With the whole field boxed into the Detroit River for the first two days of the final Toyota Series Northern Division event, it’s natural that the main player was the river itself. But, on the final day, when folks could branch out, Scott Dobson actually ran to St. Clair and many of the other pros ventured into Lake Erie.
Getting the win, Dobson largely relied on moving baits fished on current spots in the river. The rest of the top pros mixed finesse with moving and power approaches pretty extensively.
2. Stokes finishes a great season
Weighing 21 pounds, 4 ounces on day one, Stokes started out in the lead, but his success in the river was hampered by dirty water the rest of the way.
“The mud really hurt me, I caught a 5-pounder on a spinnerbait on a spot on day one and I just couldn’t fish it the rest of the tournament because it was so muddy,” says Stokes. “I had a spot I caught like eight fish on the first day, and I couldn’t fish it the last two days because it was so muddy.”
On the final day, Stokes caught all his weight in Erie to move up to second place. Searching an area with rock and grass in about 16 feet, Stokes hit on his final-day school with his electronics.
“I was LiveScoping, my best spot, I actually drifted over it first, and I saw a huge school of fish in it,” says Stokes. “My first cast with a drop-shot I caught a 4-pounder. We sat there a pretty long time, and every single fish I weighed-in today came from there.”
For baits, Stokes used a ½-ounce Strike King Burner Spinnerbait in chartreuse and white, a Poor Boy's Erie Darter on a drop-shot, and a YUM YUMbrella Flash Mob Jr. with 4-inch Keitech Easy Shiners on the outside and a 4.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT in the middle.
“That spinnerbait was catching the big ones,” says Stokes. “You didn’t catch a lot of fish on it, but when you did they were big ones. They were biting it pretty close to the boat, so when I would hook them I would just boat flip them, no matter how big they were.”
With ninth, second and 13th place finishes on the season, Stokes wrapped up the year second in the Angler of the Year standing to qualify for the Toyota Series Championship and the 2021 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit. Stokes is also qualified to fish the Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine All-American this fall on Lake Hartwell.
“For me, it was a really good season,” says Stokes, who is a project manager at Lineage Logistics. “Better than I could have expected to do, it’s my first year fishing the Toyota Series, to be leading two times out of three tournaments is pretty insane. It was a really good season and it exceeded all my expectations – we’ll get the W in due time, but for now I’m happy to make the Pro Circuit. I’m really thinking about the Pro Circuit next year. I’ve gotta talk to some of my sponsors and see what we can do, but if I can make it work that’s what I’m going to do.”
3. Burton longlines on the river
Fishing absolutely the most interesting pattern of the week, Wilson Burton longlined a crankbait at the head of an island in the Detroit River and almost won the event.
“I had longlined before, I started at a tournament on DeGray, in Arkansas,” says Burton. “It was deep, 68 feet, and we saw fish on the tops of the trees and we were throwing it out, trying to get a bait down there. But here, I messed up. I had a bird nest on that point, and I let all my line out to fix it, and I reeled up and caught a 5-pounder.”
Burton discovered his longline pattern a couple of months ago, and the fish have largely stayed put. Making as long a cast down current as he can, he then let his bait drift an additional cast or two before cranking it in almost as fast as he could. Fishing on or near the bottom in about 20 feet, Burton was presenting his bait like no one else in the field.
“Nobody else is throwing a crankbait, against current, 110 yards,” says Burton. “They have no time to look at that crankbait, as soon as they see it, they’re turning around and eating it.”
Throughout the event, Burton was hampered by floating grass, which frequently made his casts worthless. On the final day, with less current, Burton’s trolling motor batteries lasted him all day and he only caught 16 pounds – he suspects the fish may have pulled deeper into heavier current than he’d been targeting.
His bait all week was a citrus shad-colored Strike King 5XD and Burton put wide gap Eagle Claw Fletcher Shryock trebles on that he found on clearance at Walmart. He used a Duckett Triad Series crankbait rod with a 7.1:1 gear ratio reel and alternated between 15-pound and 12-pound Seaguar InvizX. In shallower areas with grass on the bottom, Burton cranked with 15-pound to keep the bait higher, and for casts in deeper water with clean bottom he cranked with 12-pound. Burton also caught a few fish on a drop-shot and an umbrella rig, especially on day two and the final day, but he almost always ended up culling those fish out with the crankbait.
