To make the run or not make the run; that was the question.
The Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament on Lake Erie presented anglers the opportunity to fish Erie or make a 100-mile run to Lake St. Clair. Pros found success doing both, with Justin Lucas taking home the crown by 1 ounce sticking it out on Erie.
One thing was for sure, though, regardless of location, almost all the top pros scored big with their electronics and being able to actually see and cast to the fish they were catching.
2. Wheeler nearly wins three straight
1 pound, 13 ounces – that’s all that’s separated Jacob Wheeler from winning all three Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournaments. Instead, he had to settle for a first-place finish at Chickamauga and then runner-up showings at the Mississippi River and here on Erie.
Easily, that’s one of the best three-tournament stretches in the modern history of the sport, not to mention his 10th- and 17th-place finishes at his last two Bass Pro Tour events.
Wheeler kept it rolling this week in his classic style of constantly switching up patterns and areas as needed, even switching up species.
“It really was a combination of things this week,” says Wheeler. “I caught both largemouth and smallmouth.”
On day one, he stayed in Erie and “made a rotation through all of his stuff, running 130 miles up to the Detroit River and back” without ever re-hitting a place. With calmer conditions on day two, he decided to let his Erie spots rest and make the run to St. Clair. Then on days three and four, he stuck it out on some “pretty special” places in Erie out west of Catawba Island and near Middle Sister Island to come within an ounce of victory.
While he tossed a number of lures, his main two were a Googan Baits Rattlin’ Ned on a ¼-ounce VMC Finesse Half Moon Jig and a drop-shot with the Rattlin’ Ned and “some fluke-style baits and worm-style baits.” He threw both on a 7-foot, 2-inch medium-heavy Duckett Jacob Wheeler Series Spinning Rod and 8-pound-test Sufix NanoBraid.
3. Bertrand’s area tapped out by final day
Had he had his main area around Gull Island Shoal all to himself, Josh Bertrand may have blown the tournament away. Instead, with half the top 10 coming from it on day one and many making it into day three, the area simply didn’t have enough fish to hold on for the win.
Still, Bertrand was pleased to have executed his plan for the week.
“I was basically on a drop-shot program all week,” says Bertrand. “I came here to drop-shot, and it’s what I did from the beginning.”
A Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm (green pumpkin) on No. 1 Berkley Fusion19 Drop Shot hook with a 3/8-ounce XPS Tungsten weight was his mainstay. He threw it on a 7-foot Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod with an Abu Garcia Revo Premier reel and 8-pound-test Berkley X5 Braid Crystal tied to an 8-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader.
As for location, with the long run to St. Clair being a little too risky for his tastes, he settled in Erie and focused around the Gull Island Shoal area. Like Lucas, bites were few and far between, but the quality was there.
“It was a single-fish deal,” says Bertrand. “I didn’t have any schools. Just fishing places with good bottom transition, rock, structure. A lot of times there were big rocks but also some places where there was a rough spot surrounded by smooth bottom. Sometimes I even found them around bait. I picked up a couple fish that were actually chasing bait.”
He was able to know they were chasing bait thanks to his Garmin Panoptix LiveScope and his 2D sonar.
“The LiveScope you hear a lot about, but the 2D, too, is not talked about anymore,” says Bertrand. “I caught quite a few fish off the regular 2D. So, it’s a killer combo when using both.”
4. Dobson makes run to the river
Scott Dobson is known for winning a lot of money from the St. Clair River. But this tournament, it was the Detroit River where he did the majority of his damage.
“I grew up in Trenton, Michigan, right by the Detroit River, but I like the St. Clair River better,” says Dobson. “But I stayed in the Detroit River day one because I figured it was the safe bet.”
On day two, he did venture into Lake St. Clair to hit “a couple sneaky spots near Anchor Bay,” but when they didn’t bite until late, he once again stuck it out in the river on day three to maximize time.
In the river, he fished all over, from 5 to 25 feet, focusing on current spots.
“In the river, the more you hit, the more you get. You pull into a spot, and they’re going to show themselves on jerkbait real quick and let you know they’re there. They might not eat, but you can go back in with drop-shot or Ned rig and usually catch them.”
