There’s nothing better than clear water and big smallmouths, and that’s exactly what the Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Michigan Division plans to deliver this year. The division, which is presented by ARE, is set to open the season July 18 on Lake St. Clair in what should be a heavyweight showdown of smallmouths.
Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine Michigan Division presented by ARE
Lake St. Clair
Harrison Township, Mich.
How the fishery sets up
Though the tournament launches out of St. Clair, anglers have a ton of water to run. They can fish up the St. Clair River almost to Lake Huron or run south into the Detroit River and Lake Erie. St. Clair is not technically a Great Lake, but it is in terms of being a heck of a smallmouth fishery (perhaps the best in the world at the moment).
St. Clair is a fairly flat and shallow lake loaded with grass, rock and sand that smallmouths love to roam near. Both the St. Clair and Detroit rivers in play are somewhat similar, with key current breaks and a mix of highly developed and very remote shoreline. Erie has little to no grass but plenty of shallow sand and rock as well as some truly special offshore rock and shoals that produce in the summer.
For all the fisheries, the focus will be on plentiful and huge smallmouths. Depending on the weather, postspawn or bedding smallmouths could hit the scale. In Erie, the smallies live mostly around rock and sand and chow down on gobies. In St. Clair, perch and shad enter the forage mix, and there’s plenty of grass for the fish to roam around in.
What to expect
With Canadian waters off-limits due to travel restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, anglers will be forced to stay in U.S. waters only, though that shouldn’t damper things too much.
Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro and St. Clair specialist Scott Dobson knows just how stout a fishery St. Clair is no, matter which country’s waters you fish in, and says that 2020 isn’t any different.
“The way St. Clair has been fishing, it’s been phenomenal,” says Dobson. “I went out with my team partner, Kyle Greene, the other day and we had 25 pounds between the two of us. And with the COVID lockdown, I’ve been out with my son from late March until the end of May and we’ve caught countless fish over 5 pounds. So, St. Clair is on fire, and it’s probably the best I’ve ever seen it.”
Even with less water for anglers to pursue on St. Clair, Dobson still believes there’s no reason to run out of the lake. The Michigan side of the lake is plenty big to spread out the field, especially since St. Clair smallmouths tend to be more nomadic than their Great Lakes cousins.
“Anchor Bay, the Mile Roads – the usual places that guys catch them — are all going to be in play,” Dobson explains. “These fish like to roam around and on a place like the Mile Roads where it’s such a huge flat. the guys that pay attention and are meticulous will have a chance for a really big bag.”
On a fishery like St. Clair, where 20-pound limits are hardly something to be proud of, Dobson expects an excellent performance from the lake, though it may not live up to its full potential.
“I’d say 22 pounds, and quite possibly more, will probably win,” he adds. “The fish are that fat and that healthy. There’s always potential for a 25-, 26- or 27-pound bag out there, but for this time of the year, weights like that aren’t that common, but it can absolutely happen.”
Baits and techniques
According to Dobson, expect no surprise on how anglers will catch big smallmouths in this event. Spy baits, deep-diving jerkbaits, tubes, drop-shots and swimbaits should comprise the bulk of the arsenal needed to catch hungry brownies this time of year.