There were two big choices anglers had to make this week: how far should they run and should they fish deep or shallow.
Ultimately, Wayne Vaughan made the best decisions, making a decently long run and committing himself to fishing deep to win the Costa FLW Series Northern Division finale on the St. Lawrence River, which was presented by Gajo Baits.
Yet, the decisions from the anglers behind Vaughan encompassed all manners of combinations, and for some, it was the decisions they didn’t make that cost them.
2. Dobson wins AOY fishing shallow
Scott Dobson nearly pulled off two rare feats in one.
If things had played out just a little differently, he could’ve won the tournament and Angler of the Year for the Costa FLW Series Northern Division at the same time. Plus, it would’ve been his second win on the St. Lawrence.
Unfortunately, his inability to cull one fish on the final day may have cost him the victory. He still managed to win Angler of the Year, though.
Fishing the same shallow flats near Wolfe Island where he won back in 2016, Dobson employed a one-two punch of a Megabass Ito Vision 110 jerkbait in a limited-run Canadian Reaction color and a 3/8-ounce drop-shot tipped with either a Jackal Crosstail Shad (ayu) or Gajo Baits Spirit Shad (green pumpkin blue hilite).
“I saw nearly every fish I weighed in this week,” says Dobson. “It was a gamble making that long of a run, but something about that area; there are just more big fish shallow. Up [near takeoff] you might see one or two. Down there, there are five, six, seven. That creates more competition. It makes it easier to get one to fire, and then the others go, too.”
The plan was simple: Drift the flats looking for roaming smallies while tossing around the jerkbait. If he saw one roaming or following his jerkbait, Dobson would immediately pitch the drop-shot over to try to catch it.
The game plan worked like a charm the first two days, as he often left his fish biting in order to make the hour-and-45-minute run back, and it looked like it would work a third day when he stuck a near-6-pounder right off the bat Saturday.
Unfortunately, the lack of current had the bass slapping at his jerkbait – he missed many bites – and not really eating the drop-shot. Dobson only caught five keepers, with one being a little one.
“That was as tough as I’ve ever seen it down there,” says Dobson. “It was worth the gamble, though. If I hadn’t made it, I’d have always second-guessed myself.
3. Slegona capitalizes on few big bites
There are plenty of 4-, 5-, and 6-pound smallmouth swimming through the St. Lawrence River. Unfortunately for AJ Selgona, he just didn’t connect with many of them.
“Honestly, this was a tough tournament for me,” says the Pine Bush, N.Y., pro. “I wasn’t really getting many big bites all week. Maybe three or four a day, and I had to make sure to capitalize on every one, which can be tough with smallmouth.”
Fishing down near Clayton, N.Y., Selgona hung out deep, rotating between nearly 20 spots a day, mainly focusing on shoals and points in 25 to 45 feet.
He kept things simple with his presentations, tossing a green pumpkin tube and a drop-shot with a Z-Man Trick ShotZ in The Deal color. He alternated between 3/8- and 1/2-ounce WOO! Tungsten weights on his drop-shot, depending on the current.
“It was a tough week,” says Slegona. “So yeah, I’m happy.”
4. Smith nearly gets coveted AOY
Making the top 10 in all three events of the season usually means you’re taking home the AOY title at the end of it. Casey Smith had a great shot at winning it, but Dobson had two top 10s himself, and was able to edge out Smith by four points.
“Any other year, I win Angler of the Year,” says Smith. “This just wasn’t a normal year, as Scott [Dobson] and Wayne [Vaughan] also had great years.”
Smith locked up his third-consecutive top 10 by splitting his time deep and shallow throughout the event.
On day one, he stayed out deep near Ogdensburg, fishing current breaks in 30 to 50 feet with a 1/4-ounce head tipped with a Z-Man TRD (green pumpkin).
After struggling on the morning of day two (with the exception of a 6-2 kicker right off the bat), he made a switch to go shallow around noon. Fishing flats with grass and small rocks in 6 to 12 feet, he pulled out a Duo Realis Spinbait 80 (ayu) and was able to coax two more big fish into biting.
He deiced to stick it out up shallow the final day, running all new water. The big bites just never happened.
“I’ve been close to winning Angler of the Year before,” says Smith. “I really wanted it to happen.”
5. Burger scores big with “little magic spot”
Only one angler was able to crack the 20-pound mark the first two days of the tournament. It’s just too bad Jason Burger couldn’t go three-for-three.
Fishing deep in 30 to 40 feet of water just past Ogdensburg, Burger rotated through many spots, but one was a shelf with some rock on it he called “a little magic spot.”
“I’d fished it last year and had over 23 pounds off it,” says Burger. “Then, the next day was one of the worst fishing days of my life.”
The key to the spot was its significant amount of current, which dwindled significantly on the final day.
“I was able to catch two off of it, but I knew it wasn’t going to go without the current,” admits Burger. “I threw a Hail Mary that didn’t work out.”
All week long, his presentations included a drop-shot with an X-Zone Lures Pro Slammer (goby crush) and a Carolina-rigged X-Zone Craw (green pumpkin).
