August 23, 2008 by David A. Brown
CLAYTON, N.Y. - The scene must have been pretty nasty when Mike Desforges surveyed the wind-whipped monster known as Lake Ontario. However, trading a miserable ride for placid St. Lawrence River action proved prudent as the Burlington, Ontario, angler upheld his two-day lead for a Stren Series Northern Division win at New York's 1,000 Islands.
For three days, anglers had expressed amazement at the mostly calm conditions prevailing throughout the Clayton, N.Y., area. Day four brought the ego equalizer, as blustery south winds pushed 4- to 6-foot waves across Lake Ontario.
As Desforges attested, the lake turned so rough on day three that he had to leave his main area and work other spots in calmer water. Still, day three was doable. The final round - not so much.
Making the decision to stay inside the St. Lawrence River, the top pro scrambled around, working spots he'd fished in years past. Realizing he was working in backup mode, while fellow pro Charlie Hartley had been whacking big limits of smallies in the river all week, Desforges said he did not believe his day would end as it did.
"I was fishing all day for second place, because I figured Charlie was really on them - he had weighed 20 pounds the last two days," he said. "I figured he would get them (today), so I just didn't want to fall too far back."
Entering the final round in second place, Hartley was indeed poised for a big move. As it turned out, his spot dried up and he fell a bass short of his limit.
Desforges split his time between smallmouth and largemouth spots, fishing jerkbaits for the brown bass and Texas-rigged Senko-style baits for the green ones. His mixed bag weighed 17 pounds and boosted his winning total to 77 pounds, 1 ounce.
While most anglers agreed that you could practically sink a boat with 2- and 3-pound smallmouths, Desforges said he didn't actually boat a lot of fish during the tournament. In the final round, he brought just eight to the boat.
"I wasn't really catching numbers; I was just catching quality fish. Most of the fish I caught were over 3 pounds."
Desforges finished day one in seventh place with 19 pounds, 6 ounces. On day two, he posted his heaviest stringer - 21-3 - and took over the lead. Desforges defended his lead a day later with a 19-pound, 8-ounce effort that gave him a 2-pound, 9-ounce margin going into the final round.
For his victory, Desforges won $25,000 plus the prestige of prevailing against a talent-rich field of competitors.
"There are a lot of good fishermen here, so I'm really proud to (win)."
Sancho sacks second
Entering the final round in ninth place, Joseph Sancho of New Windsor, N.Y., weighed the heaviest bag in the Pro Division on Saturday, a 21-pound, 8-ounce limit good for second place with a tournament total of 73-5.
Fishing in the St. Lawrence River, Sancho made long drifts over broad flats in 40 to 75 feet. Drop-shotting with a Berkley Gulp leech produced all of his final-round fish.
Sancho said that the river's abundant population of gobies actually served as a living chum machine: "You just drop (the drop-shot) down there and hold it still. You'll feel the gobies nibbling at the Gulp, but all of a sudden, they would stop and your rod just loads up."
Notably, Sancho's co-angler - James Richardson Sr. of Harrison, Ohio - won his division with 22 pounds, 6 ounces - the tournament's heaviest stringer.
"The spot we fished was just stacked," Sancho said. "This is just an awesome fishery."
Strub debuts at third
Fishing in his first FLW Outdoors tournament, Derek Strub of Elora, Ontario, caught a limit weighing 18 pounds and culminated his debut performance with a third-place total of 71 pounds, 7 ounces.
Fishing a walleye boat with high gunnels and a deep-V hull, Strub challenged Lake Ontario's rough waters and caught his quintet of smallmouths on jerkbaits, tubes and drop-shots.
Martin manages fourth
Matthew Martin of Chittenango, N.Y., caught a mixed bag of largemouths and smallmouths weighing 16 pounds, 6 ounces and slipped from third to fourth with a 70-12 total. Flipping a blue-and-black jig through holes in grass growing around rocks, Martin drew his strikes by shaking the jig and aggravating the fish into biting.
At the morning takeoff, Martin intended to head into Lake Ontario, but the roiling water he found at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River convinced him to can that idea.
"I made a tactical retreat from what I had been doing (during previous days)," Martin said. "I got to the mouth of the river and saw those 5- to 6-footers. I said to my co-angler, `Uh-uh, we're not going to do this.'
"I have a great 4-year-old boy at home and I wanted to make sure I saw him again."
Jancasz finishes fifth
Climbing three notches from eighth place, Trevor Jancasz of White Pigeon, Mich., caught a limit weighing 18 pounds and finished with a total of 70 pounds, 2 ounces.
Jancasz also fished in Lake Ontario and caught his fish on drop-shots rigged with Berkley Gulp Fry baits in watermelon color.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 pro leaders at the Stren Series 1,000 Islands event:
6th: Michael Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., 68-6
7th: Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio, 67-3
8th: Al Gagliarducci of Agawam, Ma., 63-9
9th: Michael Beebe of Conneautville, Pa., 62-10
10th: Daniel Welch of New Martinsville, W.Va., 62-8
With his top-10 finish, Iaconelli moved into the lead in the Stren Northern Division points standings.