Harrison Township, Mich.
June 28 – July 1, 2018
Hosted by the Detroit Sports Commission, Macomb County, Huron-Clinton Metroparks Authority and Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce
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 around. 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.
The FLW Tour last visited St. Clair in late August of 2012 and Larry Nixon came away with the win with 84-11. Though the fishing was phenomenal then, only two pros popped 23-pound daily limits – we can expect to see better than that this time around. The most recent late-June T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) events there were Michigan Division events in 2016 and 2017. Mike Cunningham won in Erie fairly shallow in 2017 with a tube and a drop-shot, and in 2016 Scott Dobson slung moving baits on St. Clair for the win. Either win took more than 23 pounds.
Anticipate very good fishing, but not the top-end weights that are possible later in the year. Though a few fish might still be found on beds, most bass will be postspawn and moving out to summertime haunts. That will make for some slightly more varied fishing than we’d see later in the summer when the bulk of the bass have competed their seasonal migration.
Because it’s early summer, the majority of the anglers are likely to concentrate their efforts in water a little shallower, say 15 feet or less. That doesn’t mean that Lake Erie won’t be a factor, because the north shore can be excellent that time of year, but the “video game fishing” that has been so productive there might not play.
Also, look for some true giants. St. Clair has a ton of 6-pounders in it now, and though they’re hard to catch, at least a few ought to cross the stage. A 6-pound smallmouth is a sight to behold, and with any luck fans and observers will have the opportunity to see some.
Because smallmouths are involved, tubes and drop-shots will get a workout, though that won’t be the only thing going. St. Clair bass can be caught cranking, and spybaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and swimbaits are likely to catch a ton of hungry postspawn fish. It’s also genuinely possible that a topwater bite develops, and we could also see “small hair” make a tournament entrance.
1. Rough water – St. Clair is one of the busiest lakes around in the summer, and the wind can really get rolling up north. Though canceled days are unlikely, playing the wind is going to be important and getting from spot to spot in a safe and timely manner will be a challenge on at least one of the days.
2. The visual situation – Smallmouths tend to go on feeding binges in clear and sunny conditions. Folks who can key in on sections of the lakes that are calm and clear will do well, but being able to couple that with sunny weather could make for an epic day. Someone like Scott Dobson, who really understands the movement of water on St. Clair, should be well-positioned to take advantage of that.
3. Fishing pressure – Despite the size of the fishery, it can be easy for anglers to clump together up north. Three or four of the top five and the winner might be able to mine one flat, but that’s not a sure thing. Finding some stuff off the beaten path or having backup options likely will be very important.
St. Clair is a remarkably level playing field, but it’s probably worth stocking up on smallmouth experts just to be safe. That means Scott Dobson (who has the additional benefit of being the best St. Clair angler alive), the Johnston brothers, Austin Felix, Josh Douglas and others with extensive northern experience will be good bets. Additionally, consider Scott Martin and Bryan Thrift, two guys who are just great and extremely versatile – wherever and whatever.