Sitko braves perilous Erie for EverStart win

Pro champion Michael Sitko holds up one of his five huge smallmouths from day three on Lake Erie.

TRENTON, Mich. - Two consecutive days without wind is a rarity on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. Three consecutive days is virtually unheard of and true to form, the third and final day of the EverStart Series Central Division finale was wet, windy and wild. Each of the top 10 pros started with the intention of running east to Erie, but only one ended up fishing the entire day. That brave soul was Michael Sitko. In truth, Sitko had an equipment advantage; he runs a Ranger 621VS as he also competes in national walleye tournaments. While it cost him a bit the first two days as the smaller bass boats would race past, today it was worth its weight in gold. Michael Sitko caught a five-bass limit Saturday that weighed 21 pounds, 6 ounces.Sitko started the final day in seventh place and ran 35 miles east along the North Shore. He boated a quick limit that included one 4-pounder and four peanuts that barely measured. By 9 a.m. he had three good fish in the livewell and all the other tournament boats around him had vacated. He headed back too, but stopped after 12 miles to sample another spot. There he caught a 4-pounder and a 3 1/2. Unfortunately, his co-angler partner was getting violently ill due to the consistent 5- and 6-footers. "I kept checking on him; I knew he was hurting but I also knew I was in contention," said Sitko. "I told myself that at 11:30 I was going to go in. I pushed it a little and at 11:40 I caught my last fish, a 4-pounder which culled out the 3 1/2." Sitko raced back and safely checked in at 12:30 p.m. His final tally was 21 pounds, 6 ounces, which more than gave him the improbable comeback win. As the other nine finalists retreated to the Detroit River or Lake St. Clair, Sitko's margin of victory was over 4 pounds. "The wind was the key. It was pretty nasty but I needed it to be rough to give me a shot. I knew these other guys couldn't get there or fish effectively. I was able to go where I needed to go; that boat made a huge difference." A closer look at Michael Sitko Sitko used two standard Erie presentations to catch his fish - a drop-shot and a tube. His drop-shot setup consisted of either a 1/2- or 3/8-ounce weight with a Poor Boy's Erie Darter or a Berkley 3-inch Twitch Tail Minnow. His tube was 4 inches long and green pumpkin in color. Sitko estimated he weighed nine fish this week on the drop-shot and six on the tube. "I fished water anywhere from 12 to 25 feet deep, but most came in that 12-to 15-feet range. I had six spots that I made a milk run through, each were isolated rock. Sometimes they were suspended where I'd lift the drop-shot up to catch them or they'd already be on when I clicked the bail over on a cast. Other times they were right on the bottom. Today I was only able to hit four spots, my best being the furthest one away. "I'd known about these areas for years," Sitko continued. "But when I checked them in practice, they weren't anything special. I had a pretty miserable practice altogether. I hit them again during the tournament, though, and they had turned on. Every spot produced." Michael Sitko reacts after learning he won the EverStart Series Central Division event on the Detroit River. Sitko has won many local tournaments on the Great Lakes, but he's never been victorious in an event of this magnitude. He took third two weeks ago at the BFL event and fourth earlier this year at an MWC walleye tournament. "It still doesn't seem real. I'm looking at the trophy and I don't believe it. It's surreal. It's awesome. It's incredible." For a total weight of 61 pounds, 15 ounces, Sitko earned $33,071 plus a Ranger Z518 with a 200 horsepower engine. And with it the battle for smallmouth supremacy in Detroit swings back to Lake Erie. Taylor retains second Mother Nature ended any notion of Rick Taylor winning his second EverStart Series event in 2013. Taylor, who won the Wheeler Lake event in May, started his day pointed east to Lake Erie. Like many others, he quickly realized that was a mistake. Rick Taylor retained second place after catching a 14-pound, 4-ounce limit Saturday."I love these lakes so much I fished them both today," quipped Taylor, whose long boat rides resulted in only an hour and 45 minutes of fishing time. "We started at Erie and visited the 4:06 spot but the waves were taller than me. So we shifted gears, bought gas and then went up to St. Clair." Taylor had a pretty good practice on St. Clair, but late Wednesday afternoon found the mother lode in Erie. "I was 35 miles away from the ramp when I found that spot at 4:06 p.m. Check-in for registration was between 4 and 6 p.m. It just goes to show you, you never give up in this sport." The appropriately-named 4:06 spot was a 20-acre area of rock, with the fish stacked on one specific pile. The bass were suspending and chasing bait, which is why Taylor caught them in as shallow as 6 feet and as deep as 30. Taylor's bite was so strong the first two days he could almost call his shot in the