The final stop in the Northern Division Costa FLW Series wrapped up at smallmouth heaven, also known as the 1000 Islands, which kicked out some impressive bags of fish. The event, presented by Navionics, is usually dominated by Lake Ontario, and while the lake did well again, the St. Lawrence River held its own this time around.
With the final day limited to only the river thanks to high winds, Kyle Hall stuck with his game plan to lock up his first FLW title. The majority of the top 10, however, fished the lake the first two days and were stuck trying to piece together a new plan in the final round.
Here’s a breakdown of how the rest of the top 10 targeted big smallmouths on an even bigger fishery.
Top 10 baits from the 1000 Islands
2. Jocumsen stuck to the river
Posting the most consistent weights of the tournament exclusively from the St. Lawrence River, Carl Jocumsen brought in the biggest bag on the final day worth 19 pounds to earn his first top 10 with FLW and push his overall weight to 65-9.
Having spent some time on the fishery over the last few years, Jocumsen figured the river was the best place for consistency and knew he’d be guaranteed to fish it for three days, despite the weather.
“I stayed in the river all week and got dialed in to how the bigger fish were setting up,” says the FLW Tour pro. “The bigger fish wanted to be on the front side of the reefs that topped out at 10 to 15 feet. Everyone was trying to fish the backside where the current would make an eddy, but the big ones wanted to be right in it.
“When I figured it out, I would just Spot-Lock on the front side of the reef and cast upstream. I’d just keep tension on my bait as it drifted up the front of the reef. The bites were pretty subtle, I’d just lose the weight of my bait and when I’d set the hook, I’d have one every time.”
One of his better spots was downstream of Mallorytown, Ontario, and was a saddle between two reefs with sand and light rock. He and his co-angler on day two caught fish on 40 different drifts over the spot and Jocumsen calls it his best day of smallmouth fishing ever.
To catch big brown ones, Jocumsen used a drop-shot with a Molix Virago (perch color) and a 3/8-ounce weight on a Millerrods FlickFreak spinning rod with a 2500 Shimano Stella. He also caught a few on a Ned rig with a Millerrods FinesseFreak spinning rod.
“The wind [on the final day] made it tough to hold the boat in the right position since it was blowing against the current,” Jocumsen adds. “I’m sure a 4-pounder had my bait a few times today, but since the bites were so light I just couldn’t feel it.”
3. Johnston notches another top 10
Chris Johnston isn’t shy about saying how much he loves the 1000 Islands — and for good reason. He locked up yet another top 10 from the smallmouth factory, and likely had a good chance of winning had the lake not been made off-limits.
Sacking 25-12 and 23-14 over the first two days from the lake, the strong wind in the river on the final day made things tough and he caught just 14-12 – despite having actually put his time in on the river during practice, which he never does.
“The wind just makes it tough, especially when it blows against the current,” says Johnston. “I even practiced a few days in the river just in case we had a day where we couldn’t go to the lake. It’s getting old not being able to capitalize and win one of these.”
A drop-shot with either a Jackall Crosstail Shad or I-Shad did the trick for the Canadian pro. He focused on deep points, rock piles and humps in anywhere from 20 to 45 feet of water.
While catching fish is the name of the game, Johnston can’t help but stress the importance of fish care when pulling fish from those depths.
“Taking care of the fishery not only helps make it better for years to come, but taking care of your fish can help make you more money because you don’t lose ounces,” Johnston says. “For example, I caught a 3-pounder on day two in the first five minutes of fishing. I threw it in the box so I could get back down on the school and when I checked it an hour later its eyes were glazed over and it didn’t look good. I fizzed the fish and an hour later it had color back and was normal.
“I use G-Juice and put eight to 10 bags of ice in my livewell and run it on recirculate all day. If you do that and know how to fizz fish, there’s no way you should lose a fish.”
4. Slegona put faith in the river
Making his second top 10 appearance in a Costa FLW Series event at the 1000 Islands, AJ Slegona didn’t get distracted by the big-bag potential of Lake Ontario.
Sticking to the river, he put up back-to-back 23-pound limits over the first two days.
“I always like to fish the river when I come up here,” says Slegona. “I just see the potential in the river. It’s just a matter of putting five big bites together. Things are just more stable in the river, I think. I caught a 6-pounder each of the first two days. I just couldn’t do it [on Saturday].”
Slegona had four or five different shoals he rotated through, catching fish anywhere from 18 to 45 feet of water.
He kept a 7-foot, 3-inch medium action Fitzgerald All Purpose spinning rod with an Ardent Bolt reel spooled up with 10-pound Vicious No-Fade Braid and an 8-pound Vicious Pro Elite Fluorocarbon leader in his hand all week. On the business side was a YUM Warning Shot on a drop-shot with a 1/2-ounce Woo! Tungsten weight. He also caught some on a YUM Tube.
“The biggest thing to catching them on the river is timing the right rotation,” he adds. “There are certain times that the fish on a certain spot would bite. Keeping that in mind and running it once you figure it out makes a difference.”
5. Richardson rallies on day two
Like Johnston, Curtis Richardson has no lack of experience on Lake Ontario, and he utilized that to the fullest to land in the top 10. He had a “rough” start on day one with a 19-14 limit, but he dialed it on day two and sacked 25-10 to earn him a spot on the final day. Having not put much time in on the river, Richardson settled for a 15-pound limit and an overall weight of 60-15.