4. Shallow and deep play for Kolodzaike
Spending almost all his time near the mouth of Erie, Josh Kolodzaike was one of the most consistent pros of the week, bringing in 19 pounds on day one and 18 pounds each of the following days.
“I didn’t really plan on fishing in the river for all of two days, but it also wasn’t the worst thing,” says Kolodzaike. “There’s stuff in the river mouth I wanted to fish, but there’s spots in the river I like fishing this time of year and they produced.”
Kolodzaike fished both shallow and deep, with finesse and power techniques. His finesse gear included a 3/16-ounce Ned rig with a Z-Man Finesse TRD and a drop-shot with a Strike King Baby Z-Too. He also caught a pile of fish on day two up shallow on an XCalibur Xr50.
5. Missing the first one cost Trombly
Finishing second and fifth in the final two events of the season, there’s little doubt that Mike Trombly would have been in the running for AOY and made the Championship if he hadn’t had to miss the first Erie tournament for work.
Had the tournament gone to plan, Trombly would have spent a lot of time in the lower Detroit River and Erie, but he got to run that plan on the final day.
“It was still some river and some lake, most of my weight came from the lake today, but I culled in the river twice today, now that I think about it,” says Trombly of day three. “Everything that I’m fishing is a current break, either a rock pile or a grass line. Every single place is like that, even out on the lake. In the river I mostly power fished, and when I was on the lake it was mostly a tube and a drop-shot.”
In the river, Trombly used everything from a vibrating jig and a Carolina rig to ½- and 3/4-ounce Red Dirt Bait Co. spinnerbaits with chartreuse and white or gold blades. Trombly fished the spinnerbait a lot like Dobson did, sometimes throwing it high, but often slow-rolling it near the bottom as deep at 14 feet.
In the lake, he did his damage with a Mike’s RX tube (green pumpkin with a smoke/purple tail) and a drop-shot with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm. On days one and two, with stronger current, Trombly dragged ½-ounce baits, but he ticked down to 3/8-ounce hardware on day three.
6. Serafin wraps up AOY
Fishing the Toyota Series for the first time, Chase Serafin put on an absolute clinic, finishing sixth twice and eighth once to win the Northern Division Strike King Angler of the Year title.
Serafin had a streaky event overall, with occasional hot flashes and some brutal lulls in between.
“Day one, I got out to my first spot, and there was nobody on it,” says Serafin. “It took me a couple of casts to locate them, and then it was on fire with the spinnerbait. I had my limit in eight casts and only made one cull the rest of the day.”
On day two, Serafin barely had anything until he discovered a deep rock pile late in the day and drop-shotted up almost all his weight. On day three, he had seven hours of “the worst day ever on the Great Lakes” before turning it around and catching his fifth keeper with literal seconds to spare.
Hooking up on his last cast with a crankbait, Serafin got the fish bogged down in grass and had to pull harder than he wanted to get it out.
“My co-angler scooped the net under the boat, and didn’t even know if he got it, and he did,” says Serafin. “He helped me get it unhooked, and we threw it in the box and he held my tangled rod and the net while we ran in. We made it in with 20 seconds to spare.”
On the week, Serafin used a slew of baits. A ¾-ounce Z-Man Sling BladeZ spinnerbait with downsized blades did a lot of damage, as did a Rapala DT 16 in disco shad. For his drop-shot, he used a Strike King Z-Too and either a 3/8- or ½-ounce weight. His umbrella rig was a Picasso Finesse School-E-Rig Bait Ball that he rigged with 3.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimmies.
Serafin was a standout angler for Adrian College, but his AOY title is going to bump him to the next level.
“It feels good, it developed along the way,” says Serafin after clinching AOY. “Going into the year, I was fishing this and the Eastern [Division of the Bassmaster Opens], I’m not going to finish them, and I was fishing to qualify. I wanted to fish the Pro Circuit or the Elite Series next year. So, coming into the tournament, my goal was still just to make a top 15 and make sure I qualified, then if I made the top 10, I’d worry about AOY on the final day.”
7. Easy does it for Ramsey
Randy Ramsey sputtered to the finish line with 15 pounds, but back-to-back 18-pound bags put him in contention on the first two days.
“I think in general the bite was tough compared to what it could be here,” says Ramsey. “It’s a fall transition, and you’ve got fishing going from summer to fall – they’re moving around. As far as this tournament goes, I think a lot of it had to do with pressure. For me, it was really, really tough to get bit on a fast bait, which is what I love to do this time of year. I tried to get on a crankbait or umbrella rig or spinnerbait bite and I put them up for the tournament.”
