Moving and transitioning fish, changing winds, long runs that didn’t always pan out and a 1-ounce lead at the top. Day one of the Costa FLW Series Northern Division finale on the St. Lawrence River, presented by Gajo Baits, certainly hasn’t lacked storylines.
While many pros struggled and had to adapt to the river’s transitioning smallmouth, there were still 18 bags over the 20-pound mark that came across the weigh-in stage. The fishing may not be lights-out, but it’s still quite good, and leading everyone is Shane Hatch with 23 pounds, 7 ounces.
Of course, with the weights as tight as they are, it’s still very much anyone’s game. Here’s a look at the rest of the top anglers nipping at Hatch’s heels.
2. Dakota Ebare – Denham Springs, La. – 23-6 (5)
Little more than a month removed from his top 5 at the FLW Cup, Ebare is simply rolling right now.
While he finished 27th at the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) event out of the 1000 Islands last weekend, he said he lost the fish that could have put him over 20 pounds, so he knew he was around the right quality. Of course, to get to that quality requires a run of about 167-miles, round trip.
Still, it was worth it, as Ebare sacked up more than 21 pounds by 11:30 a.m. After getting gas, he began fishing his way back when he stopped on an area he thought might have some good quality.
“In practice, I’d seen some big fish in this area up shallow,” Ebare says. “I stopped there today and caught two 5-pounders back-to-back.
“Today was just a good, smooth day all around. I didn’t lose anything that would hurt me like I did in the BFL. You need that here. You need to not only get the right bites, but you have to get them in the net.”
As for what he’s fishing, Ebare says it’s “pretty specific stuff” both shallow (8 feet or less) and out deep (25-50 feet).
“I definitely think I can do it again tomorrow,” Ebare adds. “I’m not really stuck fishing shallow or deep. I’m just letting the day dictate how and where I fish.”
3. Robert Behrle – Hoover, Ala. – 22-9 (5)
Today was for Dorie Heisch.
A month ago, Behrle fished the first day of the Costa FLW Series event on the Potomac River, only to leave and not fish day two. The reason was to make it back to see his mom one last time, as she would pass away that Saturday.
“Watching me fish is what she lived for,” Behrle says of his mom while fighting back tears. “This is my first tournament since she passed, so it’s bittersweet.”
He certainly did his mom proud today.
Having never been to the St. Lawrence River before, he admittedly had no clue as to what was down “in the long yonder.” Thus, he stuck close in practice, eventually settling on an area roughly 30 miles from takeoff.
Focusing out deep in 20-25 feet, he says he didn’t catch but eight keepers all day, and most of them came as he fished his way back.
“I made the mistake of staying too long on my starting spot today,” Behrle says. “Fortunately, I got lucky and I kept hitting different spots on the way back, and I’d catch a big one here or a big one there. I did lose a big one, too. I’m not catching many, but they’re the right ones.”
4. Ken Golub – Pittsford, N.Y. – 22-8 (5)
A lot has happened in the past week for Golub.
During the 1000 Islands BFL, Golub speared an 8-foot wave out on Lake Ontario, and when a 10-footer followed that up, it killed his boat, leaving him to drift for 5 1/2 hours until a tow boat came to get him. Fortunately, CR’s Marine helped get him in a new BassCat this week.
Golub didn’t have hardly any time to practice due to not having a boat, but 30 years’ of experience fishing the river apparently was all he needed.
“I basically had all my fish by 8 a.m.,” Golub says. “it was a pretty good day.”
Golub says he’s fishing a milk run of 15 spots; all very specific current breaks. Some are in a foot of water and some are in 65 feet, and they span from 48 miles downriver to one he could see from weigh-in. The best part is that he only needed to hit six of his spots today before ending his milk run.
“Basically, I’m targeting transition spots,” Golub explains. “They’re like the McDonald’s just off the highway as the fish are passing through from their summer to their fall spots.”
As for tomorrow, Golub figures he’ll reverse the order of his milk run in order to hit fresh water, but his hope is for a repeat of today.
5. Brian Hughes – Barrie, Ontario – 22-4 (5)
If not for a “bag killer” ( a 3-pound, 6-ounce fish he never could cull out), Hughes would be leading, because he’s definitely getting quality bites.
While many pros were left scratching their heads by fish having vanished from where they initially found them in practice, Hughes’ history on the river meant he knew exactly why the fish moved and what to do the find them.
“It was the wind,” Hughes explains. “We had an east wind all practice, and the fish set up for an east wind. Today, it was from the west, which usually relocates them better, but it definitely relocates them.”
Hughes was among those making a longer run – 80 miles is what he figures – and down there he’s mixing it up between shallow and deep, as he caught three of his fish in 40 to 45 feet of water and the other two in less than 6 feet.
The only problem is that he couldn’t get rid of that one smaller fish.
“No matter what I tried, I never could cull out that 3-6,” Hughes says. “But hey, I’ll take 22 pounds to start.”