If you’re looking for fireworks to wrap up the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit presented by Bad Boy Mowers season, then this week on the St. Lawrence River is just what the doctor ordered. One of the most scenic fisheries on the schedule, the Savage Arms Stop 6 Presented by Abu Garcia will showcase some of the best smallmouth fishing in the country as the field competes to crown the final regular-season champion, Angler of the Year, Polaris Rookie of the Year and of course, set the roster for the Tackle Warehouse TITLE, which will take place on the Mississippi River August 17-22.
The St. Lawrence River has been hit hard by major events the last few years, but this will actually be the first time the Pro Circuit or the FLW Tour has ever been there. On the one hand, it’s a shame it’s the first time because the fishery is off-the-wall awesome. On the other hand, there’s no time like the present.
Taking out of Massena, the anglers will have the run of the river, but won’t be allowed to lock downstream into Lake St. Francis or run out into Lake Ontario proper. With the lake truly out of play, it puts the focus on the river itself, which isn’t a bad thing to hone in on. The river has almost everything you could ask for in a northern fishery. There’s grass both deep and shallow, docks, tons of rock piles and current seams, sand flats, boulders and more. The focus of the event will be smallmouths, though a pile of green fish can be caught on the St. Lawrence, it’s not usually the route to a winning bag, as the river has a simply stupendous number of 4- and 5-pound smallmouth.
Being it’s the end of July, the majority of the river’s smallmouths are recovering from the spawn and beginning to relocate to their deeper, summertime haunts. However, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to catch bass this week on the St. Lawrence.
One of a handful of pros in the field with past St. Lawrence experience, Kyle Hall, who won a Toyota Series event on the fishery in 2018, believes there will be a bit of everything in play this week.
“Anywhere from 10 to 18 feet there’s a whole bunch of fish, and then there’s a whole bunch of fish out in 30 to 40,” Hall said. “I think they’re both going to play and there’s actually some really good ones up shallow. That’s not where I would prefer them to be; it brings a whole different group of guys into the playing field. I’d rather stick it out with the deep guys and have everyone have to catch them deep, because I’m no good at the shallow deal.”
Hall, as well as Canadian pro Erik Luzak – who’s spent several years getting to know the river – also thinks there is a new wave of late spawners that have pulled up and could add an interesting dynamic over the first few days of competition.
“There’s still fish on beds, it’s no secret,” said Luzak. “What happened was we had a full moon last week and the water temp dipped down to 68 in the shallows, which is probably more like 65 down in 10 to 12 feet, which is perfect for spawning. It’s a late round, but they’re new spawners. So, there’s a real sneaky bedding contention here, but I don’t see it lasting ‘til Saturday. You’ll see some good bags from it Day 1 and 2, but that’s likely going to be it in my opinion.”
With fish all over the place and starting to group up in deeper water, Hall says that doesn’t exactly mean it’s easy to catch them.
“I only really found three or four schools that I’ve been able to get to bite,” Hall said. “And I went back to those schools just to make sure it wasn’t a timing thing, and they did still bite. I think it’s which schools are feeding, or which ones are further along postspawn wise.
“Normally you find all these schools and you drop down there and you catch them and it’s a pretty easy deal. Right now, I’ve talked to more and more people that are having the same problem, and we know they’re smallmouth because we’re dropping our Aqua-Vus down there, but they’re just not biting. I think the ones that aren’t feeding are messed up and postspawn. If you find a few of the schools that have been out there a little longer, I think that’s a key deal.”
According to Luzak, part of the problem correlates to the lack of current, relatively speaking, in the river this year.
“The water’s down and I guess the dam in Massena isn’t letting as much water through, which has slowed the current down,” Luzak said. “I’ve been at some spots where in the past had three-mile-an-hour current and now it’s a mile and a half. That’s a big difference. The current really makes them hunker down and get where you want them to be, but with less current, those fish have a tendency to roam and I’ve seen that this week. They’re up off the bottom more and not behind a boulder-like they should be.”
Even with fish spread out from shallow to deep, and the bite being a bit “off” you can absolutely bet that the weights this week with be phenomenal. From Massena to Clayton, anglers will have a shot at mid-20-pound bags throughout the river, with a winning-weight consensus being at or over 80 pounds.
“I’m saying 20 or 21 a day will win it, and I don’t know after that,” Hall added. “It’s going to be so stacked, every smallmouth tournament is.”
Obviously, this tournament will hand out the big check and trophy to the champion, but that’s not the only thing to pay attention to this week.
The Angler of the Year race is tight with Michael Neal in the driver’s seat looking to claim his first major accolade. However, with Skeet Reese 21 points back and Cole Floyd 31 points behind Neal, the Tennessee pro is going to have his work cut out for him on the St. Lawrence if he wants the bring the hard-earned title back to Dayton.
For Polaris Rookie of the Year, Clabion Johns leads the charge after a marvelous season fishing the way he loves to – shallow. Sitting at 11th in the points after Stop 5 on the Potomac, Johns has a 60-point edge over Tai Au in the standings and seems to be a near-certain lock to qualify for the TITLE in his inaugural season. While the St. Lawrence may be his biggest test of the year, Johns likely plans to do what he does best and embrace the fact that there are still plenty of big smallmouths up shallow in order to secure ROY.
Lastly, keep an eye on the cut line for qualifying for the TITLE, which is composed of the top 48 pros in the AOY standings along with 2020 AOY Ron Nelson and 2020 TITLE champ Rusty Salewske to bring the field to an even 50. However, both Nelson and Salewske are inside the 48 cut currently and are likely to stay there, thus double-qualifying, which means the top 50 in the standings will advance to the TITLE.
There’s a lot at stake on the St. Lawrence this week and plenty of storylines to keep track of. With every angler in the field competing to end the season on a high note and plenty of feisty smallmouths to be caught, this should be one heck of a way to wrap up the season.