Hello Everyone, I want to give a summary of my Bassmaster Northern Opens tournament at Lake Erie. I’ll run through my preparation, practice days, tournament days and post tournament lessons learned. This was the one tournament that I was looking forward to all year. This was because of my experience on the lake and that I love chasing those smallies on Lake Erie. Well, it didn’t turn out the way that I expected but I learned some valuable lessons, which was important for my fishing career.
Let’s start with the preparation period. I read through all of my notes, reviewed all of my waypoints on my navionics card, and re-studied all of the maps for Lake Erie. I also paid close attention to the FLW Rayovac tournament that was there 3 weeks earlier. The FLW Rayovac showed me they were caught deep and shallow. Based on my past history, the results from the Rayovac and the 2nd cold front of the fall coming during the week of practice, this had me leaning towards looking for bass in the 10-20ft zones. I figured since it was the end of September and many decent size bass were caught shallow during the Rayovac that the bass movement towards the shallows was starting.
My game plan going into my practice week was to focus on that 10-20 ft. zone around Pelee Island and the Bass Islands. During practice, we had your typical September weather on Erie, which consisted of windy days on the water and rough water. Since the weather was going to limit my ability to run around on Erie, I decided to focus on different areas of Erie on each practice day. Each day I was able to catch 4lb+ bass at many different locations around Pelee and the Bass Islands but I didn’t lean on those spots very much on practice to save them for the tournament.
I kept trying the crankbait every day in practice and really couldn’t get that bite going. My favorite Livingston Lure Howeller has become a standard for me on Erie over the past few years and I decided the cold front was maybe slowing that bite down. Of course, drop shotting a Yamamoto shad shape worm ended up being the most efficient way to catch them quickly during practice. When it was cloudy, my drop shot leader was about 12-18” and when it was sunny, my leader extended to around 24-30”. When the sun did come out, the bass would pull up off the bottom a little bit and they would eat even better.
On the last day of practice, I decided to check some deep spots in 25-35 ft. of water to just verify my game plan was correct that they were moving shallow. Well on my first spot, I caught 2 around 5lb+ each in about 10 min. and then I ran to another spot and caught another one around 5lbs pretty quickly. This really had me thinking that the big ones were still in deep water and not all moving to the deep water just yet. The more I thought about, the more I felt all the good ones that I caught during the past 4 days of practice were the first round of bass that had moved up. I decided on day 1 of the tournament that I needed to concentrate on my deep-water areas because I was sensing the bigger population was still in the deeper water.
Day 1 started with a wind forecast of 10-20 mph from the east. It took me 1 hr. and 45 min. to get to my first spot. My first 2 areas were the areas where I caught the big bass the day before. The problem I ran across on Day 1 was managing my drift across these spots. In practice, I was able to use my trolling motor to control my drift easily. Well during Day 1, the 4-6’ waves where I was at and the winds coming straight at me
from the east made it extremely tough. The co-angler and me caught one fish a piece from those 2 spots. I then decided to run to some of my wind protected areas in shallower water around Pelee and Middle Bass Island. We were able to pick more bass at each spot but we were only catching 1-2 bass at each spot. I started realizing that my assumption was correct, that most of the big bass were still in deep water. By now, it was getting close to weigh-in time and I was scrambling to try and catch my 5th bass. I ended up with 4 bass for 9-3 lbs. after Day 1 and was sitting in 98th place. Wow, I didn’t expect that for Day 1!
Day 2, started off with a good friend of mine, Carmon Peluso, lending me his drift sock. I didn’t have one, which was already a big mistake for fishing Lake Erie but I’ll talk about that later. I knew I needed a big bag on Day 2 in order to have a chance of making a check. So I ran out to a spot that I have history on by Pelee Island first and started scanning and drifting. At about noon, I had 4 fish and 2 of those were the size I needed. I did lose my 5th one at that spot which was a 4-5lb bass also. I then decided to run around Pelee and fish some more areas but those areas had many boats on them. I then went running to my other shallow spots close by but couldn’t come up with my 5th fish again. I ended up weighing in 4 for 11-4 on Day 2 and moved up to 79th place, which was really a disappointment for me on Lake Erie.
Here’s the most important part in tournament fishing though. It’s what you learn from a tournament. A fisherman becomes stagnant if they don’t learn from every experience on the water. This tournament provided many lessons after I looked back at the tournament on the drive back home.
Lesson #1: Always come prepared with the right tools needed to fish efficiently on the water. My biggest mistake was not having a drift sock. It was very important to drift as slow as possible. The drift sock enabled me on Day 2 to drift at least 2 mph slower than on Day 1. During my practice days, I really didn’t need a drift sock to fish all my areas. During that last day of practice, I realized the bigger bass were still in deep water and those areas were not protected from the wind. I’ll have a drift sock or have Power Poles with the drift paddles for next year.
Lesson #2: This is a lesson that I’ve heard repeated many times over the years and I fell into it. Always keep an open mind whenever you are on the water. I came up to Lake Erie with a game plan already and I stuck to it throughout practice. On the last day of practice, I checked some of my deep areas and the bigger bass were there. I spent way too much time in practice trying to force the bass into where I thought they should be and not keeping an open mind of where they could be.
Lesson #3: Boat control and handling were very important in this tournament. Big water and big waves on the Great Lakes can be a challenge for many people to run their boats in. This event proved that with how many boats that dropped out after Day 1. This is an area that I have full confidence in from my experience on the Great Lakes. It’s more important to know how to ride in those conditions than to what kind of boat you have. I ran my Nitro Z7 all over that lake and received many praises from the different co-anglers that rode with me. This is a subject that I will post an article or video about in the future.
My final lesson is to always keep a positive mind and attitude on the water and in life. Even though I didn’t finish where I wanted to, I went home in a positive frame of mind because I was able learn from my experience and I now look forward to the next tournament. Remember to always be chasing your goals and dreams in life.