Pundits’ Picks: Detroit River - Major League Fishing
Pundits’ Picks: Detroit River
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Pundits’ Picks: Detroit River

Undefeated Simmons remains leader; for pack of pundits on the bubble, Detroit River final shot at championship
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FLW Outdoors presents Pundits' Picks
July 10, 2007 • MLF • Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit

Tournament site

Welcome to smallmouth country. Officially, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour site for the sixth and final regular-season event of 2007 is the Detroit River, but for all practical purposes this is a Lake Erie tournament. Anglers will take off and weigh in out of Detroit for festivities’ sake, and some may even fish the river or head up to Lake St. Clair, but most will head down to the open waters of big, shallow Lake Erie in search of its storied smallmouth population. This is a different kind of fishery than the tour-level pros are accustomed to; instead of casting the shallow banks for largemouths, the top bags of fish will come from dragging deep, open water for smallmouths. While the bass population is extremely plentiful, it takes a certain kind of knowledge to know exactly where to catch tournament-winning fish in Lake Erie – it is, after all a Great Lake and is huge – which is why a lot of pundits and you fantasy-fishing challengers will lean on local pros in their picks for this one. Even if some of the pro-level out-of-towners get on some big fish in practice, a little wind on big Lake Erie come tournament time can be enough to pound the will to win out of even the heartiest tour veterans. That’s where the locals’ knowledge of the lake and familiarity with rough water comes in handy. The FLW Tour hasn’t ever officially ventured out onto Lake Erie before, but one look at any Stren Series or Wal-Mart BFL results from this venue and certain names scream out at you in big red letters – and they’re almost all local Erie veterans. However, don’t forget the last time the FLW Tour visited the Motor City, way back in 2001. The anglers only got to fish St. Clair at that one, but the boys from below the Mason-Dixon Line managed to take the locals to school and Larry Nixon came away with his first FLW Tour win.


Wal-Mart FLW Tour stop No. 6

Detroit River, Detroit, Mich.

July 12-15

Editor’s note: After this tournament, the top six pundits – ranked first by record and then by total score, if needed – will advance to pick the Forrest Wood Cup. And there are a lot of pundits with 3-2 and 2-3 records vying for those last three coveted playoff spots. The top pundit score from the championship will win the 2007 Pundit of the Year title.

Jennifer Simmons

Record: 5-0
Points: 3,527

FLW write Jennifer Simmons
FLW pro Clark Wendlandt Clark Wendlandt
FLW pro
Cedar Park, Texas

Record: 2-3
Points: 3,528

1) DAVID REAULT.I have covered this local stick at Stren Series events on the Detroit River, and with his name on the roster for the FLW Tour event, competitors should be scared. I tried to figure up how many of his 25 top-10 finishes came on the river or on Lake St. Clair, but I kept losing count.
2) JAY YELAS.No one can close the deal like this guy. He finishes in the top 10 better than 25 percent of the time, and he has another Angler of the Year title he’d like to wrap up. I’m picking him to finish well here and add yet another trophy to his ever-expanding collection, this one for AOY.
3) JOE BALOG.I am trying to redeem myself with Mr. Balog since I once screamed at him for dumping water on my reporter’s notebook. However, that tournament was a Detroit River Stren, and Balog was in the top 10, which is where he is a lot of the time on this fishery. Perhaps he can forgive me for screaming since I picked him to do well at this tournament, and if he earns me some pundit points, I can forgive him for ruining my notepad.
4) STEVE CLAPPER.This guy must have some sort of heavy-duty shelf at home to show off all of his Detroit River/Lake Erie trophies; he has numerous wins here and countless top-10 finishes. The fact of the matter is that when a lot of people think of fishing these particular lakes and rivers, they think of Steve Clapper. If he helps me go undefeated in my Pundits’ Picks, I will be the one doing the clapping.
5) SHINICHI FUKAE.I have picked this guy every tournament but one, and naturally that would be the one where he top-10ed. Either way, Fukae has earned me some serious points this season, but he’s also earned himself some serious points this season. He’s 26 points behind Yelas in the AOY rankings. Go get `em, Shin.
1) KEVIN VIDA.Vida has had a lot of success on Erie. I think he likes the fall of the year better, but I like his chances this week.
2) CHIP HARRISON.I like the Northern connection for this tournament. It will pay to have experience on Lake Erie.
3) ART FERGUSON III.I think Art will fish Lake St. Clair or one of the rivers, so I kind of doubt that he will win. But with a really windy final day, he might just pull it off.
4) JIM TUTT.Jim has a lot of experience in tournaments on Erie. He is from Texas, but I still look for him to do well.
5) DAVE LEFEBRE.Lefebro has the experience, he is crazy, he has no regard for his body (which is what it takes on Erie), and he is probably one of the best in the country. I like his chances this week.
Gary Mortenson

