TRENTON, Mich. – Lake Erie stole the spotlight on day one of the Walmart FLW Tour Open as the top three pros all opted for the big lake. Day two was a different story as one particular area of Lake St. Clair delivered three giant stringers – the heaviest belonging to Indiana pro Bill McDonald.
Each of the last two days McDonald has started with just one rod on his deck – a drop-shot rig. What he’s doing isn’t anything special – just dragging around plastics in 14 to 16 feet of water. But the area he’s fishing is more than special.
“I just had a phenomenal day,” said McDonald. “The biggest fish in my bag I caught on my very first cast.”
That 5-pound, 10-ounce smallmouth anchored McDonald’s 25-pound, 2-ounce limit and tied as the heaviest bass of the day in the Pro Division.
McDonald said he basically fished one spot and was done at 10:30 this morning, but stuck around to halfway guard the area, which is essentially a flat with scattered rock and grass.
“I would say it’s a 200-yard stretch of water that I’m just drifting through and hitting different waypoints. I’m sharing the area with Larry Nixon but it’s not like we’re bow to bow or anything. Today there were lots minnows and perch in the area and I think that’s helping.”
McDonald has been executing almost flawlessly despite the sheer strength of these giant smallmouths. To date, he’s lost just one fish.
“Everything is clicking, everything is working. I’m happy with how things are going; I’ve never led an FLW Tour event. And I don’t plan to change much either. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I will say that when you can fish with just one or two rods on the deck it really helps your confidence.”
McDonald’s opening-round total was 46 pounds, 11 ounces and he has accumulated nearly a 3-pound lead.
Balog scrambles to retain second
“I had to completely switch water,” Balog said. “I had only one fish in the livewell at 1 p.m. I started close to try and get the jitters out but that didn’t work. I kept moving but nothing was working. Finally I went to a place where I caught zero in practice and loaded the boat – catching five in that one spot. It seems like the bite is better for me in the afternoon.”
Balog continues to target deep structure in 30-some feet of water with a drop-shot and a 5-inch Trigger X minnow. He’ll also occasionally mix in his signature 1-ounce Goby Replica. Today his best five bass weighed 21 pounds even, bringing his two-day total to 43 pounds, 13 ounces.
“I think I’m going to have to keep switching water. But I like fishing Erie when it’s calm. The Erie fish hang on structure and feed on gobies. Fishing in deep water is my forte. When I get a bite it’s usually a good one. The St. Clair fish move around too much.”
McCall moves to third
For the second consecutive day, Chris McCall caught a 21-pound, 6-ounce limit and that consistency moved him from seventh to third. He too is fishing Lake St.Clair and while he’s doing some slower dragging, the majority of his fish are coming from burning a crankbait over water 15 feet deep.
“I equate my pattern to covering water with a rattletrap over a big grass flat on Sam Rayburn,” said the Brookeland, Texas, pro. “This is a long stretch of water and these fish are roaming in the scattered grass. When the bite slows I’ll pick up a tube but most of my fish are coming on the crankbait. Today I found a new spot adjacent to my primary area.”
McCall wouldn’t say what type of crankbait it was, but his father was scouring retail shops and web sites for a particular model after weigh-in.
McCall’s two-day total at the halfway point in the tournament sits at 42-12.
“This is the best lake I’ve ever fished. I am half tempted to move up here. It’s freaking incredible how many big ones are out there. Every time I catch one I see two or three come up with it.”
Fourth-place pro Spencer Shuffield is also fishing in the vicinity of McDonald and Nixon. The company hasn’t seemed to bother him as he caught another 20 pounds, 7 ounces to bring his cumulative weight to 41-15.
“They’re just outside my box,” Shuffield said of McDonald and Nixon. “The mother load is there. It will be won in that spot; I can just about guarantee it. Today big schools of yellow perch were in there and I think more and more bass are funneling in.”
While Shuffield is getting all the action he wants, he’s disappointed with his execution.
