July 16, 2011 by David A. Brown
TRENTON, Mich. - Like a coach benching a frustrated player, only to have the refocused athlete return and nail the buzzer-beater, Mark Modrak gave himself a breather and came back to win the EverStart Series Central Division tournament on the Detroit River.
Modrak, who hails from China Township, Mich., spent most of his day about midway up the St. Clair River. Linking Lake St. Clair to the larger, cooler Lake Huron, the river had produced well for him on days one and two with limits of 17-9 and 20-15. Today, however, he experienced some frustrations that threatened to derail his final-round efforts.
Essentially, Modrak was dialed in on a good pattern, but the scenario's dynamics created a high margin of error that temporarily got the better of him. Understandable, considering the investment of time, fuel and effort the 150-mile round trip required.
"It was a battle today; I lost so many fish today," Modrak said. "Every day it's been getting harder and harder to keep them on. I'm fishing really strong current and it's like trout fishing - you just let your bait swing down in the current and you get a big bow in your line. When you get bit you have to really take up the slack."
A challenging technique, no doubt, but it's one that Modrak has perfected over some 20 years of fishing the river. He said he typically expects to catch 90 percent of the fish that bite, but today saw a much lower hookup ratio rattling his confidence. That's when he decided a change of scenery would help him purge the frustration and allow him to hit the reset button.
"I fished with (second-place co-angler) Mark Myers today - he's a professor and I felt like Gilligan," Modrak lamented. "I'd catch a 2-pounder and he'd catch another 3 to 3 1/2. I don't know, maybe I was too worked up.
"I told him `We're going to leave this spot, we're going to go fish somewhere else and we'll come back to it.' I went off and gathered myself, came back (to the original spot) and whacked three good ones right away. That allowed me to cull three little fish."
Modrak caught the final round's heaviest sack - a limit of 20-7 that gave him a three-day total of 58-15 and a winning margin of just 3 ounces. His final bag included a hefty smallmouth that clearly pushed him into the top spot.
"When I brought that one in, I was hoping it was a little over 5 pounds," Modrak said. "I caught one there yesterday that was 5-1 and I knew this fish was bigger - it was well over 6."
Throughout the tournament, Modrak started each day with a Strike King Series 5 crankbait and then alternated between a dropshot with Berkley 3-inch Fry and Lunch Money tubes in green pumpkin and smoke on ¼- to 5/16-ounce KMR leadheads. Mondak used two different jig styles - one had a thinner, elongated head and a 90-degree line tie that enabled the jig to scoot along the bottom like a fleeing baitfish. The other featured a more weight-forward design and a 60-degree line tie. This style kept the bait's head down and its tail up, so it mimicked a feeding crawfish or a small finfish.
Modrak found most of his fish on a little gravel bar in the St. Clair River. Traversing the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair was no walk in the park, but fortune favors the bold - especially the well-equipped.
"It's a long run and that Detroit River is tough," Modrak said. "The locals call it `The Miracle Mile,' because when you get down there around the heart of Detroit, if you can make it through there without breaking anything, it's a miracle.
"Thank God I got to run a Ranger and Evinrude. With the confidence you have in those boats and motors, you can run anywhere."
Rhode rises to second
Day-one leader Jared Rhode, of Port Clinton, Ohio, got off to a great start with his opening-round bag of 21-7. He slipped two notches on day two when he kept busy with plenty of bites but no quality fish. After weighing 17 pounds yesterday, Rhode redeemed himself on day three with a bag of 20-5 that enabled him to regain one of those notches and finish with a tournament total of 58-12.
Targeting rock flats in Lake Erie, Rhode fished a tube and a dropshot with Berkley Gulp minnows. With the smallmouth spawning late, he fished shallower than he typically likes in about 13 to 18 feet. Essential to his success was a downsizing move that may have heightened his blood pressure.
"One thing I did today was I used a little bit lighter line - I went down to 6-pound Berkley fluorocarbon," he said. "I know that some of the fish were getting picked over. I caught a couple of big ones on that lighter line and it almost gave me a heart attack.
"It takes five minutes to get them it, you're back-reeling and the drag's pulling. But that Berkley line is so strong you can tow a boat with it."
Rhode's third-day catch was the second largest, behind Modrak's.
Fox figures it out for third
The only other pro to reach the 20-pound mark on day three, Arkansas pro Travis Fox caught an even 20 and moved up three notches from sixth place to third with a three-day total of 57-11. Admitting that he's no Detroit River expert, Fox said he was able to implement some of his experience, along with some helpful input into his tournament effort.
"In my spare time, I like to float rivers and catch smallmouth," he said. "I tried to use the current as part of my strategy here. It worked a little bit and every day I tried to capitalize and figure a few more things out.
"I had some help from a friend (seventh-place pro) Todd Steele. I was having an OK practice and he said `You need to go here.' It was one waypoint, so I went there and he wasn't kidding. So I floated around, got lucky and caught some fish, found some other waypoints and just tried my best to stay on them."
Fox caught his day-three fish on green pumpkin tubes with a 5/16-ounce leadhead. He tempted his fish by dropping the tube into grass and hopping it or pulling it through the vegetation.
Dobson improves to fourth
Scott Dobson of Clarkston, Mich., started the day in ninth place, but made a big final-round move on the strength of his 19-pound, 12-ounce limit. Dobson climbed five spots to finish fourth with 56-8.
Most of the week, Dobson fished shallow and caught his fish on drop shots, tubes, jerkbaits and small swimbaits. Stealthy movement and quick response was essential and that's what his Power Poles provided.
"A lot of people up here don't think that Power Poles will stay on the boat in the rough water, but I put mine through 300 miles over the last three days and I never (had any problems) with them," Dobson said. "I use them all the time in shallow water. You don't spook the fish. You just put them down when you see a fish, throw over there and catch him."
Schmitz runs out of quality fish
On day two, Todd Schmitz of Goshen, Ind., made a big move from seventh place to first after sacking up the tournament's largest bag, a 23-pound, 2-ounce effort. However, Schmitz believes he may have taken too many big fish from his two main spots during the first two rounds because today, he couldn't find anything over about 3 pounds. A day-three sack of 13-6 gave him 56-2 for the tournament.
"There were still fish on my spots, but obviously they were much smaller," Schmitz said. "That usually happens. A lot of times, when big fish leave, little fish take their place."
Today, Schmitz caught one fish on a chartreuse spinnerbait and four on a green pumpkin tube with a 3/8-ounce Outkast Tackle leadhead.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Detroit River event:
6th: Michael Trombly, of Perrysburg, Ohio, 55-6
7th: Todd Steele, of Port Huron, Mich., 54-15
8th: Randy Ramsey, of Battle Creek, Mich., 54-4
9th: Skip Johnson, of Goodells, Mich., 53-1
10th: Wade Hendricks, of Thompsons Station, Tenn., 52-13