Whenever Bassmaster Elite Series pros head north for a stop in the Great Lakes region of the country, smallmouth bass ride shotgun in pros’ brains while largemouth take the back seat. The season’s sixth stop at Waddington, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence Seaway was no exception.
Many Elites Series pros were smallmouth focused from the moment they arrived in New York – and rightly so. It’s no secret that the hefty smallmouth in the river almost always outweigh the largemouth. As a result, the big brown goby grazers are the stars of the show, leaving little limelight for largemouth. It’s almost as if an admission to targeting largemouth is considered a concession in competition.
If a pro says, “Man, I think I might have to fish for largemouth up here,” his fellow competitors follow up with, “I’m sorry to hear that, bro.”
But after the scales closed on Sunday, there wasn’t much pity for pros Greg Hackney and Brandon Card who rode the less-heralded largemouth to Top 5 finishes.
For the record, Hackney finished third with daily catches of 18-15, 18-8, 16-4 and 19-0, respectively, for a four day total of 72-11. Of his 20 weigh-in bass, 16 were largemouth. He weighed the biggest limit on Day 4 (19-0) all of which were of the green variety.
Brandon Card finished fourth by checking in 19-8, 19-3, 16-12 and 16-15 for a total of 72-6. His mix for the week featured 18 largemouth and only two smallmouth.
Not a bad showing for the lowly largemouth of the St. Lawrence, but in all fairness, the “river only” component of the tournament probably helped these two largemouth loyalists gain a little more real estate in the standings.
Hackney and Card both ended up fishing in the massive Goose Bay area of St. Lawrence. While the competition studied electronics and drifted drop-shots on spinning gear, Hackney and Card pummeled the matted “slop” with flipping sticks and 65-pound braid.
“Going into the event I figured, at best, I might finish in the 30s with a largemouth game plan,” said an elated Card when the event concluded. “So to finish fourth was certainly beyond my expectations.”
Hackney was surprised by the quality of the bigmouths as well.
“Catching smallmouth is not a novelty to me – I fish for the fish that will get me paid, green or brown,” Hackney said. “In practice the smallmouth bite was not strong enough for me to rely on totally, so I started looking shallow for a few green fish to help pad my livewell. I figured if I could catch 14 pounds of largemouth each day first, it would settle me down to go smallmouth fishing. But the largemouth fishing turned out to be better than I expected.”
Interestingly, both pros started the event intent on catching mixed bags, which is why their limits the first two days included a smallmouth or two. Hackney would fish for largemouth in the mornings and then try to cull up with smallmouth in the afternoon. Card, however, took an opposite approach, fishing for smallies in the morning and then going to Goose Bay in the afternoons.
“That frog bite in the mats did not really get cranking until about 12:30 in the afternoon,” Card said. “So I spent the mornings smallmouth fishing.”
But as the tournament wore on, the shallow largemouth patterns definitely became the stronger suit for both anglers and by Day 4 they spent a majority of their time in green fish territory.
“The largemouths were getting it done so I just committed to the area on Day 4 and it was my best day of the week,” Hackney said. “I kind of wish I had done that every day.”
Card, too, regretted spending too much time chasing smallmouth.
“On the last day, I fished for smallies until about 10 o’ clock,” he added. “I was kicking myself for not just going straight to Goose Bay and committing to the area all day.”
Though both pros didn’t fish the same exact areas within Goose Bay, they fished very similar patterns in matted milfoil, which included various mixes of “slop and scum” on the mats.
The descriptions both anglers gave of how good the largemouth fishing was in Goose Bay would give most anglers goose bumps.
“It was some of the best fishing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Card said. “The first day of the tournament I probably had 75 blow-ups on a frog – how can you beat that in terms of having fun?”
If that sounds a little far-fetched, consider that Hackney reported the same kind of numbers on the first day when his water was still untapped.
“I’d say I had 70 bites on a frog the first day – it was unreal,” Hackney concurred. “Most of that flat was 1 to 2 feet of matted milfoil. But there were small depressions in the flat which were maybe a foot or two deeper and that made all the difference. When I got around one of those potholes it was a blow up on every cast.”
Both anglers also noted their number of frog bites dwindled substantially by Day 4.
“I think I finally educated them on that frog,” Hackney laughed. “By the final day I had to do a lot more punching to get bites.”
As for their largemouth tools, Hackney used a new Strike King Poppin’ Perch and hollow-bodied frog, both tied to 65-pound Gamma braid. When he punched, he resorted to a Strike King Rodent on a 6/0 Hack Attack Heavy Cover Flipping Hook topped with a 1-1/4 ounce tungsten weight on his signature series 7-foot, 11-inch Quantum flipping stick.
Brandon Card used a Spro frog on 65-pound test SpiderWire Ultracast braid fish on a 7-foot, 6-inch Abu Garcia heavy action Veracity rod. He punched the mats with a creature bait on a 1-1/2-ounce tungsten weight with a 7-foot, 11-inch heavy action Veritas rod.
“When the event started, I told my buddies I might not make Championship Sunday on largemouth, but at least I’m going to fun fishing for them,” Card added. “As it turned out, I had a ton of fun and made the Top 12 – that’s a pretty good week on the Elite Series.”