July 13, 2008 by Rob Newell
DETROIT - Professional angler Alvin Shaw is not a flashy or brash kind of guy. In a room full of people, he's likely one of the last ones you would notice.
Like a character out of a classic western, he keeps a calm, cool demeanor under a how-ya-doin' smile. And just about the time you turn your back on him, that's when the veteran rod slinger makes his move.
So when Shaw entered the Wal-Mart FLW Tour Chevy Open on the Detroit River with a State Road, N.C., address, many never gave him a second thought as a potential winner.
After all, this is Great Lakes country, home to a slew of talented anglers who know how to probe the glacier-blue waters of Erie and St. Clair to catch big smallmouth.
Even after Shaw qualified for the top 10 on Friday afternoon, he hid in the shadows of much more heralded smallmouth experts from Michigan and Ohio.
And when the top-10 pros were asked to turn their backs, make their paces and draw their weapons, the classic rod slinger from the Carolinas emerged victorious in a vicious ounce-by-ounce shootout in the Chevy Open.
On the final day, Shaw brought in 18 pounds, 13 ounces of smallmouth to defend his day-three lead with a tournament winning total of 39 pounds, 11 ounces - just three ounces over runner-up Vic Vatalaro.
"This feels great," Shaw said after collecting $200,000 for his win. "You know, I led after day two at the Wal-Mart Open a couple of months ago and shot myself in the foot during the finals with some bad decisions and ended up ninth. I haven't forgotten about that since - it's the kind of thing that haunts you, but it also motivates you. So it feels good to kind of redeem myself here after dropping the ball at Beaver."
Shaw reeled in his tournament win from the "Miles Road" area of Lake St. Clair in about 15 feet of water. He found his most productive spots on the calmest days in practice when his depthfinder would reveal the most detail about the bottom.
"This lake is so flat that just the tiniest change in the bottom can hold a ton of fish," he said. "But the problem is the lake almost always has a two-foot or more chop on it. And when you're running your boat in that kind of chop, the electronics can't detect those subtle places near was well. But if you get a rare calm day, the electronics read the bottom so much better and you can see every little detail on the bottom."
"So during those slick days, I spent all my time running around and graphing as much as I could. Then on the windier days I spent my time fishing the bottom irregularities that I had graphed. The best places were mixtures of rock and grass."
Instead of dragging a tube on a spinning rod - the traditional method for fishing on St. Clair - Shaw opted to pitch his tube on casting tackle to clumps of grass out in front of the boat.
When he felt a piece of grass, he purposely bound the tube in the grass, shook it to garner attention from any nearby bass and then snapped the tube hard out of the grass.
"Nearly every one of my big bites came when I snatched that tube hard - it was like clockwork," he revealed. "There was something about dangling the tube in the grass and then snatching it out that drove those fish nuts."
Shaw opted for a casting rod (G-Loomis 842 GLS) because it was much stiffer than a spinning rod and would snatch the tube out of the grass "cleaner" than a spinning rod would.
Shaw's tubing equipment consisted of Maumee tubes (green pumpkin with big gold flake) 5/16- and 1/2-ounce heads and 8-pound test Gamma fluorocarbon.
He also caught a few key fish on a Berkley Gulp! Leech on a drop shot rig.
With this win, Shaw has also qualified for his 11th Forrest Wood Cup.
"That's something I'm pretty proud of, too," the Chevy Open Champion added. "Winning is certainly fantastic, but at the end of the day I think proving your consistency in fishing is critical in keeping sponsors and surviving in this sport."
"What can you do? What can you do? What can you do?"
It's the line Vic Vatalaro of Kent, Ohio kept mumbling to himself after enduring a painfully close defeat at the Chevy Open.
Despite a 19-pound, 7-ounce limit today, the Pringles pro finished second by a scant 3 ounces with a two-day total of 39 pounds, 8 ounces to collect $50,000.
"Three ounces!" he exclaimed in a whisper. "Man! It kills me! It just makes me think about what I could have done different and the answer is really nothing. I only lost one fish in the last two days. I did come in about 30 minutes too early yesterday because I wanted to make sure I made it back in time. Maybe I could have culled one more time out there yesterday, who knows. But what can you do? I fished my best."
Vatalaro was fishing deeper than most. He chose to fish "dead in the center" of St. Clair in 18 feet of water.
His main pattern was pitching Mizmo tubes (green pumpkin watermelon) on 5/16-ounce heads to holes in the grass. He also drop-shotted a Mizmo Slim Jim as well.
Modrak rises to third
St. Clair expert Mark Modrak of China Township, Mich., rallied to third place today with an 18-pound, 11-ounce limit for a two-day total of 31 pounds, 4 ounces worth $40,000.
Modrak focused his fishing effort on the mouths of the rivers leading into St. Clair. The first two days he fished out deep, but when that pattern dwindled he relied on his local knowledge and fished shallow flats in the rivers.
His two main baits were a tube (watermelon with purple/black flake) on a ¼-ounce head and a Berkley Gulp! Alive Emerald Shiner on a drop-shot.
Chevy pro Kim Stricker of Howell, Mich., another St. Clair ace, finished fourth with a two-day of 26 pounds, 4 ounces worth $35,000.
Sticker relied on a weightless soft plastic jerkbait in the St. Clair River system to catch his fish.
"The sunshine really helped my bite and we just didn't get much of that yesterday," Sticker said. "Today the sun came out and they bit that soft jerkbait much better."
BP pro JT Kenney of Port Charlotte, Fla., finished fifth with a two-day total of 25 pounds, 1 ounce worth $30,000.
Despite the wind, Kenney ran out into Erie today, but he didn't stay long.
"I started fishing in the river this morning, but by 8:30 it didn't look like it was blowing that bad," Kenney said. "So I peeked out into the lake and the wave troughs were lined up perfect to my waypoint. So I decided to go for it. Boy, was that dumb."
Kenney managed to catch two keepers before the wind became too much for him to handle.
"As I was reeling in my second fish, a wave knocked me off the bow. That's when I decided it was time to go back. I left the lake at 11:30 and by the time I got back, I only had fifteen minutes to fish."
Kenney spent the week drop-shotting a Berkley Gulp! Saltwater Jerkshad to catch his fish.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 pros in the Chevy Open on the Detroit River:
6th: David Reault of Livonia, Mich., two-day total of 21-14, $28,000
7th: Michael Bennett of Lincoln, Calif., two-day total of 21-8, $26,000
8th: Keith Monson of Burgin, Ky., two-day total of 18-11, $24,000
9th: Keith Combs of Del Rio, Texas., two-day total of 16-13, $22,000
10th: David McCrone of Minnetonka, Minn., two-day total of 6-15, $20,000
The next FLW Tour event will be the $2 million Forrest Wood Cup in Columbia, S.C. August 14-17.