Mother nature giveth, and the cruel Mother can taketh away. So there is really just one, huge lesson a
I looked at the extended forecast at the beginning of that week and things did not look bad. But when reports started coming in from Lake Erie and the B.A.S.S Bass Pro Shop Northern Open on Thursday and Friday about tough easterly winds, I began to wonder about St. Clair. No sooner had I thought about contacting Ryan for plan A, my text beep went off , it was Ryan. “ St. Clair has been a mess. Very few fish and winds from the East making it very rough,” he said, “ but I have a new plan.” Plan B I thought. Good, lay it on me. He had some good spots working in the northwest corner of Lake Erie, at the mouth of the Detroit River, and some spots in the River. I had only fished walleye in Lake Erie, but the smallmouth are legendary and with my iBass360 colleague, guide and pro fisherman Rick Nitkiewicz having just scored a Big Bass check at the BASS Open with a 6 lb. 4 oz. fish, I was ready for Plan B.
We agreed to meet at 6:30 McDonalds off the I-75 Gibraltar Road Exit near Flat Rock, MI (home of the Ford Mustang Assembly Plant), but fishermen are prone to excitement and after having a good breakfast at the Ram’s Horn, I was sitting in the Micky-D parking lot at 5:45 AM. About five minutes later- tap tap on my window, another anxious angler. Five minutes later Ryan and I were at the Lake Erie MetroPark preparing to launch. It was a busy morning at the ramp. This is the season for all the big three- smallmouth, walleye and muskies. The plan for the day was revealed- 1) hit some open water cuts in about 15 ft. of water plus/minus with the drop shot, 2) move up the river channels and hit some points in similar depth with similar tactics, 3) hit some shallow outside weed edges in about 6-7 ft. of water in the river and in the Erie mouth, 4) return and hit anything that worked particularly well, 5) end with some shallower water rocks in front of one of the river mouth islands. A solid plan B compared to being bounced to hell and back on the open Lake(s).
We launched in the dark due to our early morning “enthusiasm”- running lights on. We got to the first spot and it was almost instantaneous hook up. Ryan lost a fish due to a leap close to the boat, but slowly but surely we started the catching. We were drop shotting with Strike King 3X Z Too baits in Arkansas Shiner and Smokey Shad colors. These baits are softer, stronger and more durable than a lot of other fluke style baits. Dobyns 702 SF rods with Shimano Saros, Sedona and Sahara spinning reels were the set-ups of choice. The current was strong and the wind quite steady out of the northeast. This combination gave Ryan a challenge in boat positioning. I found that casting parallel to the bow and allowing the bait to drift as close to the boat as possible allowed the best control to maintain a natural presentation while keeping as much slack as possible out of the line. This first spot gained in popularity as anglers either observed our success or already knew about it. As boat number six arrived on the scene, we moved out into the lake just a short distance to a less weedy cut. It was a little easier to control the drift here and keep the bait in the zone, so it was not long before I boated the biggest fish of the day- not quite a 5 or 6 pounder but a bruiser never-the-less. We were getting fairly consistent bites and hook-ups. We boated a few and lost a few. All nice healthy fish with nice color. When this spot played out, it was time to head into the river mouth.
The Detroit River in this section has a lot of similar characteristics to the St. Lawrence River. It has islands, structure, current and width that rivals many lakes. there are channels for shipping and shallower channels that offer nice options to recreational boaters and fishermen. Make no mistake about it, it is a major body of water. We moved through the main shipping channel in one spot that was very well protected. We got the Skeeter up to 65 MPH- something I had not previously been able to experience on the rougher St. Clair. It was a rush to say the least. Pleasure boaters and fishermen were scattered throughout the river system often anchored in concentration doing their respective things. We worked our way up to Grosse Ile (big island) and began working the outer edge drop offs of a point. with lots of current and wind working. Once again Ryan hit a nice fish on his first cast with the drop shot. We worked on fine tuning our pattern and the fish started coming. By now I am working on a best five of somewhere in the 17-18 pound range. Not bad. Once again our fish catching did not go unnoticed and, as we drifted off the structure while dealing with a nice four pounder, another boat began working our spot. It turned out not to be a problem as they did not really know the drift that had taken us some time to perfect. We made another couple of passes, one with a fish, before moving on. The one variation at this spot was using Poor Boy Erie Darters in a smoke purple on the drop shot. This is one of those colors where you just scratch you head in wonderment as to why it works, although it could be related to the influx of gobbies in the great lake system.
As we worked our way back down river, we stopped to throw spinnerbaits, swimbaits and lipless cranks on a weed flat in about 6-7 ft. of water. I picked up the Dobyns Champion 733 with Lew’s baitcaster and a white-bladed spinnerbait tied on. White blades- I throw a lot of spinnerbaits- especially in the Adirondacks and on the Delaware River, and my experience has been if it isn’t a gold willow leaf, it doesn’t work- except for some special murky or low light water situations where a silver Colorado blade can be effective. I should have been more positive because with no confidence I was not going to catch fish. I gave it 30 minutes or so and switched to a lipless crank. Neither of us had a strike so we moved on.
We had decided to return to the place where I had caught the best fish of the day. Unfortunately the wind had shifted and it was even more difficult to maintain a good pattern with the wind from the southeast. The spot fished totally different than in the morning and we did not have a strike. It was last call and we decided to throw swimbaits in shallow water near one of the islands not too far from the ramp. The swimbait was not attracting them but I think my negativity about the War Eagle spinnerbait in the coleslaw pattern had gotten Ryan’s goat a bit. It was on like donkey kong. Imagine my surprise and his glee when he hooked up- a nice dark colored fish that he fought to the boat only to have it spit the spinnerbait almost directly into the boat as the bass bid farewell with a boatside leap. I put down the swimbait and picked up my favorite- a lipless crank- an Xcaliber XR50- now branded Booyah- in blue and silver. I decided to use a ripping retrieve- reel reel rip reel reel rip. I hooked up on the first rip also losing the fish to a boatside leap. But the next cast-wham, this one stayed hooked and came to the boat for a fond farewell to a fun day on the water. We wrapped up with some picture taking and I got the “two fisted football foto” I was looking for, even though the personal best remains the fish I caught with Marcel in April- Imagine what that one weighs after a summer season of fattening.
The fishing days are dwindling to a precious few as Steven and Janessa’s wedding and my travel season are right around the corner, so I am very happy Ryan and I got our trip in. The lesson for all who read this is simple- if you want to guarantee that you will have success, no matter what you are undertaking, make sure you have a Plan B. Thank you Ryan Said- the teacher- for that valuable lesson.