – a cross between a finesse worm and a leech. I would say the color is green pumpkin with blue flake. That blue flake was the key.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Kempkers finished sixth with 58 pounds, 8 ounces and caught all but one fish he weighed in on the new Strike King plastic bait fished on a drop shot. He used a 3/8-ounce or a 1/2-ounce weight depending on the wind.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Kempkers finished sixth with 58 pounds, 8 ounces and caught all but one fish he weighed in on the new Strike King plastic bait fished on a drop shot. He used a 3/8-ounce or a 1/2-ounce weight depending on the wind.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	From left to right, Kurt Dove used an Optimum Wacky Shad, Gulp! Goby in Mango Magic and Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm in grey on his drop shot rig. He threw those three baits on 33-pound Toray Finesse Braid  with a 6-foot leader made from 8-pound Toray Blackwater fluorocarbon line. “When the fish hit a certain way when you are fishing vertically, they just suck it in and you need to feel the difference in weight,” Dove said. “I caught two times as many fish as my co-angler and I think it was because I felt my bites better.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - From left to right, Kurt Dove used an Optimum Wacky Shad, Gulp! Goby in Mango Magic and Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm in grey on his drop shot rig. He threw those three baits on 33-pound Toray Finesse Braid with a 6-foot leader made from 8-pound Toray Blackwater fluorocarbon line. “When the fish hit a certain way when you are fishing vertically, they just suck it in and you need to feel the difference in weight,” Dove said. “I caught two times as many fish as my co-angler and I think it was because I felt my bites better.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Dove caught back-to-back 20-pound stringers to end the tournament and finished in fifth place with 58 pounds, 12 ounces. Detecting strikes was a big part of Dove’s success. Part of that was his rod, a 703 Powell rod that has a “good tip to detect strikes and the backbone to fight big smallmouth.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Dove caught back-to-back 20-pound stringers to end the tournament and finished in fifth place with 58 pounds, 12 ounces. Detecting strikes was a big part of Dove’s success. Part of that was his rod, a 703 Powell rod that has a “good tip to detect strikes and the backbone to fight big smallmouth.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Chris Malone used a drop shot almost exclusively on Lake Erie, with both a Jackall Crosstail Shad in green pumpkin candy and a Gulp! 3-inch minnow in Smelt and Emerald Shiner as bait. He used a 3/8-ounce weight with a maximum of 10 inches between the weight and lure. “I try to keep it close to the bottom,” Malone said.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Chris Malone used a drop shot almost exclusively on Lake Erie, with both a Jackall Crosstail Shad in green pumpkin candy and a Gulp! 3-inch minnow in Smelt and Emerald Shiner as bait. He used a 3/8-ounce weight with a maximum of 10 inches between the weight and lure. “I try to keep it close to the bottom,” Malone said.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Malone eclipsed the 20-pound mark on the first two days, but “only” brought in 19 on the final day to finish fourth with 60-pounds, 8-ounces.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Malone eclipsed the 20-pound mark on the first two days, but “only” brought in 19 on the final day to finish fourth with 60-pounds, 8-ounces.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Michael Murphy had three baits that worked for him. One was an Ima Beast Hunter, a deep diving crankbait in a perch color that he used on sunny, calmer days to imitate a goby coming off a ledge. He also used a Reins tube in came and green pumpkin, but ran out of camo after catching so many smallmouth. The tube was his big fish bait after he caught a solid limit. The last part of his arsenal was a drop shot with a Tabu Whip Tail Worm in Watermelon/Black and 3/8-ounce Reins Tungsten Drop Shot Weight.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Michael Murphy had three baits that worked for him. One was an Ima Beast Hunter, a deep diving crankbait in a perch color that he used on sunny, calmer days to imitate a goby coming off a ledge. He also used a Reins tube in came and green pumpkin, but ran out of camo after catching so many smallmouth. The tube was his big fish bait after he caught a solid limit. The last part of his arsenal was a drop shot with a Tabu Whip Tail Worm in Watermelon/Black and 3/8-ounce Reins Tungsten Drop Shot Weight.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Murphy landed 22 pounds, 2 ounces on the final day to jump into third place overall with 61 pounds for the three-day event. He credited his Denali Norwood Series rod for the sensitivity it offered when fishing the drop shot or tube. “You could tell the difference between a goby pecking at your bait or a drum or smallmouth. Instead of wasting time with catching drum like so many people did here, I shook them off and ended up with more fishing time.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Murphy landed 22 pounds, 2 ounces on the final day to jump into third place overall with 61 pounds for the three-day event. He credited his Denali Norwood Series rod for the sensitivity it offered when fishing the drop shot or tube. “You could tell the difference between a goby pecking at your bait or a drum or smallmouth. Instead of wasting time with catching drum like so many people did here, I shook them off and ended up with more fishing time.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Jared Rhode found the best bait as a Gulp! Goby in Mango Magic and he fished it on a drop shot with a 1/2-ounce weight and a 12-inch leader between the bait and his weight. “They were feeding on gobies,” Rhode said. “So we went to the bigger goby to match the hatch.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Jared Rhode found the best bait as a Gulp! Goby in Mango Magic and he fished it on a drop shot with a 1/2-ounce weight and a 12-inch leader between the bait and his weight. “They were feeding on gobies,” Rhode said. “So we went to the bigger goby to match the hatch.”
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	The bait change paid off and Rhode came back with a 22-pound, 11-ounce bag Saturday, the biggest of the day, and he finished second overall, less than 2 pounds behind the winner. </p>
Photo: Rob Russow - The bait change paid off and Rhode came back with a 22-pound, 11-ounce bag Saturday, the biggest of the day, and he finished second overall, less than 2 pounds behind the winner.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Nate Wellman won the tournament on Erie with a two-pronged approach. He fished a drop shot when he saw fish on his sonar or when he was targeting specific areas and a crankbait to cover water. He used both a Gulp! 3-inch Minnow in black shad and a Poor Boys Erie Darter in Mango Magic  on the drop shot and a deep-diving prototype ABT Lures crankbait in a shad color he had them paint for him.</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Nate Wellman won the tournament on Erie with a two-pronged approach. He fished a drop shot when he saw fish on his sonar or when he was targeting specific areas and a crankbait to cover water. He used both a Gulp! 3-inch Minnow in black shad and a Poor Boys Erie Darter in Mango Magic on the drop shot and a deep-diving prototype ABT Lures crankbait in a shad color he had them paint for him.
<p> 	 </p> <p> 	Wellman weighed 63 pounds, 11 ounces over the course of the three-day tournament to win by nearly two pounds. His best areas included one he nicknamed the “Walleye Hole” because of all the walleye he and his father caught in practice. “I was keying on fish I saw on my sonar and isolated boulders on the shoal I was fishing,” Wellman said. “With the crankbait, I would tie it onto 15-pound McCoy fluorocarbon so I could burn it over the rocks.”</p>
Photo: Rob Russow - Wellman weighed 63 pounds, 11 ounces over the course of the three-day tournament to win by nearly two pounds. His best areas included one he nicknamed the “Walleye Hole” because of all the walleye he and his father caught in practice. “I was keying on fish I saw on my sonar and isolated boulders on the shoal I was fishing,” Wellman said. “With the crankbait, I would tie it onto 15-pound McCoy fluorocarbon so I could burn it over the rocks.”