“I fished a lot of the same stuff I caught my 74 pounds on a few weeks ago [in the Thousand Islands Open],” says Richardson. “I was only getting six or seven bites in the lake, but they were the right ones.”
He was dropping a homemade bait he designed himself (on a drop-shot) on fish in 30 to 40 feet of water with a ½-ounce weight.
“I love fishing the 1000 Islands. Every year you see the weights keep going up. I always look forward to going fishing out here.”
6. Becker falls short of a title defense
Last year’s 1000 Islands champion, Matt Becker, made a strong case for a repeat performance after sacking up 26-2 on Friday – which included a whale of a smallmouth weighing 6-11. He was prepared to fish the river, but could only muster 13-4 on the final day to finish with 60-12.
Becker put the majority of his efforts into finding fish out in the lake and it worked the first two days. He even found some fish in the river just in case. Like the rest, size wasn’t the issue, but getting multiple bites throughout the day was.
“I was dropping on them when I saw them on my graph,” says the 2018 FLW Tour Rookie of the Year. “It was almost like hunting. I’d drive around on the trolling motor until I marked one and then Spot-Lock on them. I’d keep dropping on the fish until they’d bite. Sometimes I’d have to make 20 drops. It was very painful.”
A drop-shot was Becker’s main deal. The setup consisted of a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-action Denali Kovert Lite spinning rod with 20-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid and a 6-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader. He used a 3-inch Keitech Shad Impact with either a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce weight. One thing he does differently is add some scent to his Keitech.
“I love to add a few drops of Lip Glu garlic scent to the bag,” Becker says. “I really think it makes a big difference.”
7. Hunter lives off the lake
John Hunter came out of the gate hot with a 24-6 limit and managed another 20-pound bag on day two. That was good enough to put him in the top 10, and he scrambled around in the river on day three to settle in seventh.
“I was fishing a saddle out in the lake where it was about eight feet on the sides and 22 feet deep in the middle,” Hunter says. “I had four days of practice, and I spent three-and-a-half on the lake. From the long-range forecast I saw at the time it looked like we’d be able to fish the lake every day, so that’s what I planned on.”
Hunter caught his fish with a drop-shot when he’d mark them in the middle of the saddle on a Poor Boy’s Erie Darter with a 1/2-ounce JaKKed Baits tungsten weight. When he’d slide up shallow, a 6th Sense Provoke 106X jerkbait thrown on his signature Cashion CRT John Hunter baitcasting rod plucked some key fish.
8. Felix locks up Angler of the Year
Austin Felix had a narrow lead for Strike King Angler of the Year coming into the 1000 Islands, and after making his third top 10 in a row, he walked away with the title.
Felix is a master with his electronics and loves catching smallmouths, so it’s no surprise he did well in every Northern Division event.
“The schedule this year was awesome,” Felix says of the smallmouth venues. “I’d never been to the 1000 Islands and it fit in well with how I like to fish. It wasn’t as easy as I’d thought it’d be, but I put my time in and found enough.”
Lake Ontario was the place to be, and he was making one of the longer runs of the entire field. Fishing out near Duck Island, Felix found small rock piles that held fish in 40-plus feet of water.
A Ned rig with a Z-Man Big T.R.D and 3/8-ounce Treeshaker Tackle prototype head and a drop-shot with a 2.8 or 3.3 Keitech Swing Impact FAT (goby color) were the keys to his success.
Felix threw down 22-5 and 25-4 on the first two days from the lake and was in contention to win heading into the final day. With the lake off-limits on Saturday, his chances to go for gold went downhill quickly.
“I really felt like my shot to win went out the window when we were confined to the river,” Felix says. “But I put my time in where I thought I could catch them.”
9. Spellicy ran river pattern
Jesse Spellicy has spent plenty of hours on the 1000 Islands, and with limited practice he made the most of his previous experience to earn his first top 10.
Despite his local knowledge on the river and just two days of practice, Spellicy actually stumbled on a pattern he’s never fished before.
“I knew with two days of practice that I had to make the most of my time,” Spellicy says. “I knew the river wouldn’t be off-limits so that’s why I spent my time there.”
He wouldn’t go into much detail about his pattern, but Spellicy noted he was running deep shoals and could replicate it across the river. It not only produced some big bites, but numbers as well.
“I was catching 30 to 40 fish a day,” he adds. “[On the final day] I just couldn’t fish any of my stuff with the wind. It was hard to hold on the spots.”
His setup wasn’t much different than the rest (since a drop-shot was the mainstay). A Gajo Baits Spirit Shad rigged on straight 7-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon caught all of his fish.
10. Ford looked shallow and deep
Joe Ford was one of the only pros catching fish from 30 feet to 3 feet and it worked enough to carry him into his first top 10.
“I’d fish deep in the morning out in the lake,” says Ford. “I was fishing sandy points with little bits of rock on it. From there I’d go up shallow once the sun had been out for a bit. Hard bottom was key for both patterns.”
Ford kept it simple from a bait standpoint. A Set The Hook Baits 2.5-inch tube (goby in heat) and a drop-shot with a Set The Hook Drifter (smoken Joe) stayed on the deck each day. Both were rigged on either a 1/2- or 1/4-ounce weight, depending on the depth he fished.
“I just tried to keep it simple this week. Being around the bait is key. If you’re around the gobies, then you’re around the smallmouths.”