With the 2018 FLW Tour regular season coming to a close at Lake St. Clair last week, it’s been fun to have a front row seat to all the action in the FLW Live Studio. While the first six tournaments of the season were quite a ride, FLW saved the best for last with the season finale at St. Clair and I must say, it was the most impressive event of the year.
Going into the 2018 FLW Tour season finale, everyone knew the smallmouth fishing at Lake St. Clair was going to be great. But no one really knew how great until the event started. A mix of talented pros, a tremendous fishery and impeccable weather conditions came together to create the perfect storm that flooded the FLW Tour’s record book with new numbers.
On day one of the event, 180 pros weighed in a total of 3,033 pounds, 7 ounces of bass, making it the second heaviest single-day weight record in the Tour’s 23-year history. On the second day, 3,011 pounds, 15 ounces took over the third spot in the record books for the single-day weight category.
The combined total of days one and two at 6,046 pounds, 6 ounces took over the previous two-day total weight record in FLW Tour’s record book as well.
This was the FLW Tour’s sixth visit to St. Clair and the top 10 list of heaviest five-bass limits caught from St. Clair was re-written this time around.
After last week, Dylan Hays now has the heaviest Lake St. Clair five-bass limit in Tour history with his bag of smallmouths from day two weighing 26-7.
Amazingly, tournament winner Chad Grigsby now owns three of the heaviest St. Clair limits in the record books, claiming the second, third and seventh spots with 26-4, 25-13 and 24-4, respectively.
Zack Birge claimed the fourth slot in the record books with a 25-6 catch. Brad Knight earned the fifth place spot with 25-5. Darrel Robertson grabbed the eighth spot with 24-0 and Craig Rozema took the ninth place spot with 23-13.
In all, eight of the top 10 heaviest limits from St. Clair are now from this event alone.
Like a spy itself, the spybait has sort of lurked around the edges of professional bass fishing competition, trying to go undetected. It has been spotted at a couple of Costa Northern FLW Series events and it had a hand in Kevin VanDam’s win at the Bassmaster Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence River last year. But after Chad Grigsby put on his spybait clinic on FLW Live last week, the “spy” can no longer hide.
On the final day at St. Clair, Grigsby waited patiently for the right window where he could spy on his quarry. At about 11 a.m., Grigsby got exactly what he was hoping for – slick, calm conditions – in which he picked up a Duo Realis Spinbait 80 and outed the spybait on Live.
Using a St. Croix 7-foot, 6-inch medium-light action rod spooled with 10-pound test braid to 8-pound test fluorocarbon leader, Grigsby would cast the Spinbait out, count it down to 12 or 14, “because 13 is bad luck,” and then begin reeling the double-propped spinner through the water at a snail’s pace. And cast after cast the rod loaded up with 5-plus pound smallmouth.
Smallmouth in particular seem to have a real affinity for the spybait technique. Tour rookie Cody Hahner of Wausau, Wis., also used a spybait to help his cause in recording a 7th place finish at St. Clair.
Hahner theorizes that it’s a smallmouth’s curiosity trait that makes them so vulnerable to a spybait.
“More so than largemouth, smallmouth have a strong curiosity streak – if something gets their attention, they’re more prone to go investigate it,” Hahner offers. “I think smallmouth see a spybait from a long way off and it’s in their nature to swim over and check it out. Once they get up to it and give it a good look, they decide they want to eat the thing.’”
The spybait also seems to attract much bigger bites. Grigsby caught some brutes on the Spinbait on days one and four and Hahner, too, says a spybait was responsible for his bigger bass.
With the final event at St. Clair in the books, the Forrest Wood Cup field has gelled. As expected, many of the FLW Tour’s stalwarts scored berths and you can look forward to seeing familiar names like Bryan Thrift, Andy Morgan, David Dudley, Scott Martin and of course the newly crowned Angler of the Year, Mark Rose all bringing their A-Game to Ouachita to compete for the $300,000 payday.
In their tall shadows, however, will be a handful of rookies that pulled off a Cup qualification in their first year on Tour by finishing in the top 44 in points, which is quite a feat.
Matt Becker of Finleyville, Penn., won the Rookie of the Year title, making him the first rookie in line to punch his Cup ticket.
Becker came into St. Clair in 39th place in the points and finished strong with a 26th place showing to end the season in 36th place. Becker has one Costa FLW Series win to his credit from last year’s Northern Division showdown at the 1000 Islands and his highest finish on the Tour this season was eighth at Smith Lake.
Cody Hahner of Wausau, Wis., is another rookie who got it done at St. Clair. Hahner entered the final event in 55th place, 11 places out of the Cup cut. Last week he turned in his best performance of the year at the wire, making his first FLW Tour top 10 with a seventh place showing to bump him up to 39th and send him to Lake Ouachita.
In his first year out on Tour from the College Fishing, Tyler Stewart of West Monroe, La., locked in his first Forrest Wood Cup berth with a 40th place points finish on the year.
Wes Logan of Springville, Ala., has made a steady climb up through the FLW platforms, first as a BFL angler then through the Costa FLW Series ranks and now to the pro level on Tour. His rookie campaign hung in the balance with a 59th place standing in the points coming into St. Clair, where he experienced his best event of the season – finishing 12th – and slipping into the Cup in 41st place.
Costa FLW Series icon Todd Castledine of Nacogdoches, Texas connected with a last-minute Hail Mary effort at St. Clair to come from 61st in the points and score the very last Cup berth at 44th place with his 6th place finish at St. Clair.
For much of the 2018 FLW Tour season, rookie Sheldon Collings of Grove, Okla., looked to have a lock on his first Cup berth in the FLW points race. In fact, he led the Rookie of the Year race for the latter portion of the season. But a horrible 170th place finish at St. Clair put him in the wall in the points race. He not only relinquished his ROY title hopes but also lost his FLW Tour Cup qualification. However, all is not lost. Collings was actually already qualified for the 2018 Forrest Wood Cup by virtue of his qualification through the Costa Series Championship last fall. So to review, Collings is an FLW Tour rookie who will be attending his first Forrest Wood Cup, but not through FLW Tour points, but rather through the saving grace of his Costa berth.
The 2018 Forrest Wood Cup will also feature two sets of brothers this time around. The “JoBros” (Chris and Cory Johnston) from Canada are both back in the Cup this year after both missing it last year.
Another brotherly Cup shout out goes to young Jared McMillan who will be joining his older brother, Brandon McMillan, at Ouachita. Brandon (a.k.a. Big Mac) has been to the Cup on two previous occasions. This will be Jared’s first Cup experience after finishing 19th in the points in his first full year on the FLW Tour.