Plenty of folks will say there’s a local curse in bass fishing, but in recent years that has seemed less true than ever. Jason Lambert has dominated on Kentucky Lake, Casey Ashley has crushed on Lake Hartwell and Anthony Gagliardi hasn’t let up on Lake Murray one bit. This week, the definitive local favorite is Scott Dobson – with six T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) wins on St. Clair and a bunch of wins and top 10s in other tournaments, the Clarkston, Mich., angler looks to be in prime position for a run at his first win on Tour.
Presented by Mercury, the FLW Tour season finale goes out of the Lake St. Clair Metropark, but pros can fish up the St. Clair River, through the Detroit River and out quite a ways into Lake Erie if they want to. You can expect Dobson to spend most of his time in St. Clair, close to home and close to smallmouths he’s chased his whole life.
Eager to take a look at how Dobson approaches his home lake, we joined him for the final morning of practice.
We all meet up at about 6:30 a.m. ET at the Harley Ensign Memorial access on the northwest side of the lake. Dobson readies his Ranger with oil, food, drink and practice partner Dearal Rodgers loads his tackle. After a few minutes of prep, we dunk the boat and crank up, heading east into the already rising sun.
Dobson’s first stop is a waypoint in about 12 feet of water. Slinging a jerkbait, he hooks up in minutes and flips a 3-pounder into the boat. Just like that, he’s looking pretty dialed. After another cast or two, Dobson pulls the trolling motor and cranks up again.
The next stop is a similarly nondescript looking area. St. Clair is mostly a big bowl, and if you aren’t dialed in to pretty subtle differences or really paying attention to your electronics it can all look the same. After missing one on a spybait, Dobson sits down to re-rig his swimbait.
“Dearal, will you catch one so we can get out of here? We’ve gotta know if they’re twos, threes or fours,” says Dobson.
According to him, the fish this time of year group up by size a lot. Soon after telling Rodgers to catch one, the South Carolina co-angler obliges, snatching up a chunky 3+ with a “saucy” big one following behind.
Dobson makes one more short move to another waypoint and idles around a bit slinging a jerkbait some before leaving the area. So far, he’s been targeting various transitions, from sand grass to sand or cabbage to sand or places with different substrates. Invisible from the surface, but possible to pinpoint with a graph and some long hours.
Dobson’s next move takes us farther offshore, well away from any sort of bank. This time, he’s setting the boat down in about 17 feet of water over a bed of cabbage and sand grass that’s dotted with fish.
“I’m not a big fan of fishing deep this time of year,” explains Dobson, who’s doing it anyway. “You really have to cover a lot of water to find a school. And with three days of practice that’s a lot to ask. This time of year the fish really spread out. When the water warms up a lot of the bottom starts to moss up and it concentrates them in those clean spots. This time of year, the water is too cold for that.”
Out deep, Dobson plucks a keeper smallie on a swimbait and adds a white bass pretty quickly. Then things get fun.
Leaning into the fish with a monster hookset, Dobson is pretty excited for a second. Soon, he’s gone from excitement to curiosity to a little frustration. He’s fighting something huge, and rapidly coming to the conclusion that he’s got a sturgeon on the line.
After what seems like an eternity, we finally see the prehistoric fish for the first time. Then it surges back down and makes another run. Finally, Dobson gets it up to the boat and hands off the rod to Rodgers so he can try to grab the tail. As soon as he does, the fish goes from playing dead to a ball of frothing fury and pulls off.
After a little more fishing around near the sturgeon hole, Dobson fires up the Evinrude again and makes another move to a deeper spot. He’s mostly dragging around a swimbait, which he says is a little bit faster way to cover water than dragging a tube. Though he’s admittedly not wild about fishing this deep, he knows it could be a good way to get a big one.
“In team tournaments we like to fish out here in the lake,” relays Dobson. “Because in those you only need to catch two and a half apiece.”
Through the morning, Dobson has pretty much tossed what you’d expect him to: tubes, swimbaits, drop-shots, jerkbaits and crankbaits. Most of it is pretty standard St. Clair fare, but he does have an unusual number of jerkbaits on deck – you can tell he really likes chucking them.
Moving back in toward the bank (so we’re now hundreds of yards as opposed to miles off the bank), Dobson ties up a crankbait to whisk over some grass.
“Alright Darrel, I’m gonna cover some turf,” advises Dobson. “It’s gonna be hard to throw that spybait.”
With that, he starts chucking, making long casts and cranking back at a fast clip. After a few minutes of trolling around he shelves the rod and picks up. Fishless for a few stops now, it’s time to try something new.
Moving in shallower still, Dobson makes a few adjustments and quickly connects with another chunky smallmouth. This one bit before he ever got the juice of the spot, and he takes off for the next spot feeling good.
The next couple of stops are similarly shallow, but fruitless. After a pause to tie on a new jerkbait, the next stop produces a St. Clair special. Dobson stealthily plays it around the boat for a while before bending down to lip it for a picture.
After another shallower stop, Dobson ducks back toward the middle of the lake and starts fishing a little more slowly. Dragging a tube around, he hooks up with an eater-size walleye. He’s already got plenty in the freezer, so after giving it a helping hand by removing a small lamprey, the walleye goes back in to be caught another day.
With time ticking on in the day, Dobson is getting a little anxious to start checking some of his best places.
“I haven’t got to check anything really good yet,” he says. “I grazed a few places yesterday though. I’ve just been sampling. I wanna be surprised on derby day.”
That in mind, Dobson decides that noon is high time to run me back so he and Rodgers can move unhindered the rest of the day. After 15 minutes or so fishing the point in front of the Lake St. Clair Metropark (good for one little smallie)
After dropping me off, Dobson idles back out onto the lake he’s more comfortable than any other on. He’s got a lot on the line this week – the presence of St. Clair on the schedule was a big reason he decided to fish the Tour this year. A good finish would put a nice cap on the season and lock him into the Forrest Wood Cup, but he’s after a lot more than just good.