His primary area was a deep gravel bar in 20 feet with current washing over it. There, he’d start by throwing a Duo Realis Jerkbait 100DR or a Lucky Craft Pointer 100DD in chartreuse shad. If they followed that but didn’t eat, he’d immediately pitch back a 3/8- or ½-ounce drop-shot with either a Strike King 3X ElazTech Baby Z Too Soft Jerkbait, Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm or a Poor Boys Erie Darter. He fished that on a Dobyns Champion Extreme HP 743 spinning rod and P-Line braid with an 8-pound-test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon leader.
With the big waves the final day, Dobson opted to stay in Erie to fish around Kelley’s Island and just north of it to make the run at the win.
5. Shuffield best of St. Clair bunch
To run to St. Clair meant hours of time behind the wheel and often bone-jarring rides. Yet, many anglers attempted it the first few days, and two managed to make it truly worth it.
Spencer Shuffield ended up being the best of them.
Running up to around Metropark near the mouth of Anchor Bay, Shuffield keyed on the depth range of 18-19 feet of water to find taller clumps of grass.
“They just seemed to want to be in that depth range,” says Shuffield. “So, I’d just look around and see them on my Garmin Panoptix LiveScope. You’d see them sitting beside a clump or in a clump, or just be going around and watch one come up beneath the boat. So, you drop down and catch her. It’s phenomenal.”
Despite limited time to fish each day because of the run, Shuffield figures he was catching anywhere from 20 to more than 40 fish a day, with all coming on a drop-shot.
A Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm in natural shad was his key bait because it looked like the alewives his smallmouth were throwing up. He paired that with a No. 1 Gamakatsu TGW Drop Shot Hook and a ½-ounce Ark No Chip Tungsten Drop-Shot Weight. He threw it on a 7-foot, 2-inch medium-action Phenix M1 rod, Daiwa Ballistic LT reel and 15-pound-test Yo-Zuri SuperBraid and an 8-pound-test Yo-Zuri TopKnot Fluorocarbon leader
6. Jones Jr. also makes run to St. Clair
Alton Jones Jr. had plenty to be thankful for this week. A strong boat to hold up to the beatings he put it through running back and forth to Lake St. Clair. But even that paled in comparison to something else.
“I am extremely thankful for Garmin Panoptix LiveScope,” says Jones Jr. “Even the guys who aren’t sponsored by Garmin are running it. It’s that instrumental. You’re fishing for second if you don’t have LiveScope.”
All week, Jones Jr. targeted a huge grass flat out in front of Anchor Bay near Metro Park, as it’s “historically one of the best big-fish areas.” Yet, grass wasn’t enough, as he also wanted to see bait on his electronics. When he found both, he typically found fish, though he constantly had to adjust places as the wind switched and the bait and bass moved with the changing currents.
Like many others, Jones Jr. did his damage with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm in the goby color, which he feels was key to set him apart from all the green-pumpkin Flat Worms the bass were seeing. The bait was so key for him that he threaded it on a 1/0 hook so he could catch more fish per worm, as he only had four bags. He used a 3/8- and 1/4-ounce weight and threw it on a 7-foot, 1-inch medium-action Kistler Helium III rod with 15-pound-test Seaguar Smackdown braid to an 8-pound-test fluorocarbon leader.
7. Dudley surprises himself focusing on largemouth
When you think Lake Erie, you typically think smallmouth, but quite a few pros tried to secure a check by staying close to shore to fish for largemouths. Count David Dudley among them, though, he did a lot better than even he expected.
“If this was a largemouth tournament I think I would’ve won,” says Dudley. “I was actually fishing for a check, and I ended up making the top 10. So am I excited? I’m beyond excited.”
While most would figure the wacky-rig guru would’ve secured his top 10 on a wacky rig, he says he only caught one fish on his favorite technique, and it didn’t come until the final day. Instead, he just mixed it up each day.
“I caught some cranking; some drop-shotting,” says Dudley. “Grass and rocks and docks – just whatever. I kept my mind free of getting locked into anything. You hear guys says ‘fish what comes in front of you.’ That’s what I was doing.”
