MASSENA, N.Y. – This year’s Northern Division Presented by Rabid Baits go-round on the St. Lawrence River turned out to be a close one, with the Top 10 mostly employing traditional techniques for the river. As we’ve seen a few times in Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats events out of Massena, running all the way to Clayton and the 1000 Islands area was not the winning solution, and more than half the Top 10 spent most of their time east of Alexandria Bay.
Here’s what got the job done.
Drifting mostly deep around Morristown, Brent Anderson earned his 11th win and only used one bait all week.
A prototype ¼-ounce GOBY 1 jig with a Z-Man Finesse TRD did the heavy lifting. He fished it on a Redemption Rods Ned rod with a Lew’s Custom Lite Series spinning reel spooled up with 10-pound Seaguar Smackdown and an 8-pound Seaguar InvizX leader. The jig isn’t really in production yet, but there’s a good chance it ends up being sold by True Bass.
Swinging for the fences with a long run in one of the slower boats in the field, Gary Miller pounded out 27 pounds, 11 ounces on Day 2 and missed the win by just 10 ounces.
Known for his shallow prowess, Miller finished 15th in the opener on Lake Champlain and followed it up strong on his home waters. On Day 2, the Canadian angler caught three of his big fish shallow by stalking them visually and two mid-depth, finding them with LiveScope.
Day 3 didn’t go to plan. Although he caught a limit shallow near Alexandria Bay, his areas to the west didn’t pan out.
“Today was a mess,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right out there. I probably spent 15 minutes, and I ran probably an hour. I knew it was a short day, so I got out of there real quick.”
For baits, Miller did his heavy lifting with a homemade 1/6-ounce marabou jig and also used a drop-shot with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm, a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Minnow and a swimbait.
In the hunt to win, Spencer Shuffield essentially retraced the steps that earned him the belt in the 2022 TITLE event. Running west, Shuffield targeted fish mid-depth and deeper around grass, bait and some rock piles.
“They were all in that area. I caught some off the same spots, and then others off other stuff that I found,” he said. “The first day I caught probably 60 percent of what I saw; yesterday I saw a bunch of fish and caught a bunch of fish. Today was by far the best as far as numbers of fish, but I couldn’t get them to bite. I had so many 5-plus-pounders go to my stuff, and they just wouldn’t bite.”
For tackle, he drop-shotted a brown back Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm with a ½-ounce Ark drop-shot weight and a No. 2 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot Hook. His rod of choice was a 7-foot, 3-inch Ark Reinforcer, which he paired with 15-pound Yo-Zuri SuperBraid in white and 8-pound Yo-Zuri SuperFlouro.
Drifting near Ogdensburg in 15 to 35 feet, Tommy Dickerson was about as steady as they come.
“Where I was at has a lot of up and down,” he said. “Every time it goes up you catch one, every time it goes down you catch one.”
Dickerson drifted a Zoom UltraVibe Speed Craw with a 1/0 Gamakatsu Offset EWG on a variety of rigs. Most of his heavy lifting was done with a 1 ½-ounce Carolina rig with a 4-foot leader, but he also mixed in a 3/8-ounce Texas rig.
“I had two rods rigged up — a Carolina rig and a Texas rig,” he said. “Every time I’d break off the Carolina rig, I’d throw the Texas rig until my drift was over. Some of the drifts had grass, and the Texas rig worked better in the grass.”
Dickerson also felt that the Texas rig was better shallower because the lighter weight allowed him to feed it more line to drift it farther from the boat. Using 12-pound line for both meant he had to do a lot of retying.
Threatening for the win before catching “only” 20 pounds on the last day, Brett Carnright backed up his win at Champlain with another Top 10 to edge into the Angler of the Year lead by 7 points.
Catching some fish near Ogdensburg and most of his weight farther west, Carnright relied on a Beast Coast O.W. Sniper Jig for almost all his weight, trailering it with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Lil’ General. For his tackle, Carnright used a Megabass Orochi XX Shakyhead rod, a Pflueger Supreme XT reel, 10-pound PowerPro braid and a 10-pound Seaguar Tatsu leader. Fishing deep, Carnright was using a 25-foot leader, retying a ton and still breaking off a half dozen times or more in a day.
