After weighing nearly 25 pounds on day two, Kurt Mitchell put 15 pounds, 8 ounces on the scale on the final day to close out the win in the Toyota Series Northern Division event on Lake Erie. With 60-2 total, Mitchell earned his first FLW win and pocketed $26,206 in winnings.
After a grind of a morning, Mitchell didn’t have a limit by noon, and only culled once before it was time to come in. Having gone into the day with a lead of 6 pounds, 1 ounce, he was feeling the pressure.
“It was a nail biter, I really thought I only had like 12 ½ pounds,” says Mitchell of the win. “It really hasn’t sank in yet, right now I just feel relieved, I really thought I blew a 6-pound lead. That would have been horrible. If I would have lost today it would have ruined my fishing career, I would have had to quit.”
Lucky for Mitchell, who is a Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit pro and is qualified for the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota next week, he’s not selling his rods anytime soon.
“I really thought I was going to catch them today,” says Mitchell. “The wind changed directions today, and it was really cool last night. It felt like a really high-pressure day, and they weren’t eating. I had two bites in the morning, and they were eating weird, they would sit and tap and tap a drop-shot or a Ned rig and not suck it in. It was bad, it was horrible, I lost like two or three big ones and broke off like six fish today.”
Mitchell had two primary deals – one was a rock jetty underwater and the other was a series of hard spots. Today, the rock jetty was almost a deal-breaker.
“The gobies were in there thick today, and the smallmouths were picking at my drop-shot just like the gobies,” says Mitchell. “So, I would really let them have it, and the gobies would take my bait right into the rocks, and if the bass would bite after, I would snap off every time.”
Eventually, Mitchell started actually putting fishing in the boat. Sitting on one hard spot where the water was slick, he put four keepers in the net in the last hour and iced down the win.
Mitchell’s primary bait was a drop-shot with a Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm in blue pearl silver flake in stained water and natural shad in clearer water. On days one and two, he used a 3/8- and a ½-ounce weight, but lighter wind and a tougher bite saw him downsize to a ¼-ounce weight today. Mitchell also used a Ned rig with a 1/8-ounce Picasso Rhino Ned Head and a shortened Yamamoto Senko in the crushed goby color.
Mitchell’s underwater jetty was a major player, but he needed both the hard spots and the jetty to win. Running about 150 yards long and never more than 15 feet wide, Mitchell says he had one stretch of the jetty that was the absolute deal.
For the hard spots, Mitchell gives a lot of credit to fellow pro AJ Slegona.
“He’s probably the best smallmouth fisherman I know,” says Mitchell. “He told me about the hard spots, and how to find them. He didn’t show me where they were, but without him I wouldn’t have won the tournament.
“I had one shoal that had three hard spots on it. It’s just sand, and then you’ll see a stretch of pebbles on your StructureScan, probably 50 yards long. They were anywhere from 10 to 16 feet, and I probably had five that I fished the last three days.”
Mitchell hails from Delaware, which is not really known for its smallmouth, but he’s got a real knack for the Great Lakes.
“I have a really good feel for when smallmouth get pressured,” says Mitchell. “It lets me know when to go or stay, or when to slow down. At Buffalo last year, I was throwing a [Strike King] Z Too in practice, and they were crushing it. As soon as a bunch of boats rolled into that area, they quit biting it, and I downsized my baits and ended up catching 20 pounds.
“I’m not an expert by any means, but I can usually find a couple areas and pound them out.”
Now, Mitchell is about to head west to Wisconsin for some Sturgeon Bay smallmouths. Needless to say, he’s looking forward to it.
“I’m about to load my boat up, grab some dinner with my parents and then leave,” he says. “It’s gonna be nice to go fish a smallmouth lake where it’s easy to catch them, because it’s brutal out here.”
Top 10 pros
1. Kurt Mitchell – Milford, De. – 60-2 (15) – $26,206
2. Mike Trombly – Belleville, Mich. – 57-8 (15) – $10,049
3. Randy Ramsey – Burlington, Mich. – 56-15 (15) – $7,780
4. Hugh Cosculluela – The Woodlands, Texas – 50-11 (14) – $7,483
5. Pat Upthagrove – Monroe, Mich. – 48-13 (15) – $5,835
6. Chase Serafin – White Lake, Mich. – 48-5 (14) – $5,186
7. Eddie Levin – Westerville, Ohio – 47-6 (15) – $4,538
8. Justin Hicks – Roanoke, Va. – 41-10 (14) – $3,890
9. Jonathan Dietz – Corry, Pa. – 39-7 (14) – $3,242
10. Jason Kervin – Raymond, Maine – 36-15 (12) – $2,593