July 15, 2007 by Rob Newell
DETROIT - Steve Clapper of Lima, Ohio, considered by many to be a fishing icon due to his contributions to the sport, made his 25-year dedication to the pursuit of smallmouths on Lake Erie pay off in a big way Sunday by winning the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Chevy Open.
Clapper led the event from beginning to end and finished the job today with a 22-pound, 6-ounce stringer, which gave him the win with a two-day total of 45 pounds, 9 ounces, over a 6-pound margin of victory.
Clapper can be thought of as the grandfather of offshore fishing for smallmouths on Lake Erie. Many of the innovations and advancements that are standard components of Great Lakes fishing these days can be indirectly traced back to Clapper's tenacious desire to go out into the middle of Erie and tangle with giant smallmouths.
Well-known Midwestern tournament anglers like Joe Balog, Kevin Vida and Mark Zona have all been influenced by Clapper.
"Some of us have Steve to thank for our careers in fishing," said fishing TV personality Mark Zona, who has competed against Clapper in Stren Series events in the past and maintains a friendship with him to this day. "He taught us all so much about running big water and targeting offshore smallmouth - and he has always been extremely generous with his knowledge and information. We, in turn, have passed it on, and now we have young pros like Trevor Jancasz who are like third-generation beneficiaries of Clapper's Great Lakes pioneering."
While Clapper has helped refine techniques like tubing and drop-shotting for deep-water smallmouths on Erie, he is best known for his contributions to navigating big water with a bass boat.
Like a European explorer looking for gold in foreign lands, Clapper ventured far out into Erie long before the days of GPS technology.
Clapper's first boat was a Ranger 198V, which was 18 feet long.
"I used to go out there with just a compass," Clapper laughed. "And what's so bad is I'd find a great fishing spot out there in the middle of nowhere, catch a bunch of fish and never be able to find it again.
"I'll put it to you this way, most of my best spots I found while I was looking for my other spots," he chuckled.
"Back then, we didn't go out there on days like yesterday (day three)," he added. "Equipment has gotten a lot better."
Zona remembers meeting Clapper for the first time about 12 years ago.
"I walked up to his boat, and he had everything double-tied down with straps and he had two GPSs - one in the console and one on the bow," Zona related. "I thought to myself, This dude is out of his mind. These days, using additional tie-downs and two GPS units is a standard in tournament fishing everywhere.
"In tournaments I would run out into Erie about nine miles on a real nasty day, and I thought I was somebody," Zona continued. "Clapper would come in with a big sack of smallies and tell us he rode out there 25 miles. We thought he was lying, but he wasn't. He pioneered long boat rides out into the middle of Erie to fish for giant smallmouths. Many folks don't realize the contributions that man has made to our sport."
Despite winning seven Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League events over the years, Clapper has never won many of the Stren events in which he has competed.
Before this win today, his total FLW Outdoors winnings were $109,000.
Today he nearly tripled the amount with his $200,000 Chevy Open winner's purse.
"This helps make up for all those seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths and other top-10s in Stren events where I couldn't close the deal," Clapper said.
In terms of his fishing this week, Clapper ran some 30 to 35 miles into Lake Erie around the Pelee Island area. He focused his efforts on subtle rises and ridges that come up out of 26 feet into 23 to 22 feet. The ridges featured "rocky spots" or "rough places" on top of them.
During the week he targeted his fish with drop-shots and tubes. The drop-shots featured Berkley Gulp gobies and Poor Boys gobies while the tubes were ISG goby-colored tubes over a ¾-ounce Bite Me Big Dude head with a rattle.
"There is something about that Gulp scent - I've never seen anything like," he said. "You can drop a regular plastic down there and nothing happens. But you drop one of those Gulp-scented baits down, and all kinds of perch and gobies start pecking it and nibbling it - you can feel them just tearing it up.
"I think all those little fish, gathered around chewing on it, attract the attention of smallmouths. You can tell when a big smallmouth is getting ready to bite because all the little pulls and tugs suddenly stop and then there's a big thump."
Clapper also noted that when things slicked off today, he began "snapping" his tube off the bottom with vicious snatches of the rod to provoke two of his best fish into biting.
Long takes second
All week BFGoodrich Tires pro Kevin Long of Berkley, Mich., kept climbing up through the standings, finishing in the runner-up spot with a two-day total of 39 pounds, 7 ounces, worth $75,000.
Long spent the week in St. Clair. During the first three days, he fished depths of 16 to 18 feet, but today he moved shallow to catch 20 pounds, 10 ounces.
"When it gets calm and slick like it was today, I like to move up shallow where I can see the sand, grass and fish," he said. "With good visibility, you can see the targets you need to be casting to from much farther away. I fished a mixture of lures, but my biggest fish came on a Lucky Craft Pointer 100 jerkbait. For some reason, when it gets calm, they really like that jerkbait."
Baksay finishes third
Terry Baksay of Easton, Conn., stayed in St. Clair all week as well, finishing third with a two-day total of 39 pounds, 7 ounces, worth $50,000.
Baksay's main lures were a Berkley Gulp Leech on a drop-shot, a Rapala X-10 jerkbait and a Lucky Craft Pointer 100 jerkbait.
"I went through three bags of those leeches today," Baksay. "It's just crazy how those smallmouths eat that stuff."
When the wind slicked off, Baksay moved a little shallower into 13 feet of water and began throwing jerkbaits to targets he could see.
Thomas Moleski of Elkhart, Ind., took home $40,000 for fourth place with a two-day total of 39 pounds, 1 ounce.
Moleski fished Lake Erie all four days, concentrating on depths of 25 to 26 feet.
"When the wind lays like it did today, I do things a little different than when it's blowing," Moleski said of his 19-pound, 12-ounce catch. "For one thing, I keep the boat a lot farther from the target and make long casts, because I don't want the shadow of the boat to spook them off their spot. When it's rough and windy, it distorts all the shadows, and I'll get right over my best stuff and fish it vertically."
Moleski relied on drop-shot Gulp baits and Poor Boys darters.
"Another thing is, when it gets calm, I just hold the bait still down there," he revealed. "I don't shake it or drag it or even move it. I think the more motionless the bait is on calm days, the better it works, especially with the scented products like Gulp!"
Schenk takes fifth
Shad Schenck of Waynetown, Ind., spent his week out on Lake Erie, which garnered him a fifth-place finish worth $30,000.
Schenck drop-shotted Berkley's new Gulp Alive products out on little rises and humps in 25 feet of water.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Chevy Open in Detroit:
6th: Trevor Jancasz of White Pigeon, Mich., two-day total of 37-13, $29,000
7th: Josh Myers of Chatham, Ont., two-day total of 35-10, $28,000
8th: Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, two-day total of 28-6, $27,000
9th: Christopher King of South Amherst, Ohio, two-day total of 18-6, $26,000
10th: Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., two-day total of 16-15, $25,000
The next FLW Tour event coming up is the Big Daddy of them all: the Forrest Wood Cup in Hot Springs, Ark., August 2-5 where one pro could make bass-fishing history by winning $1 million.