Record: 4-1
Points: 3,574

FLW writer Gary Mortenson
FLW pro Carl Svebek III Carl Svebek
FLW pro
Siloam Springs, Ark.

Record: 3-2
Points: 3,390

1) KEVIN VIDA.Mr. Banana Boat has won tournaments on the Detroit River before, he hails from Michigan, and the current venue definitely fits his strengths. In addition, he owes me (and plenty of other people) a round of drinks from our last social gathering, so I’ll consider a top-five finish as partial repayment. But more importantly, if everything goes as planned, it’s difficult to find any reasonable scenario where Vida stumbles here.
2) DAVE LEFEBRE.Lefebre has been all over the map this 2007 FLW Tour season. However, that being said, I firmly believe that the Keebler Kid will have a bounce-back tourney on the Detroit River/Lake Erie. Growing up in Pennsylvania, Lefebre is well-versed on the techniques and strategy that will be required at this venue to net a top-five finish.
3) JAY YELAS.Obviously, he’s the hottest angler on tour right now. He does well on river systems and has plenty of experience. Finally, if he wants to hold on to the top spot in the 2007 FLW Tour AOY contest, he’s going to need a good showing. Simply put: A great angler with plenty of motivation equals a winning combination.
4) LARRY NIXON.Anywhere there are smallmouth bass to be had, you can never count Nixon out. My guess is that he’s been salivating over this venue for quite some time. And as Rob Newell’s recent online feature “Lessons from Larry” attests, the wily veteran is way more sophisticated in his tournament preparation than you’d ever guess from an “old school” legend.
5) JIM MOYNAGH.While Moynagh technically hails from Carver, Minn., this is about as close to home-lake fishing as it gets for him. The combination of the Great Lakes, river fishing and smallmouth bass make this a Jim Moynagh grab-bag tourney all the way.
1) STEVE CLAPPER.I don’t know Steve, but the last few times at the Detroit River he dominated. He has a track record on Erie like Tiger Woods has in golf. I look for him to have big weights each day. He will be hard to beat.
2) KEVIN VIDA.A great guy who also has a great track record on the river. I am sure he has done all of his homework and will find a way to bring in good catches each day.
3) DAVE LEFEBRE.The Keebler Kid will be in high gear. This guy is strong on any lake, but especially on Northern lakes that produce big smallmouths. He will bring in big catches and will be one to shoot for in Detroit.
4) DION HIBDON.Fishing a Stren Series years ago, I remember Dion catching big smallmouths each day. I believe he just loves this fishery, and confidence goes a long way in such a big tournament.
5) VIC VATALARO.Vic, a great fisherman on Erie, will catch some big smallmouths in this tournament. The experience he has gained over the last several years on tour combined with a tournament on the Detroit River means big fish in his livewell. Look for him to have a great tournament.
Rob Newell
Contributing editor
FLW Outdoors

Record: 4-1
Points: 3,557

FLW writer Rob Newell
FLW pro Dave Lefebre Dave Lefebre
FLW pro
Erie, Pa.