“This morning I jumped off three 5-pounders in a row. Then I caught a 5, and then I caught a 3 1/2. These big smallmouths are so hard to get into the boat. There’s enough there to win, it’s just a matter of execution. I should have had 25 pounds today.”
At times the action is so fast Shuffield will swing a fish in and then immediately drop his tube under the boat to catch the fish that were just chasing. This method is permitted so long as Shuffield doesn’t already possess a limit in the livewell.
“I will drop it right back down and they will fight for it. I will say they are biting best before 10 a.m.”
Shuffield said he’s happy with 20 pounds a day so far and tomorrow plans to hammer on them a little harder.
Local Grosse Ile, Mich., angler Jeff Vizachero sits in fifth place with a total weight of 41 pounds, 6 ounces. Vizachero stayed consistent today catching a 20-10 sack after bringing in 20-12 yesterday.
“The first day you couldn’t have written a better script,” he said. “I probably caught 50 smallmouths over 3 pounds. Today it was night and day different; I had to work as hard as I could to get that bag.”
Vizachero said the southeast wind put some in color in his Erie spot. Overall, he’s still very pleased with how things have gone.
“I was hoping for 18 pounds a day, so how could you not be happy with over 20? I’m having a blast.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros after day two:
6th: Corey Johnston of Peterborough, Ontario, 40-14
7th: Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., 40-12
8th: Tim Wilson of Gas City, Ind., 39-11
9th: Chad Pipkens of Holt, Mich., 39-1
10th: Skip Johnson of Goodells, Mich., 38-10
Hasty takes co-angler lead
Dave Hasty started the day tied for fourth but rose to first after catching a 19-pound, 8-ounce limit. Hasty, who is accustomed to fishing BFLs from the front of the boat, said he’s enjoying a relaxing week from the back deck.
“We fished both the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair yesterday,” said Hasty, who has a total of 38 pounds, 10 ounces. “Today we just fished the main lake.”
Hasty operates a bass, walleye and perch guiding business under the name Erie’s Edge Guide Service. While he mainly fishes Erie and the Detroit River, he’s no stranger to St. Clair.
“I bet I caught 20 keepers each day. I’ve been mainly using a drop-shot for the deeper water. Today we fished in 14 to 17 feet and I threw a Xtreme Bass Tackle tube in Canadian mist color.”
Veteran co-angler Mark Horton of Nicholasville, Ky., rallied to second after catching a five-bass limit weighing 21 pounds, 2 ounces. With one day remaining in the co-angler competition, Horton has a total of 36 pounds, 11 ounces.
Spangler, Noel, Valberg round out top five
Tom Spangler caught a 6-pound, 7-ounce brute, which anchored his 21-pound, 10-ounce stringer. The Corryton, Tenn., native has a two-day total of 36 pounds, 9 ounces. Spangler’s kicker is the biggest fish of the tournament thus far among the co-anglers.
Scott Noel surged to fourth after catching a 23-pound, 1-ounce limit, the heaviest five-fish creel among the co-anglers thus far. Each of Noel’s keepers weighed 4 3/4 pounds. His opening-round total was 36 pounds, 2 ounces.
“That was the best tournament day of fishing in my life,” said the Loveland, Ohio, angler. “We used tubes, drop-shots and crankbaits but it didn’t matter what you were throwing because they were eating.”
Bill Valberg of London, Ontario, rounds out the top five with a total weight of 35 pounds, 6 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers after day two:
6th: Craig Kopczyk of Milford, Mich., 34-13
7th: Dave Shively of Butler, Pa., 34-12
8th: Jim Hippensteel of Rochester, Ind., 34-10
9th: Kenneth Taylor of Shelby Township, Mich., 34-6
10th: Dewayne Eck of Butler, Ind., 33-12
Day three of the FLW Tour on Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River and the Detroit River will begin Saturday at 6:30 a.m. from Elizabeth Park Marina located at 202 Grosse Ile Parkway in Trenton. Saturday’s weigh-in will be held at the Walmart located at 23800 Allen Road in Woodhaven, Mich., beginning at 4 p.m.