Hailing from Pingree, Idaho, Kyle Gelles is about to wrap up his first season on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit. Currently, he sits 56th in the Angler of the Year standings, and with a solid finish this week could punch his ticket to the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit TITLE presented by Toyota on Sturgeon Bay in a few weeks.
While his season has been full of the usual ups and downs one’s rookie season tends to present, Gelles is now faced with a chance to wrangle smallmouths in order to control his fate – something he’s more familiar with.
With that in mind, I took the opportunity to jump in the 30-year-old rookie’s boat for the third day of practice on Lake Erie to see how things are shaping up.
We meet at the Mazuirk Boat Access on Erie at 6:30 a.m. ET, though Gelles has already splashed his boat to try and beat the morning rush of a local bass tournament and weekend walleye warriors.
I jump in the boat and get the rundown on the day’s plan while Gelles sips his morning coffee.
“I think I want to try for a largemouth right away this morning,” says Gelles. “Then, we’ll head offshore and look for some smallmouths. I spent the last few days on the west side of the lake and in the Detroit River, so I want to see what is going on closer to takeoff today.”
He doesn’t run far before Gelles sets down and starts pulling out rods for the morning. A crankbait and swimbait are his two main picks as the area has a pretty good supply of bait in it. After about 10 minutes or so of no bites, he packs up and moves out a little deeper.
Before making a cast on the next stop, Gelles takes time to tie a new leader of fluorocarbon to his drop-shot rod with an FG knot.
“I probably should have done this on shore out of the waves and wind,” laughs Gelles.
Still, he makes quick work of the knot and is fishing in no time.
Gelles makes a few drops on some of the marks he sees on his Lowrance, but no takers. He opts to switch to a tube and pulls out a football head, which he dips in Smelly Jelly before inserting it into the tube.
It doesn’t take long for Gelles to lean back on one with the tube, though he knows instantly that it isn’t a bass. That’s drum No. 1 on the day and likely not going to be the last.
Sure enough, the second and much smaller drum comes aboard just minutes after the first.
As he continues to drift along the flat, I ask Gelles what he thinks it’ll take for him to make the TITLE.
“I really think I need to make a top 50 in this tournament to have the best chance at making the TITLE,” he says. “I know I should probably stay close and try to catch largemouths and play it safe, but I think I’ll end up going for five big smallmouths every day. To me, that just seems like the best way for me to earn the points I need.
“I went up to St. Clair for a little bit and it was pretty good. I just don’t know if I want to gamble by running there. I still have today and tomorrow to look around, but I think I need to make at least an hour run to have a shot.”
Gelles makes a little move to another area full of bait. He tries everything from a swimbait to a crankbait and even a drop-shot. Unfortunately, he only manages a small white bass and begins thinking it’s time to head out.
“There’s just so much bait up here, I can’t believe there isn’t a bass around,” Gelles says.
With that, he straps down the rods, pulls out the butt seat and he begins trekking his way out into Lake Erie.
Setting down a few miles offshore around 10:30 a.m., Gelles works on getting his balance on the front deck.
“This is the only time I think I was happy to have the front seat. You just can’t fish out here without it.”
Being a Sunday, it’s no surprise there’s an abundance of pleasure boats ripping around, which seem to be the main cause of the bigger waves on the lake. After a few boats buzz by making it tough to hold on the spot, Gelles pulls the trolling motor and he makes another move.
Setting down at the next spot, Gelles points out his snack compartment. His selection is pretty stellar. A loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, apples, CLIF bars and coffee cakes – plus he has Snickers bars on ice in the cooler.
Surprisingly, he’s one of the few pros I’ve seen with a container for his bread, so I make a comment about his level of organization.
“That bread container was a treat to myself after getting fourth at the Harris Chain,” he laughs. “I won $20,000 and went to Walmart and figured I could afford to keep my bread from getting crushed.”
It’s getting warm on the water now and Gelles begins crawling his way around an area that he caught a few fish in pre-practice. After marking several fish on his graph with no takers, he finally loads up on the first smallie of the day.
“Man, I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to catch anything other than a drum,” he quips.
Making a short move, Gelles is back to moving around on his trolling motor dropping on any mark he sees. This time, a smallmouth bites when he’s not paying attention and the battle begins.
After he wrestles it in the boat, I ask about the differences in fishing for smallmouths back in Idaho and on the Great Lakes.
“Back home, they eat perch, crawfish and trout, and I usually throw a swimbait or a crankbait. But out here I can’t get them to eat that, so I’ve been using a drop-shot or Ned rig. But it doesn’t seem like these fish are any harder to catch. I think they are maybe harder to find in general.”
Happy with his discovery, Gelles takes time to whip up a PB&J sandwich and starts idling around for more likely smallmouth habitat.
With the break in action, I ask Gelles what he thinks about his performance this year on the Pro Circuit.
“The experience has been great this year,” he says. “I haven’t done as well as I’d like, but I’m still really happy to be in range to make the championship. I quit my job as a crop consultant for the local co-op to commit full-time to this, and as long as I qualify to fish next year, I’ll be back.”
It’s now creeping closer to 2 o’clock and Gelles decides it’s time to drop me back at the ramp before he gets back to the remainder of his practice day, so he pulls the trolling motor and he takes off.
After a bumpy 30-minute run back to Mazurik, Gelles drops me at the dock. He’s hopeful he can move around a little quicker this afternoon as the boat traffic hopefully tapers down.
Gelles still wants to find a decent largemouth bite closer to Sandusky just to have as a backup plan in case it gets really windy, or maybe to have a something to get a limit on quick in the morning. Though he’s a rookie on paper, he’s handling his practice like a seasoned veteran. And with a day and a half of practice still on the table, he’s got more than enough time to find some Lake Erie gold to help punch his ticket to the TITLE.