Record: 0-5
Points: 3,122

1) BRYAN COATES.I’m going to go ahead and admit that I cheated in my picks this time around. I called an old Pundits’ Picks veteran from up Michigan way – a Zany character who has since moved on to big-time television – for a little help with my Detroit River picks. Anyway, the Zenith of my picks is Coates. I covered him on Erie when he won in Cleveland, and I know what he can do even when the wind blows.
2) JOE BALOG.Another Erie big stick who is always in the Zone and will help me Zip up through the ranks in Pundits’ Picks.
3) STEVE CLAPPER.The legend that taught many of the young bucks in the Lake Erie Zip code how to fish in giant waves for giant smallmouths.
4) DAVID REAULT.In smallmouth country, the man rises like a Zeppelin to the top of the standings.
5) DAVE LEFEBRE.Another pro who has a Zest for big water and big smallies. Thanks for the help, Z.
1) TREVOR JANCASZ.I was going to pick my good old buddy Vic Vatalaro to win, but I’ve picked him a couple times this year and it seems to destroy him. I don’t want to jinx him here, so I shall pick the Janxster in his place. It’s his first FLW tournament fishing as a pro, and wouldn’t it be special if he pulled it off? I just hope his co-angler doesn’t get into his head.
2) DAVE LEFEBRE.Obviously, I have proven to the world how great I am at these Pundits’ Picks. I’m 0-5 this season, I believe. Stout. Anyway, I have nothing to lose in this event, and I’m prepared to go a long way, weather permitting. If I can get there and get back on time four days in a row (yeah, right), I will win.
3) CLARK WENDLANDT.He’s been Erie-ly quiet this week, so he must be on the mother lode.
4) CHAD MORGENTHALER.Gut pick here. I have no idea how he’s done here in the past, but it seems to be his kind of deal. Plus, I saw him in a very good area one morning in practice. He’s going to smash `em.
5) JAY YELAS.I think Jay will blow the AOY race out of the water with a top-10 on Erie. He’s on an incredible roll, and I’m sure he’ll crack the code on our big Lake Erie smallies.
Brett Carlson

Record: 3-2
Points: 3,476

FLW editor Brett Carlson
FLW pro David Dudley David Dudley
FLW pro
Lynchburg, Va.

Record: 2-3
Points: 3,617

1) SCOTT DOBSON.Just like many pro anglers, I’ve decided to play it safe for the final FLW Tour qualifier. Only the top six pundits from the regular season move on to the championship, and I’m firmly on the bubble right now. I’ll start with Dobson, a Michigan angler who has been looking forward to this event all season.
2) KEVIN VIDA.Few have the track record with brown brass that Vida does. When everyone else has 15 pounds in their bags, Vida seemingly always finds a few 5-pounders to get him in the 18-pound range. It’s true, the Clare, Mich., pro has five BFL victories on the Erie/Detroit River/Lake St. Clair system.
3) VIC VATALARO.Vatalaro’s been enjoying the best FLW Tour season of his young career, having already earned over $75,000. He’s got the knowledge of a local and the tour-level experience necessary to take this tournament. Plus, he’s won here three times in the Stren Series.
4) JOE BALOG.It will be interesting to see what Balog can do against the cream of the crop. The guy is a fish-catching machine who is crazy enough to run across the entire lake in 10-footers. Lake Erie is his home, but this is also his first FLW Tour event. When the rest of the field bunches up, look for Balog to make the long run in search of winning fish.
5) STEVE CLAPPER.No picks list for Lake Erie would be complete without Steve Clapper. With roughly 30 top-10 finishes on this fishery, I’m feeling pretty good about this one. The only concern is that this is Clapper’s first tournament against the big boys on the FLW Tour. Apologies to Art Ferguson, who narrowly missed the list.
1) STEVE CLAPPER.I am going against my own picks policy by picking a local, but I will do it on this one. I don’t know this guy, but stats speak for themselves. As long as you know certain spots, you don’t necessarily have to be a good fisherman to catch them, you just have to know the spots. And I think he knows them.
2) VIC VATALARO.Again, I will have to go with the stats here. This guy will also know holes to go to, and as long as he can get there, I think he will do well. If you can get your bait on the right spot, these stupid, dumb, idiot fish will bite. It is no-skill fishing.
3) DAVE LEFEBRE.I think he will feel right at home fishing here. He, too, will know some great spots and has the drive in him. No matter what the wind does, he will buckle up and go, which is the best thing to do.
4) KEVIN VIDA.For my fourth pick, I am going with a guy who, I think, knows a lot of spots; he has fished these waters a lot. I also think that, no matter the weather, he will be prepared to catch them.
5) DAVID DUDLEY.I like my odds against these stupid-dumb Northern fish that seem to have brain freeze from the lake’s ice-overs in the wintertime. After catching a fish and keeping it out of the water for a minute and a half to weigh it, I put it back and caught it again five seconds later. It had the same quarter-size scar in its left gill and a tear in its right lip. I just hope I will find enough big dumb ones like that one to do well.
Patrick Baker

