UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Old Hickory Lake

Big Smallmouths, Big Water for Season Finale

Big Smallmouths, Big Water for Season Finale

Any tournament with smallmouths in it is a good one, but when the Costa FLW Series Northern Division presented by Gajo Baits heads to the St. Lawrence River it's usually a show-stopper. This year’s event, which is presented by Realtree Fishing, shouldn’t be any different as the Northern Division looks to close its season out on one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the world September 19-21.

 

Garry Woodruff

The playing field

The St. Lawrence River is no stranger to FLW Series competition and when you consider the past three years the Northern Division has stopped by you understand why. Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence offer some of the biggest, baddest smallmouths you can find in the country and are both in play for this event. While 5-pound-class smallies can be caught throughout the river and lake, Lake Ontario is where most turn their attention for 25-pound-plus limits of fish. Of course, weather can throw a wrench in the plan of those who bank on the lake and we’ve seen that the past couple of years where the lake gets put off-limits for a day due to high winds.

That’s where this year’s event will change how some approach this massive body of water.  

Instead of launching out of Clayton, N.Y., which sits just a few miles downstream of the mouth of the lake offering relatively easy access to the eastern islands of Ontario, this event will launch farther to the northeast out of Massena. What was once a 15 or so mile run to the mouth of the lake from takeoff – and roughly 30-plus miles to Gallo Island or Main Duck – will now be about a 95-mile run just to get to the lake.

While there will still be some who gamble to make the run to Lake Ontario, most will put their attention to a stretch of river unseen by the majority of competitors in the past several years. The nice thing about the St. Lawrence is that it holds endless amounts of places for big smallmouths to call home – and even some big largemouths. On the smallmouth side of things, sharp breaks, rock piles and both deep and shallow flats offer smallmouth heaven. And for those that want to hunt largemouths, there are numerous grassy bays and docks for them to call home. For an angler in search of bass, just pick your strength and have at it.

 

What to expect

Last year, Kyle Hall sacked up 68 pounds, 11 ounces over three days from both the lake and river, though most of his damage came from the lake before it was made off-limits on the final day because of high winds. In 2017, Matt Becker caught 66-4 in an event that was dominated by Lake Ontario. Though it’s not out of the question for the lake to be a factor this time around, the reality is that the river will finally have its time to shine. Back in August the B.A.S.S. Elite Series tournament – where competition was confined solely to the St. Lawrence – was won with 87-4 over four days, and saw plenty of mid- to low-20-pound bags weighed in.

In reality, the best marker of what to expect from the river is the most recent T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Super Tournament for the Northeast Division where Zackery Seal took the title with 44-4 over two days this past weekend. Tenth place was 37-15 with weights stacked tight in between, so fishing was pretty good, though strong winds on Saturday helped keep the weights off par from what the fishery can offer.

Cal Climpson of Cavan, Ontario, is a Lake Ontario specialist and no stranger to the St. Lawrence River and he believes this should be a stellar way to close the division.

“This spring was a lot cooler up here, and even our summer was nice,” Climpson says. “We had one month from July into August where it was warm and then it’s been cool. There’s red leaves popping up on trees everywhere. The lake never got that hot this year and the fish never made it out to 35 or 50 feet like they do on Lake Ontario because they had no reason to. So, a lot of the fish spawned later and then it never got hot enough to drive them out. Every year it’s different (in the 1000 Islands area), it’s a neat fishery like that.

“But the lake and river are two totally different fisheries. You throw that current in there and it changes things. The river is never the same temperature as the lake and I think the lake will play less this year because it stayed cooler in the summer. You’ll be able to catch fish up shallow and deep in this one, but I think there will be more deep fish caught in the river.”

With the lake being such a long run it seems as though the river will have more emphasis on it than ever before. Even though Climpson favors the lake, he says the river is chock full of big ones.

“There’s winning fish in every corner of this system. You can win this tournament burning 10 bucks in gas each day. I’m interested to see how this all pans out.”

 

Tournament tactics

The usual suspects will be in play this week, no doubt. But the one presentation that will likely receive the most attention is the drop-shot. In fact, nearly every angler who made the top 10 in this event over the last two years has relied heavily on a drop-shot, and that shouldn’t change this year, especially considering how efficient it can be in the swift current of the St. Lawrence. Put a small swimbait, tube or something that imitates a goby on your drop-shot and it’s game on. For shallower fish, a jerkbait, hair jig, swimbait and a spy bait should the main stars. As far as anyone trying to pursue a largemouth bite goes, look for a frog and Texas rig to make an appearance.

Top 10 baits from 2018

 

Weight expectations

The St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario combine to form one of the few places in the world where 25-pound-plus bags of smallmouths are common. Smallmouths weighing over 6 pounds are realistic fish and 7-pounders not out of the question. To win the Elite Series event in mid-August, Micah Frasier weighed a 25-9 bag on the final day, but averaged a 20-pound bag throughout the event. The biggest bag in the Super Tournament at the 1000 Islands over the weekend was 23-7, which is still a phenomenal bag of brown ones, yet Seal won with bags of 21-8 and 22-12. So, the weights are looking good, but this may not be the year we see a 75-pound winning weight.

“There’s 5-pounders everywhere,” says Climpson. “There’s 5-pounders in Massena, there’s 5s in Brockville, there’s 5s on Wolfe Island and tons of them in the lake. You’ve just got to do your homework and figure out what area of the river you’re going to fish and where the big ones live.

“I think mid to high 60s will win. I’ll go with 68 pounds.”

 

Scott Dobson

Angler of the Year hunt

This could be one of the tightest Angler of the Year races seen in the past few years in the Northern Division. Smallmouth guru and former 1000 Islands champion Scott Dobson leads the pack after finishing third on Champlain and 13th at the Potomac to give him 486 points total. It’d be hard to picture him stumbling, but with a trio of top-notch anglers behind him it won’t make it easy. Casey Smith, Troy Morrow and Adrian Avena all sit in striking distance with 484 points and since they all have some experience on the St. Lawrence there’s a strong chance the AOY title gets decided on the final day of this event.

 

The current top 10

1. Scott Dobson – 486 points

2. Casey Smith – 484

3. Troy Morrow – 484

4. Adrian Avena – 484

5. Wayne Vaughan – 479

6. Kurt Mitchell – 472

7. Bryan Thrift – 461

8. Frankie Appaluccio – 458

9. Dakota Ebare – 457

10. Travis Manson – 452

 

Tournament details

Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner in each division determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.

Takeoff Time: 7:00 a.m. ET

Takeoff Location: Massena Intake Boat Launch, 1415 State Hwy 51, Massena, N.Y.

Weigh-In Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Weigh-In Location: Massena Intake Boat Launch

Complete details

Tags: kyle-wood  pre-tournament  2019-09-19-st-lawrence-river 

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