6. Deleeuw grinds out deep
If there was a top-10 angler who remained under the radar this week, it was Neil Deleeuw.
Fishing deep, isolated points down near Ogdensburg, the Fenwick, Ontario pro rotated through roughly 10 spots a day in 20 to 35 feet.
“It was a bit of a grind every day,” admits Deleeuw. “Fortunately, I didn’t lose any fish until [Saturday]. Those were the only ones I lost all week, and I could’ve used them.”
Once the current dwindled on his areas Saturday, Deleeuw said his fish just disappeared, and having no prior history on the river, he was unable to ever relocate them.
When he was on them the previous days, though, he kept all his fish buttoned on a 5/8-ounce drop-shot with a Berkley PowerBait 3-inch Minnow (smelt) and a Bass Pro Shops Tender Tube (green pumpkin).
7. Golub makes milk run
Some were 50 miles away. One was within sight of takeoff. And Ken Golub hit all 15 spots in his milk run (and more) to make the top 10.
Capping off an up-and-down week (he lost his boat to mechanical issues during the BFL on the 1000 Islands the week before and barely got to practice), Golub relied on his 30 years of experience to put together a run of very specific current breaks. Some were in a foot of water, and some were in 65 feet.
“They’re very specific,” Golub explains. “Make your cast a couple feet right or left and you miss them and don’t get bit. But they’re spots that are like a McDonald’s along the highway as the bass move.”
Depending on the current break and depth, Golub alternated between a drop-shot with a Stanley The Goby (various colors), a custom-poured 7/8-ounce jig (black with purple) or a Carolina rig with a discontinued Zoom creature bait.
While his game plan couldn’t have worked better on day one (he only needed to hit six of his spots before calling it quits) and it was pretty good on day two, day three was a problem.
“I lost 13 fish today,” says Golub, who only brought four fish to weigh-in.
8. Hughes’ deep fish go for a stroll
It was a gorgeous week on the St. Lawrence River with plenty of sunshine and comfortable temperatures. Basically, it was the perfect conditions to go for a hike. It’s too bad Brian Hughes’ fish decided to do just that on the final day.
“All my deep fish were gone today,” says the Barrie, Ontario pro. “It’s like they all decided to take a walk because it was such a beautiful day.”
Prior to his fish going sight-seeing, Hughes had hung around Ogdensburg in roughly 40 feet of water, while mixing in some spots in 12 and 6 feet, too. He changed up his presentation for each spot.
“Out deep I was using a 1/2-ounce WOO! Tungsten drop-shot with a Megabass Hazedong swimbait (moroko),” says Hughes. “Then, in 12 (feet), I went with a custom-poured, 3-inch tube (green pumpkin). And up shallow, I tossed a Duo Realis Spinbait 80 in a shad color.
“Overall, it was a great tournament. It just became a challenge when my fish left, because then I really had to scramble.”
9. Kelley falters on final day
On one hand, Jonathan Kelley has to be pleased to secure his first top 10 at the Costa FLW Series level. On the other, considering he was leading going into the final day, it wasn’t the finish he’d hoped for.
Fishing down near Clayton, the Old Forge, Pa., pro would start each morning fishing on a shallow flat in 1 to 3 feet with “crisp” milfoil and hard sand. There, he’d get a couple big bites on a Z-Man EverGreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer (white or green pumpkin) with a matching Yamamoto Zako trailer or a Riot Baits Lil’ Creeper jig (peanut butter and jelly) with a Zoom Speed Craw.
Then, around 10 a.m., he’d run to the back sides of some islands near the American Narrows, alternating a drop-shot with either a Z-Man StreakZ or Z-Man TRD Minnow (bad shad) or a Carolina rig with a green-pumpkin purple Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw.
What ultimately did him in is what did in a number of anglers the final day: lack of current.
“When I got to my shallow flat, I could see the grass wasn’t laying the same,” says Kelley. “And when I got to my deep stuff, it was dead flat.
“I knew my patterns wouldn’t work without current, but I also figured if I was going to win, I’d win it there. Just didn’t happen.”
10. Thrift does 50/50 split
FLW Tour pro Bryan Thrift is one of the best anglers in the world at making changes on the fly, and doing so saved his tournament.
He originally started his tournament fishing deep in 25to 40 feet with a drop-shot tipped with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Minnow (green pumpkin), thrown on a 6-foot, 10-inch medium-heavy Fitzgerald Vursa spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX 30 spinning reel and with 10-pound-test P-Line XTCB Braid to a 10-pound-test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon leader.
However, midway through day two, Thrift only had a small limit from the depths. Running down the river, past Ogdensburg, he saw a shallow flat that intrigued him.
“I pulled in and immediately caught two 5s and a 4,” says Thrift. “After that, I stayed shallow the rest of the tournament.”
Up shallow, Thrift tossed a shad-colored jerkbait and a soon-to-be-released Damiki squarebill (mossback). He threw the jerkbait on his signature series Fitzgerald jerkbait rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel and with 10-pound test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon, and the crankbait on his signature series Fitzgerald crankbait rod, Abu Garcia Revo Winch casting reel and 15-pound-test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon.