June 27-30, 2020
Hosted by the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau
Though the Pro Circuit finale takes off from the Detroit River, that’s hardly the only place the pros will be fishing. Takeoff is near the southern mouth of the river, giving pros easy access to the west end of Lake Erie. At the other end of the river is Lake St. Clair, which has been home to some of the most epic smallmouth beatdowns on record in recent years.
Though not technically a Great Lake, St. Clair is firmly part of the watershed and is fed from Lake Huron by the St. Clair River. Broad and shallow, St. Clair is very fertile, but never stagnant, as the water retention time is just seven to 10 days. Both rivers in play are somewhat similar, with key current breaks and a mix of highly developed and very remote shoreline. Erie is a typical Great Lake to an extent, but it is the shallowest and historically one of the most consistent smallmouth producers.
For all the fisheries, the focus will be on plentiful and huge smallmouths. Depending on the weather, postspawn or bedding smallmouths could hit the scale. In Erie, the smallies live mostly around rock and sand and chow down on gobies. In St. Clair, perch and shad enter the forage mix, and there’s plenty of grass for the fish to roam around in.
Though the Michigan Division of the Phoenix Bass Fishing League basically lives on St. Clair and the west end of Erie, the best comp for this event is probably the 2018 FLW Tour event held on St. Clair. Then, an epic postspawn smallmouth beatdown ensued. Buoyed by perfect weather in the tournament, Chad Grigsby walloped them on St. Clair with a tube and a spy bait for the win. Dylan Hays and Brad Knight also fished drop-shots in St. Clair, and they were within shouting distance of each other and Grigsby. Finishing fourth, Scott Dobson leaned hard on the St. Clair River and a jerkbait.
Taking place ever so slightly earlier than the 2018 event, this tournament has a unique wrinkle – Canadian waters will be off limits to fishing until day one of the event due to the timing of the Canadian fishing opener. Though pros will be able to fish anywhere they want in the event, they’re basically only allowed to look in Canada during practice. Exactly how things will turn out during the event is anyone’s guess, but it’d be no surprise to see a lot of folks hammer them in Canada after just looking or guessing in practice.
As for the actual fishing, Mike Trombly has eight FLW wins on the Detroit River, and is positioned as well as anyone to prognosticate about this event. He expects the stage of the fish to be a determining factor.
“It depends on the type of year that we have,” says Trombly. “This past year we had a tournament that same weekend, and it was won on bedding fish. Most years, that does not happen. It’s a rarity for a big tournament to get won on spawners on the Canadian opener. Especially with a multi-day event, a school of postspawners is usually where you catch your money fish.”
Though he’s surely aware of the success Dobson has seen in the various rivers, Trombly thinks the focus will be on the lakes.
“You can catch some quality fish in the river, but a lot of them will be really postspawn, and postspawn fish in the river are usually tough to catch,” he says.
Because St. Clair warms up faster, the most likely tournament scenario is a lot of postspawn fish on St. Clair and not as many postspawn fish on Erie. Trombly expects St. Clair to play big even though pros will need to run a bit to get there.
“It’s all because of that spawn,” says Trombly. “It finishes a littler earlier on St. Clair than it does on Erie, so you have a better chance of having a school that time of year. When Chad [Grigsby] won, the other two guys were relatively close to him, almost within shouting distance, and you can get into a mega load of fish.”
One final note is about travel time. Taking off in the river means that pros will have to traverse the “Miracle Mile” section of the Detroit River, which is famed for rough rides in the afternoon when the waves from cruisers pound off the seawalls. Trombly says that the run to St. Clair might take just 20 to 25 minutes in the morning, but after about 10 a.m. it can take an hour or more to get back.
All the standard smallmouth stuff is going to play. Jerkbaits, swimbaits and spybaits could absolutely all be money. Plus, the usual mix of tubes, Ned rigs and drop-shot rigs will load the boat.
One St. Clair-specific method is cranking, and Trombly says you can’t totally count it out despite the early season.
“Sometimes it does play in June, and every year is a little bit different,” he says. “When those fish get schooled up postspawn there can be a good cranking bite. It’s something I always check; I’ll put it that way.”
1. The wind – This is perhaps the No. 1 factor anytime a tournament is near the Great Lakes. Wind can impact practice or the tournament in a major way. For instance, though Trombly believes St. Clair is the place to be under normal conditions, several days with a strong north wind could make the sheltered north shore of Erie a major player.
2. Canada – Fishing fresh water is always good, but just deciding to run into Canada and start slinging is perhaps not the smartest thing. Someone that can unlock Canada in practice or in the tournament after a good start on the U.S. side could be extremely well-positioned for success.
3. Making adjustments – Adjusting to Canada is one thing, but there are myriad other changes anglers could make in this derby. When Grigsby won, one of the factors that put him over the top was changing to a spybait when the conditions got right. Someone who can combine a few patterns, or make the right change at the right time, could take the fast track to the W.
The obvious favorite is Dobson. Though he was bested the last time at St. Clair, he’s so easily the front-runner in knowledge and history on the fishery that a top 10 already feels inevitable. However, there are plenty of other smallmouth hammers to watch out for. For one, Ron Nelson is in this, and he’s a shallow smallie master from Michigan. Grigsby, Matt Becker and Josh Douglas are also totally capable smallie anglers that should have a shot.
Of course, when St. Clair is in play, it’s hard to count anyone out. A bit like Okeechobee, when FLW visits St. Clair, someone unexpected always seems to smash them. So don’t be surprised if a Southerner ends up dropping the hammer like Hays and Knight did the last time.