“I mostly fished shallow, I went out deep a few times, but I don’t think I weighed any from deeper,” says Ramsey. “I looked for clean spots, the smallmouth with typically feed on those. It seemed like the bite just got tougher and tougher. Today, you had to throw it out, and you couldn’t do anything except let the current slowly pull it along bottom. If you imparted any movement to it you couldn’t get bit.”
Ramsey explored the middle of the river, but for the most part he stayed around the mouth, venturing a little ways past the cutoff line on the final day.
8. Becker does it again
As usual, Matt Becker brought the heat for the smallmouths, albeit with a bit of a change in plans.
Becker planned on running to St. Clair each day and hadn’t practiced in the Detroit River, so when he had to fish in the river, he struggled with largemouths until noon. Still, his draw on day one, co-angler Todd Robbins, put him in a good area near Celeron Island, and Becker figured it out from there.
“I found this little depression, and I’ve weighed every fish out of this depression since then,” says Becker, who did it all with a small swimbait. “It’s a flat that’s about 4 ½ feet deep, and the depression is about 5 feet deep and they’re all sitting in that little depression. I was just scrubbing it, basically, throwing it out and slow-winding it back. There was grass on the upward side and downward side, but in the depression, it was all rocks and gravel and a couple boulders.”
Becker says the depression was about one cast from the up-current side to the down-current side and about 30 yards wide. His swimbait of choice was a 3.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT on a ¼-ounce Bass Cave Tackle Dead Head Screwlock head. The rest of his tackle was a medium-heavy Favorite Hex spinning rod, a Favorite Jack Hammer reel and 20-pound Seaguar Smackdown with a 10-pound Seaguar Tatsu Fluorocarbon leader.
9. Deep is best for Lefere
Ringing up an 18-pound bag on day two put Robert Lefere in the top 10. Just 20-years-old, the Michigan angler actually planned on weather keeping him in the river, and had spent about half his practice there.
“My practice was pretty slow, I didn’t have much expectations going into it,” says Lefere. “The first day of the tournament I had one or two fish at noon, so I started running new water. Every day I’ve been fishing new areas, trying new water and trying different things. I’ve yet to catch a fish in the same area two days in a row.”
A drop-shot with either a Strike King Z-Too or a Strike King Baby Z-Too did the work for Lefere. On days one and two he used a ¾-ounce weight in the heavy current, and he dropped to a ½-ounce weight on day three.
Lefere fished around a lot of community holes in the river, but he managed to separate himself from the crowd a bit.
“I think one key for me was getting just a little bit deeper,” says Lefere. “I weighed in a couple fish out of 29 and 30 foot. I wasn’t getting many bites out there, but the deeper I was catching them the bigger they were it seemed like.”
10. Largemouth carry Davidson
One of the pre-tournament favorites for the Toyota Series Championship this winter on Lake Cumberland, Ryan Davidson punched his ticked to the top 10 with largemouths.
“I got here and had some mechanical issues the first day, so I didn’t get on the water until late the first day of practice,” says Davidson. “So, I launched the boat late, I had all smallmouth rods on the deck and I was running down the river kinda aggravated. The wind was blowing, so I pulled into a bay and saw all these grass mats.”
Soon, Davidson was pulling out a flipping stick to see what he could do with it. The rest is history.
“I dropped it about three times and caught like a 4-pounder,” he says. “The rest of the day I probably shook off 50 bites. I set the hook eight times the first day of practice and I probably would have had about 22 pounds. I didn’t have any idea that quality largemouth lived here.”
The next couple days of practice, Davidson tried to catch smallmouths with little success. So, he bucked down on the largemouths the rest of the time. Punching mats of blown in grass for most of his fish, Davidson flipped a black and blue NetBait Dagger on weights ranging from 1- to 2.5-ounces. As the event wore on, he had to upsize his weight to get through the increasingly tightly packed grass. On the final day, the largemouth quit biting, perhaps because of the cold temperatures, and Davidson brought only two smallmouths to the scale.
Now, he’s eagerly anticipating the Championship.
“That was the whole goal,” says Davidson. “Coming in here, I was in a good place in the points, so I knew I just needed a solid finish. Once I found those largemouth, that’s what I’m most comfortable doing, so it worked out.”