Of the fish he weighed in, he caught the majority on OSP Blitz MR (vanilla chartreuse) and OSP Blitz Max DR (tasty shad) crankbaits, which he threw on 7-foot, 2-inch Profishiency rods and Abu Garcia Revo reels spooled with 14-pound-test Gamma Edge line. He also tossed a drop-shot with a 7-foot, 2-inch Profishiency spinning rod and 8-pound-test line.
8. Moynagh fishes on the edge
Jim Moynagh has had one of those seasons where he’s been fishing “by the skin of his teeth.” So, it’s only fitting he make his first top 10 in a few years – and cement his berth in the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota – by just barely doing enough.
“I fished this whole week by the skin of my teeth,” says Moynagh. “The first day I caught five fish. The second day I got more bites but only caught six fish. But at least I got to cull once. Thursday I caught just five again and lost one, but I made the top 10.
“My whole season has been on the edge. I was 43rd coming into the event, right on the bubble. So this put me in it.”
Moynagh spent his entire tournament in Erie, fishing some shoals up near the Canadian border. The key was where there was a mixture of rock and bigger boulders; a “variety of things for the smallies to hang onto.”
From there, he simply looked around with his electronics and pitched a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm (green pumpkin) on a drop-shot with a ½-ounce weight.
9. Lane targets mixed bag in the river
Running to the Detroit River and beyond meant chasing smallmouths … unless you were Russ Lane.
Sure, he was catching some smallmouths up there after seeing a “road sign,” but he also had a true largemouth spot, as well.
“I had two spots about 10 miles apart,” says Lane. “One had a load of smallmouth on it. Just a huge school, but they weren’t the caliber you could win with. They were on a big grass flat in 10 feet of water with a big pile of rocks and a hole in grass. The only way I found it was I just happened to see birds diving on it. I’ve always been one to check out road signs. I’m glad I did, because there were a ton of smallmouth there and a few largemouth mixed in.”
On the grass flat, Lane alternated between a SPRO Fat Papa 55 crankbait and a Big Bite Baits Smallie Smasher on a drop-shot. He threw the crankbait on Phenix X-Series composite cranking rod with a Shimano Curado 200K reel spooled with 12-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon. On the drop-shot, he went with 16-pound-test Sunline SX1 braid to a 6-pound-test Sunline Shooter leader launched with a Phenix spinning rod and Shimano Stradic reel.
As for spot No. 2, that was a true largemouth spot, as he had some mats where he flipped up some of his biggest fish. The bait of choice was a Big Bite Baits YoDaddy (green pumpkin) on a 4/0 Gamakatsu hook behind a 1 ½-ounce Hawg Tech weight. He flipped with a Phenix Recon Elite rod and 60-pound-test Sunline FX2 braid.
With the wind being too much the final day, Lane figured he hang tight in Sandusky Bay, where he “had a blast” tossing the squarebill and a new SPRO topwater called the Papa Glider.
10. Lambert heads east
When boats left takeoff, the overwhelming majority ran north or west. That should’ve left plenty of water for Jason Lambert when he ran east. Turns out, even a 35-mile run to near Avon, Ohio, couldn’t get him his own stuff to fish.
“John Cox and I ended up finding the same deal,” says Lambert. “It was a water intake. Neither of us knew the other was fishing it the first day, and then we both showed up the second day. There was plenty of room and fish there.”
Lambert also had a couple-mile stretch of rock piles out that direction, too, but figuring he needed a big bag, he headed west to St. Clair the third day to make it happen. Sure enough, it did, and when Cox got bounced from the top 10 on a tiebreaker, Lambert was excited to have his spot out east all to himself. That was, until he got there the final day.
“I get up there and it’s just muddy,” says Lambert. “Like muddy muddy. I guess the wind pushed it in there all night long. As soon as I got up to the spot I told my camera guy we just wasted nearly two hours. I just turned around.”
Like most everyone else, Lambert was “all about a drop-shot” this week. He says he used a BioBait Leech on a Kitana Neko hook with a 3/8-ounce weight. He threw it on a 7-foot, 2-inch Duckett Jason Lambert Pro Series rod and Duckett Paradigm SWX spinning reel spooled up with 20-pound-test Yo-Zuri SuperBraid to either a 6- or 8-pound-test Yo-Zuri TopKnot Fluorocarbon leader.