“I was probably running 10 to 15 places a day,” said Carnright. “Sometimes I could get moving quick and hit a spot for 5 minutes and be on to the next one. Sometimes I would stay on a spot for 2 hours. I was making a long run, about 80 miles each way, so it gave me about 5 hours of fishing time. With only 5 hours, your day goes by fast.”
Staying steady each day, Clay Reece did his damage drifting around Ogdensburg. He said his best bait was a simple Z-Man Finesse TRD on a 1/5-ounce head, although a late hail Mary with a vibrating jig did produce one of his fish.
Riding the wave of a 22-pound sack on Day 1, Alec Morrison moved to second in the AOY race and earned his second Top 10 of the season. According to Morrison, he had to take the event day by day.
“I really had a rough practice,” he said. “I was just there for the Open, so I had some ideas, but I spent like four days looking for new stuff. Not that I didn’t learn a lot, but it wasn’t super productive finding big ones. I basically just figured out what I didn’t need to be doing.
“So, I really only had two areas with a good population of fish, so I spent the majority of my time just locking down in those two areas,” Morrison explained. “All three days, I really had to expand. I never caught them out of the same little places twice, I had to figure out new little places and ways to get them to bite in those areas. So, it was cool that I was able to figure them out, and that doesn’t always go well. I actually caught them snapping a tube on Day 2, which I’ve never done in my life, and it was a little like that every day.”
Fishing near Clayton, Morrison’s main baits were a ½-ounce finesse football jig with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Lil’ General and a 3.5-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Tube with a 3/8-ounce head. He used Miller Rods sticks for both baits, going with the SpinFreaK model for the jig and the BassFreaK model for the tube.
Committing to the Carolina rig, Douglas Reed said he started the day with eight rigged up on deck each morning. Early on, he tried making long runs, but ended up settling in mid-river.
“I made a run all the way to the cutoff line the first day, and there are some giants there, but I didn’t catch them,” he said. “I fell back to a secondary spot in Clayton, and then didn’t catch them there. So, I fell back to Morristown, and finished my limit there, and stayed there Day 2 and Day 3.”
Drifting a variety of depths with the C-rig, Reed said the fish would be grouped up in pods and needed variety.
“It was all about changing it up,” he said. “My third day, I was throwing what I did well the first day on, and then my partner caught a bunch of big ones on a different bait right off the bat and I had to switch. The pods were getting used to the same drift, but then if they saw it with a different color or floating they would eat it.”
Fishing a ½-ounce weight in less than 25 feet, Reed went to a 1-ounce weight when fishing deeper. He mostly used a Zoom UltraVibe Speed Craw, but tweaked it with a Floatzilla Craw Head about 20 percent of the time.
Fishing the second closest to takeoff of any of the top finishers, Kyle Cortiana drifted around Waddington a lot and also near Massena.
Notably, Cortiana did things a little differently than some of the others, catching fish on a drop-shot with a Great Lakes Finesse Drop Minnow in spicy melon on a Trokar TK150, as well as an umbrella rig. For his umbrella rig, Cortiana used a YUM YUMbrella Flash Mob Jr. with 1/8-ounce heads, 20-pound line and a 7-10 Kistler rod.
Quebec pro Jason Gramada has a reputation as a master of Lake St. Francis, the body of water downstream from Massena on the St. Lawrence. With Franny not open, he did the next best thing: running east and fishing almost up to the Moses-Saunders Power Dam.
“I was fishing heavy current down here, big shell deposits in 30 to 50 feet,” he said. “The drifts are a minute to a minute and a half if we’re lucky, so the bait has to be crushing the bottom to draw the smallmouth in.”
Rotating a wide variety of baits, Gramada used a NetBait BaitFuel Finesse Tube, a NetBait BaitFuel Lollipop DS on a drop-shot, a Freedom Tackle Skirtless Football Jig Head with a creature bait and a Carolina-rigged creature bait. For his tube, Gramada used ½- and ¾-ounce heads, and he used a 1/2-ounce weight for his drop-shot as well. According to Gramada, the biggest key might have been BaitFuel, as he kept things sauced up throughout the event.
For his spinning rod techniques, Gramada used a 7-foot, 4-inch Halo KS II Elite rod. For the C-rig, he used a 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Halo TI Series rod.