Record: 2-3
Points: 3,633

FLW writer Patrick Baker
FLW pro Randy Blaukat Randy Blaukat
FLW pro
Lamar, Mo.

Record: 2-3
Points: 2,934

1) KEVIN VIDA.Vida is a smallmouth master of the North with a serious track record on Lake Erie and its sidearm, the Detroit River, host of this event. Though this isn’t necessarily a standout year for Vida on the tour, he started off the season with an impressive 11th-place finish at Lake Travis. I look for him to bookend the 2007 season with a high finish in his territory.
2) JOE BALOG.The Detroit River/Erie fishery is known for being a playground for the healthy host of local Great Lakes masters. Balog is one of the best; if you don’t know his name yet – he’s not a regular on the FLW Tour – you will by mid-July.
3) STEVE CLAPPER.There is arguably no other FLW Outdoors pro with as sterling of a history on Erie and the Detroit River as this wise and wily veteran from the North. Look for many big sticks on tour to fall victim to the Clapper on his turf.
4) BRYAN COATES.Though he hasn’t been on the block as long as Clapper, this up-and-coming pro has had his way with Stren Series and BFL events on the Detroit River as well as any others that take off from any Great Lakes marina. Coates is going to come suited up for this rare FLW Tour appearance.
5) VIC VATALARO.Not only is this smallmouth maven a master north of the Mason-Dixon Line, he’s enjoying a great season on tour. He’ll be ready to show his peers what he can do on familiar waters.
1) TOM BURNS.Burns is a largemouth angler. When a 20-mph wind on day one turns Erie into a mini version of The Perfect Storm, most of the pros will be crying for their mommies with land nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, Burns will be ripping blacks in some protected creek.
2) DANNY CORREIA.Danny has had a lot of experience on the eastern basin of Erie. He knows the three keys to doing well here: A) not getting motion sickness, B) convincing his co-angler they won’t end up like the Edmund Fitzgerald, and C) dragging a tube mindlessly while you sit down on the front deck, drifting in 10-foot waves.
3) MARK DAVIS.Mark will do well here for a couple reasons. He is on the mysterious phenomenon known as a “roll,” and he is a slow, methodical, gifted angler. Remember, you don’t have to be able to cast to do well on Erie. Just toss it behind the boat and pretend your catfishing.
4) CLARK WENDLANDT.I’m predicting Clark to do well here if we get the wind like I feel we will. You won’t see him with a tube or a drop-shot, but when it blows hard, they will eat his spinnerbaits and jerkbaits.
5) DAVE LEFEBRE.Dave has a lot of history here, and he told me a story of fishing a tournament on Erie a few years ago. Giant waves were tearing all the equipment off his Ranger, and he and his partner thought they might not see their families again. This is what the anglers who fish here will have to face if they intend to do well on Erie.
Art Berry
FLW pro
Hemet, Calif.