morning. When he'd bring a fish in, the entire school of smallmouths would follow the hooked fish to the boat. This allowed his co-anglers to catch several, but it also required Taylor to wait approximately 10 minutes for the school to return to the rock pile. The West Olive, Mich., pro caught fish this week on jerkbaits, swimbaits, tubes and crankbaits. But by far his most productive bait will remain a secret. Taylor explained it's a bait reigning Bassmaster Classic champion Cliff Pace clued him in on. Because the Elite Series makes a stop here in less than a month, Taylor wants to keep the bait quiet out of respect for Pace, his good friend. Taylor's limit Saturday weighed 14 pounds, 4 ounces, giving him 57-4 for the tournament. He earned $12,315 for second. "I knew when I turned around I conceded the win, but I was happy to preserve second." Wagner slips to third Heath Wagner slipped from first to third after catching 13 pounds, 4 ounces on day three.Like Taylor, day-two leader Heath Wagner attempted to fish Erie Saturday. But instead of running all the way up to St. Clair, Wagner retreated to the Detroit River. He was able to scrounge up a limit, but they weighed only 13-4, a far cry from his 24 pounds on day one. Included in his limit were several largemouths, a green-colored type of bass previously foreign to the Angola, Ind., pro. "Truly and honestly, I was just trying to catch every ounce I could in the river and give my co-angler a chance at winning," said Wagner, who won the BFL event on Erie two weeks ago. "I've fished this lake for 20 years and this was one of the top three worst days I've seen. It was ugly out there." Wagner caught his fish Saturday on a Keitech swimbait, a wacky-rigged Senko and a spinnerbait. Earlier in the week he was fishing in approximately 27 to 29 feet with a Poor Boy's tube (smoke purple flash color) and a 3/8-ounce weight. In the afternoons he'd sample a shallower area in 8 feet of water with a Strike King 5XD crankbait. Those two Erie spots accounted for all of his weigh fish the first two days. Wagner finished the week with a cumulative total of 56 pounds, 13 ounces. He earned $8,440 for third place. Jancasz finishes fourth Trevor Jancasz caught a 14-pound, 5-ounce limit Saturday and rose from fifth to fourth.Trevor Jancasz had a very similar third day to Wagner - initially trying to fish Erie before punting to the Detroit River. His limit consisted of three smallmouths and two largemouths and weighed 14 pounds, 5 ounces. "It was rough, but we salvaged a pretty decent day," said Jancasz who moved up from fifth to fourth. "I knew what the forecast said, but I didn't want to believe it. I had to go." Jancasz lasted an hour on the big lake and even caught two fish, but ultimately couldn't hold on the spot. Other boats were leaving, and he admittedly got a little scared and decided to error on the side of caution. "Once I got to the river I basically flipped a jig around boat docks. The first day I caught them on a drop-shot and yesterday I used a drop-shot and a crankbait." Jancasz's key baits were a 4-inch Strike King Super Finesse Worm, a Strike King Series 5 crankbait and a 5XD (both in sexy shad). With the finesse worm he used either a 1/2- or 3/8-ounce drop-shot weight. Jancasz fished the North Shore area. His crankbait spot was approximately 10 feet deep and his drop-shot spot was roughly 25 feet. The White Pigeon, Mich., native finished with a three-day total of 55 pounds, 7 ounces, earning $7,389. Said falls to fifth Ryan Said finished the week in fifth place with a total weight of 51 pounds, 10 ounces.Ryan Said also initially tried Erie, but thought better of it and ultimately decided to head back and fish close - catching four smallmouths Saturday that weighed 10 pounds, 6 ounces. "I had a pretty good pattern going earlier in the week - catching my better ones in less than 10 feet," Said explained. "But 6-foot waves don't exactly work when you're fishing only 10 feet of water." When Said was shallower, he'd throw crankbaits - a Lucky Craft CB D-20, CB D-10 or a Norman Deep Little N (all in shad colors). But each morning he'd start out in 24 feet of water and fish with either a Poor Boy's Erie Darter, DS Darter or tube. That deep bite would last until 7:15. "Then it was like they would flip a switch and completely stop biting." The Wixom, Mich., pro finished fifth with 51 pounds, 10 ounces, earning $6,568. Rest of the best Rounding out the top 10 pros at the EverStart Series Detroit River event: 6th: Jeff Vizachero of Grosse Ile, Mich., 51-6 7th: Matt Belletini of Birmingham, Mich., 49-9 8th: Jared Rhode of Port Clinton, Ohio, 49-0 9th: Skip Johnson of Goodells, Mich., 47-14 10th: Gary Greenwood of Irwin, Pa., 47-5 After finishing 12th this week, Dan Morehead captured his second EverStart Series Angler of the Year award with 746 points over four events. By winning the Central Division AOY, Morehead solidified his spot in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup. The next EverStart Series event is slated for Sept. 12 on Chesapeake Bay in Perryville, Md.

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