BUFFALO, N.Y. – EverStart Northern Division anglers started today with two expectations: First, Lake Erie holds the potential for smallmouth quantity and quality. Second, the great lake would make anglers work for their weights. Suffice it to say that Erie delivered on both levels.
We’ll get the latter out of the way right off the bat. Sparing everyone the whimsical analogies, Lake Erie was downright rough. Winds kicked up to 15-mph and seas rose to eight feet. That’s nothing new for Erie, as the shallowest of the Great Lakes is easily stirred. However, that’s no consolation for those who spent eight hours in the relentless slop.
No one’s complaining – this is all voluntary recreation. Nevertheless, a lot of worn-out and nearly psyched-out anglers crossed the stage today with tales of brutal poundings, broken trolling motors and motion sickness.
New Hampshire pro, Joe Lucarelli summarized his day with this example: “Did you ever stuff a wave so hard that you didn’t get mad, you just started laughing. It’s a lot of fun.” (That last part was pure sarcasm, but you probably got it.)
Well, the rough conditions shuffled the deck on a lot of practice plans, as anglers often found previously productive areas barren, while the churning lake challenged boat positioning and effective presentations for those who found good fish.
Now here’s the good part. Fortunately for many, those good fish had no issue with biting in the washing machine and Erie yielded six bags of 20-plus pounds on the pro side and one for the co-anglers. It took at least 18-7 for pros to make the top-10; 15-13 for co’s. Four-pound smallmouth were commonplace and 5’s made several appearances. Tops for the day was New York pro Kraig Kettelkamp’s 6-2, which earned Snickers Big Bass honors.
Brad Brodnicki, of Amherst, N.Y. and Simon Frost, of St. Catharines, Ont. tied for the pro lead at 22-5 each. Here’s how they did it:
Brodnicki drops dropshot for tube
He started out dropshotting a Berkley Gulp! Minnow, but as the rough water intensified, he found it increasingly difficult to maintain the necessary bottom contact, so he switched to a watermelon tube on a 3/4-ounce jig head and caught most of his weight that way.
“I used that heavy head to stay on the bottom and once it was on the bottom, they’d eat it,” Brodnicki said. “The key was it had to be on the bottom. With those 7-foot waves, you had to get it down there.”
Fishing Canadian waters in 35-45 feet, Brodnicki said the lake’s temperamental mood made boat handling difficult, but a small tactical move helped him combat the natural forces. “What I found was key was to keep tapping the trolling motor to keep the boat sideways to the waves. If you don’t keep the boat sideways, you start drifting faster. So you just keep kicking the trolling motor just enough to slow you down so you can keep that bait on the bottom.”
Frost finds his fish on back-up spot
As if the notion of putting all your eggs in one basket needed any clarification, Ontario pro Simon Frost demonstrated the value of a fall-back plan. In a nutshell, he earned his shared spot at the top on his No. 2 spot.
“The rough water really messed up my best spot,” he said. “I went for a long run and I had a place in 45 feet that was just loaded with fish (in practice), but I shut the boat down and they were all gone. I think the south wind blew the bait off of the spot. I managed to pull one decent fish of this spot, ran to a backup spot (38 feet) and that still had a bunch of fish on it.”
Frost credited his catch to the smoke/purple Set the Hook Crush Worms he fished on a dropshot. “The biggest thing is it’s heavily salted, but the bait floats. You work your rod tip very slowly and that gives it lots of action. In the rough water, you really don’t have to work anything – the water works it for you.”
Frost used custom-made ¾- and 1-ounce dropshot weights that are painted brown to match the bottom and minimize the chance of bass eating the weight on a reaction strike as the rig falls.
Costabile close in third
Gaspare Costabile, of Niagara Falls, Ont. actually had the heaviest raw weight – 22-8 – but a 1/2-ounce penalty dropped him to just 3 ounces off the lead at 22-5. Costabile dropshotted green pumpkin and watermelon had to increase his weight to as much as an ounce in order to maintain bottom contact.
“We had a big 5-foot drift sock, which I lost about halfway through the day when the rope broke,” he said. “We had a tougher time after that and we lost a few fish.
After losing his drift sock, Costabile said he had to adjust his presentations to compensate for faster drifts.
“I was making contact with the bottom for very short periods of time, picking it up and casting ahead of the boat,” he said. “I was trying to keep the bait on the bottom as long as I could. Sometimes, I would open my bail and feed it line just so I knew I was making contact. When (the fish) were hitting it, there were not whacking it. They were just picking it up. The weight was there, you’d set the hook and the battle was on.”
Voyles drops into fourth
John Voyles, of Petersburg, Ind. dropshotted a Reins 5-inch Bubbling Shaker in watermelon and caught a 5-bass limit that weighed 21-8 and landed him in the fourth-place spot. Voyles said that a good decision on site selection was intrinsic to his success.
“I was debating on where to start; I had two good spots and my mind was made up for me when I got down (to my area),” he said. “There were 14 boats on one of the spots I had found and nobody sitting on the other one. So that’s where I stayed.”
Fishing in 34-45 feet, he also had to upsize his dropshot weight – his was a half ounce.
Murray takes fifth
Western pro John Murray of Phoenix, Ariz. loves to dropshot for smallmouth in deep, clear water, but the fish back home rarely reach the football dimensions of Erie brown fish. That’s precisely what brought him on his northeasterly journey and today, Murray sacked up a quintet that went 21-2 and earned him fifth place.
Murray baited his dropshots with Wave Tiki Droppers and leeches. The action, he said, got off to a good start, but waned as the day proceeded.
“They seem to bite early – the big ones – and then it gets a little tough,” Murray said. “I had a limit by 9 o’clock and I ended up culling three of those.”
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Lake Erie event:
6th: Lawrence P. Mazur, of Lancster, N.Y., 20-4
7th: Barry Pringle, of Welland, Ont. 19-7
8th: Jess Caraballo, of Danbury, Conn., 18-15
9th: Derek Strub, of Elora, Ont., 18-10
10th: Bill Chapman, of Salt Rock, W.V., 18-7
Ramsier earns co-angler lead
“We were trying to find the rocks like everybody else and we were fishing in 25 to 45 feet,” he said. “I stayed lighter on my dropshot weight. My pro was using a ¾-ounce, but I stayed with a half ounce. You can hold bottom (with lighter weights), but you have to play with it a little.”
Kevin Hesson, of Polk, Penn. took second with 17-6, while Nick Yeung, of Oakville, Ont. placed third with 17-4. In fourth place, Joseph Stois, Jr., of Fairview Park, Ohio had 16-12 and Rob Hruska, of Niagara Falls, Ont. was fifth at 16-6.
Best of the rest
6th: James Dixon, of Southfield, Mich., 16-4
7th: Rick Rickman, of Gainesville, Texas, 16-4
8th: Kevin P. McClurg, of Huntertown, Ind., 16-0
9th: Craig Daino, of Central Square, N.Y., 15-14
10th: Gerard Ling, of St. Catharines, Ont., 15-13
Daino caught a 5-pound, 5-ounce smallmouth that earned Snickers Big Bass honors.
Day three of EverStart Series Northern Division action at the Lake Erie continues at Saturday’s takeoff, scheduled to take place at 6:30 a.m. (Eastern) at NFTA Boat Harbor located at 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd., in Buffalo, N.Y.