MASSENA, N.Y. – Nothing about the circumstances of the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Northern Division finale at the St. Lawrence River indicated Spike Stoker was going to win. Even he had doubts – and who could blame him?
Stoker is a rookie to the Northern Division, from Texas, having fished a tournament on the St. Lawrence only one other time. And while he spent multiple weeks on the famed northern smallmouth factory practicing, he was still fishing against a loaded field that included the Tackle Warehouse TITLE winner from last month on this very fishery (Spencer Shuffield) and the man to beat on the St. Lawrence in any event (Cory Johnston). Plus, Stoker fished the first half of Day 2 without a trolling motor, in a brutal wind no less.
Yet, at the end of weigh-in on Championship Saturday, he was the one holding the trophy thanks to his 20-pound, 13-ounce bag that amounted to a 64-12 total for the event. For the win, he took home a check for $40,555 and a trophy that perhaps means even more.
“I can’t believe it,” Stoker said. “There’s been a lot of times I’ve been close; something terrible happens and it kills me. The second day, the trolling motor not working, I thought that was it.”
Stoker admits he “said a few bad words” that day, but he also was able to regroup, get the trolling motor working and get back to fishing his main area – an area that just happened to have the right quality.
Running just past Morristown, New York, Stoker had spent all practice idling shoals in 25 to 50 feet of water along the main channel. The key was looking for big chunk rock like the riprap you’d see along a dam face. He found plenty of it, and all of it held fish, though one key stretch seemed to have something others didn’t – better quality.
“Every day in practice, I idled a different 3- to 4-mile stretch,” Stoker said. “Every day I found areas that you could catch 17 to 19 pounds, but that one stretch, every time I went there, it was 22 to 23 pounds.”
Like most everyone else, a drop-shot with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm played a big role, but the real key for Stoker was a Carolina-rigged Zoom UltraVibe Speed Craw. He’d cast it out on top the shoal and slowly let the current pull it along as it pulled the boat with it. Often, when he caught a fish, multiple more would be with it when he reeled it in, and he could then drop down the drop-shot on them to catch one or two more.
Of course, on Day 2, the brutal wind and lack of a trolling motor made it near impossible for him to drift his spot, as the wind would push him up on top of the shoal instead of along it (and he didn’t catch a fish all morning). Once Stoker sat and settled himself down, that ended up being the turning point for his tournament, because while many anglers let the wind alone ruin their days, he salvaged his to get him past the cut and fishing on Day 3. And, with hardly any wind and clear skies, everything set up perfectly for the Texas rookie to pull off the biggest win of his career.
“I really didn’t think I had enough any day,” Stoker said. “I thought I blew it today because the conditions were so good. Well, all I know is this feels good.”
1. Spike Stoker – 64-12 (15) – $40,555
2. Todd Walters – 62-8 (15) – $15,134
3. Tommy Dickerson – 62-5 (15) – $11,717
4. Cory Johnston – 61-9 (15) – $9,764
5. Cody Petit – 61-7 (15) – $9,387
6. Brent Anderson – 60-12 (15) – $8,811 (including Phoenix bonus)
7. Elijah Meyers – 59-3 (15) – $7,335
8. Wayne Vaughan – 58-15 (15) – $5,858
9. Nick Hatfield – 58-11 (15) – $4,882
10. Tristan McCormick – 58-7 (15) – $3,906