September 9, 2006 by Jennifer Simmons
TRENTON, Mich. - If an angler wants to win a tournament on Lake Erie, he had better be prepared to work for it. And if Lake Erie isn't in a difficult mood, you can bet the Detroit River is. Such was the scene for this week's Stren Series Midwest Division season closer, and true to form, the river and the lake richly rewarded those who persevered with a steady stream of monstrous limits.
Pro Mike Trombly of Perrysburg, Ohio, spent many a long hour practicing for this tournament, and it paid off well the first three days, when he brought in a succession of limits in excess of 20 pounds. In fact, Trombly was the only pro to break that 20-pound barrier yesterday. Saturday, though, was his toughest day yet, and he stood in the weigh-in line with his day-four catch of 17 pounds, 1 ounce and watched his fellow finalists bring in sacks totaling 19 and 20 pounds.
If Trombly was nervous, he didn't show it. The final angler to weigh in by virtue of his day-three No. 1 status, Trombly approached the stage to face the one angler who had hit 20 pounds today - Bryan Coates. In the end, it was Trombly by a hair - 5 ounces, to be exact - and despite a tough day on the water, sweet victory was finally his with a two-day total of 38 pounds, 8 ounces.
"It's been perfect," Trombly said of his incredible week in Detroit. "It feels great to be the bride. I've always been the bridesmaid."
Indeed, prior to this week, Trombly had finished in the top 10 on the Detroit River-Lake Erie 10 times in his FLW Outdoors career and had finished first only once, at a Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League tournament in 2001. What brought victory home this time was a variety of factors, not the least of which is that Trombly says he never lost a fish all week.
Though Trombly did take off this morning with a 1-pound, 10-ounce advantage over his nearest competition, victory didn't come quite so easily. Like it always is on this fishery, Trombly had to work for it.
"The day started off really slow," he said, echoing the statement of practically the rest of the top 10. "I started in an area where I had caught some fish earlier in the week, and it didn't produce. So I started covering a lot of water and fishing as many places as I could."
Trombly started off in the river, where he bounced around without having a lot of luck. Then Trombly began to employ a strategy that would ultimately result in a lucrative victory.
"I went to an area I knew didn't have big ones so I could start a decent sack and then run to catch big ones," he said. "I began making my way down the Canadian shore (on Lake Erie) and hit several different areas. It was a 36-mile run, and that was the farthest I ran all day."
While Erie is known for producing bigger fish, Trombly kept the big picture in mind and went for both quantity and quality.
"I spread out my time," he said. "I fished the river and the lake so I wasn't putting too much pressure on any one area."
To bring in the bass, Trombly used typical Erie baits - tubes and gobies. His Mike's RX tubes brought in his kicker fish, and as he said onstage, there is no rocket science to the goby on this fishery. But he also had good luck today with a Rat-L-Trap and a Senko, the ultimate go-to bait.
"I caught several on a Rat-L-Trap in 8 feet of water, and a Senko accounted for my two biggest fish," he said.
For the victory, Trombly earned $8,400 cash plus a fully rigged Ranger boat. As a qualified Ranger owner, he took home $10,000 in contingency dollars as well as $4,500 as the highest-finishing participant in the Ranger Cup.
Coates comes close
Ending the tournament in second place with 38 pounds, 3 ounces is Bryan Coates of Amherst, Ohio. Coates made a valiant effort for the victory today but ultimately came up just short.
Coates is another one of those anglers who regularly performs well on Lake Erie and the Detroit River, but to hear him tell it, fall is not his best season to find success around here. Though the thin margin between him and Trombly would make many cringe, Coates was simply thankful to have done so well this time of year.
Helping Coates with his challenge, though, were several co-anglers, including winner Dick Parker and No. 5 Charles Hasty.
"Dick Parker and I got to fish a couple of days, and we were able to put something together," Coates said. "I had great co-anglers every day, and my co-angler on day three (Hasty) really saved me. That made my tournament - it got me into day four and into second place."
Coates fished an ISG tube and an ISG goby on Lake Erie most of the week to catch his bass.
"I went to the islands today, the same place I've fished all week," he said. "It was really good in the morning, and then right at the end, they turned back on."
For his second-place finish, Coates earned $8,400 cash.
Shaffer takes third
Opening-round leader Dick Shaffer of Rockford, Ohio, fell to seventh yesterday but picked it back up today to ultimately finish third with a two-day total catch of 37 pounds, 8 ounces. He caught 17-9 yesterday and improved that by more than 2 pounds today, bringing in 19-10, one of the heaviest sacks of the day.
"I stopped here really close and had a limit by 7:15," Shaffer said. "I culled up the weight, and I had a spot that I thought was perfect. I was there by 9:15, and I got the bites, but I didn't put them in the boat."
Shaffer would only say that the "perfect" spot was really far away.
"Everything went really good until today," he said. "I thought everything was right to catch a big bag, and it was, but I lost two fish weighing over 5 pounds."
Nevertheless, Shaffer earned $8,000 for his third-place finish and added a 28th top-10 finish to his resume. He said his key baits this week were the ISG tube and ISG goby.
Vatalaro slips to fourth
After bringing in 19 pounds, 13 ounces yesterday to enter the final day in second, Vic Vatalaro of Kent, Ohio, brought in only 16 pounds, 1 ounce today to fall to fourth place with a two-day total of 35 pounds, 14 ounces.
"I had a great time up here," said the ever-effusive Vatalaro. "I wound up fishing close the whole time. I lost some fish first thing in the morning and headed north, and it just didn't happen."
Vatalaro said a key for him was using baits of different colors. His preferred baits this week were Mizmo gobies, the colors of which he changed throughout the day depending on the sun.
He earned $7,350 for his fourth-place finish.
Hayward moves up to fifth
Yesterday's No. 10 pro David Hayward took fifth place with a two-day total of 35 pounds, 6 ounces, thus accomplishing what he set out to do today - move up in the standings.
"My goal today was to do well and move up a couple of spots," Hayward said. "I went to my first area, and the wind died on us and so did the fishing. Then the wind picked up, and 15 minutes after the wind picked up, we started catching them."
Hayward gets the most-improved award for the day, as his 15-pound, 7-ounce day-three catch was followed up today with a limit weighing 19 pounds, 15 ounces, the day's second-heaviest stringer.
He earned $6,850 as the fifth-place pro.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros on the Detroit River:
6th: Stacey King, Reeds Spring, Mo., 10 bass, 34-14, $5,850
7th: Todd Koehler, Metamora, Mich., 10 bass, 33-3, $4,850
8th: Terry Boyd, Cincinnati, 10 bass, 33-1, $4,350
9th: Kevin Spears, New Boston, Ohio, nine bass, 28-3, $3,850
10th: Joe Balog, Harrison Township, Mich., seven bass, 27-7, $3,350
Morgenthaler Midwest Division points champion
With 728 points for the season, Coulterville, Ill., pro Chad Morgenthaler emerged as the 2006 Midwest Division Angler of the Year. Morgenthaler fished a solid season to take the points title, the highlight of which was a fourth-place finish last month on the Mississippi River in Iowa. He finished 24th at this week's event, just shy of the semifinal-round cut. He bested No. 2 Stacey King by 33 points.
The Stren Series will next visit Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, N.Y., for a Northeast Division event that will close out the regular season. That event takes place Sept. 27-30.