Record: 2-3
Points: 3,415

FLW pro Art Berry
FLW writer Jeff Schroeder Jeff Schroeder

Record: 1-4
Points: 3,251

1) JOE BALOG.This will prove to be a locals-only tournament, and this is my favorite pick.
2) STEVE CLAPPER.Another local hero that will tilt the scales with monster bronzebacks.
3) VIC VATALARO.Having a strong year and, with the last derby at home, it should be a nice way to finish the year.
4) ART FERGUSON III.A St. Clair resident and smallmouth specialist, he’s been licking his chops since the schedule came out last year.
5) GARY GINTER.The dark horse of all dark horses straight from the BFL Buckeye Divison. This is the exclamation point of my locals-only tournament.
1) STEVE CLAPPER.There are two reasons this tournament is laden with local favorites: 1) More than most tournament venues, Lake Erie’s style of bass fishing lends itself to those with the best local knowledge. It’s all about deep-water structure fishing for smallies on a vast inland sea, which is more akin to a walleye tournament than the shallow, bank-pounding, grass fishing seen at more conventional bass tourneys. Knowing which humps hold the biggest smallies is crucial, and having the wherewithal not only to find those humps, but also to withstand the spine-crunching boat ride it takes to get out to them on big, bad Lake Erie will determine the top money winners. In this sense, those who fish this lake regularly and are accustomed to its rigors have a decided advantage. 2) Simply put, there are a lot more locals signed up for this event. It’s the last FLW event of the regular season, so a fair number of slots opened up as low-seeded tour regulars dropped out. Not surprisingly, lots of Michigan and Ohio guys have happily jumped in to fill out the field – each one of them drooling over the chance to cherry-pick a cool $200,000 check on their home water. Bottom line: I’m going with an all-local lineup for this one. That said, there’s one particular Lake Erie local who should – and will – be on everybody’s list: Steve Clapper. I’m pretty sure the wily veteran out of Lima, Ohio, has never had a bad event on Lake Erie. While his tournament activity seems to have slowed in the last couple years, I don’t imagine that his dominance at Lake Erie has let up at all. There’s a reason that he signed up for this one.
2) KEVIN VIDA.Smallmouths, smallmouths, smallmouths. He’s already won a couple Strens and dominated the BFLs here back in the day, so he gets an automatic nod at this one. Two more things go in Vida’s plus column: He’s an FLW Tour regular, so I don’t think the pressure of the big-time show will get to him as much as some of the other local cherry-pickers, plus he’s on the bubble to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup this year, which gives him extra motivation. Fishing out of the Detroit River as his last chance, you can bet your Banana Boat that he’ll make it to the championship.
3) SCOTT DOBSON.Also an FLW touring pro, Dobson came up big for me last year at Lake Champlain. So this is kind of a reward pick, I guess, if you can call it that. This time, though, I won’t be the only one picking him. And that’s a wise move for everyone playing this game because, after all, did I mention that this is a smallmouth tournament? The feisty ones are Dobson’s bread and butter; he thrives on bronzeback tournaments in Canadian border states.
4) MIKE TROMBLY.This, I hope, is my sleeper vote. He’s cherry-picking this one, and it’s the first FLW Tour entry of his career – which I’ve slowly learned is usually the kiss of death in your picks no matter how local they are. But he’ll be a force this week if he can manage to keep his head on straight. He won the Stren here last year, and every time we hit Lake Erie, there’s quiet Mike making noise in the top 10.
5) BRYAN COATES.There are probably a dozen more local favorites who merit consideration – guys like Joe Balog, Art Ferguson, Miles Johnson, David Hayward, David Reault, Vic Vatalaro and even Trevor Jancasz (who finally decided to grab his deadly shaky-head worm and move to the front of the boat) – but we only get five slots for this list. So the last spot goes to Coates. All he does is fish Lake Erie, and all he does is cash checks there. However, despite all these picks, I’m going on record to say that a local will not win this event. They’ll do well and score some points for us pundits, but it’s going to be a steely-nerved tour veteran of four-day pro-level events who ultimately picks up that $200,000 check. Did somebody say Larry Nixon?


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