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BASS Lake St. Clair Baits, Gear & Patterns

Chris Lane's Winning Pattern Baits & Gear

A week ago, there was a much greater chance that Chris Lane would be a promoter rather than a competitor at the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. He'd prepped himself psychologically for that more-than-likely eventuality, vowing to do whatever he could to help his adopted hometown of Guntersville, Ala. put on a good show and everything possible to assist his sponsors in presenting their products and services in a favorable light. He'll still do a lot of that kind of thing over the ensuing months as Lake Guntersville gets ready to host its second Classic (the first was way back in 1976). But when the third full week in February rolls around, his focus will be on the lake itself rather than the convention center in Birmingham, where the Classic Expo will take place. His victory at the Lake St. Clair Bassmaster Elite Series will give him the opportunity to pursue his second Classic title in 3 years. At No. 53 on the points list going in, he didn't have to actually win the Michigan event to qualify, but he had to come close. Because of his Florida roots and his lack of much of a deep-water or brown-fish pedigree, he wasn't on anybody's radar. He made his presence known with a 22-09 sack on day 1 that put him atop the 99-angler field. He dropped to 4th with a pedestrian 17-pound bag the next day, but climbed back to 2nd with a tournament-best 22-15 on day 3. He then caught 19-11 on the final day to claim the victory as Mark Davis, the leader on the 2 middle days, faltered on Lake Erie and perpetual contender Aaron Martens was forced to toss a potentially winning sack of Erie fish over the side when a boat problem prevented him from making it to the weigh-in. Lane's 82-04 total outdistanced runner-up Davis by nearly 5 1/2 pounds. Due to Martens' mishap, he was the lone competitor to average 20 pounds a day on a system that's heralded as one of the world's top smallmouth fisheries.

Lane had several factors working against him when practice for the St. Clair event began. For one, he's not a smallmouth ace by any means. For another, he's not extremely well-versed in the dropshotting technique, which was bound to dominate the event. And for a third, he holds a great disdain for the "Miracle Mile," which is the locals' name for the portion of the Detroit River near the Motor City that must be traversed in order to get from St. Clair to Erie. It's actually a lot longer than a mile - like maybe 20 times as long - and the surface boils constantly due to frequent strong winds and the myriad of large boats that use the channel daily. A low-profile bass boat out there can be like a spent mayfly on a mountain stream; it often goes wherever the angry water sends it. Legend has it that the stretch was so named because it takes a miracle to get through there without damage to your boat. The prevailing opinion was that to finish in the Top 12, a competitor would likely have to catch big smallmouths from Erie using a dropshot rig. Under that perceived scenario, Lane's name wasn't the first - or even the 50th - that came to mind. It was his desire to avoid the Miracle Mile, plus the ultra-thin condition of the longest fish on St. Clair, that pointed him in the direction of Lake Huron. From a national tournament perspective, the viability of Huron remained untapped. "I got into the St. Clair River and started fishing around," he said. "I fished cans (buoys), humps, grass, seawalls, docks, just whatever I could find. I worked my way from the bottom of the river all the way up to Huron (a distance of about 50 miles) and I caught a lot of fish, but not a lot of 4-pounders. "As I worked toward Huron, the fish got bigger and bigger and bigger. Then when I got into the lake, I caught a 6-pounder of a buoy that had another one with it. Then I found another buoy that had them. It was phenomenal." Enticing those uneducated bronzebacks into biting something attached to a hook wasn't much of a problem. "They were very easy to catch. Even a guy from Florida could do it."

Competition:

Lane pulled 21 pounds from Huron fairly easily on day 1, then dropped back into the St. Clair River and popped a 5-pounder on a spinnerbait from a baitfish-rich seawall. His sack gave him an early 1 1/2-pound advantage over Davis, who fished more than 100 miles away on a shoal in the middle of Erie. On day 2 he boated a 5-12 off a Huron buoy that equaled his largest specimen of the previous day (that day-1 fish had taken big-bass honors). He didn't get nearly as many bites that day, however, and determined that something (perhaps the cool mornings the area was experiencing) was causing the big ones to relocate. He went farther into the lake on day 3 and caught four solid fish from a series of buoys. He drifted off the last one and eased his way over to a seawall, and there he saw Alton Jones working a current seam in the river. Jones told him the stretch was loaded and invited Lane to come join him. Lane accepted, and they both departed awhile later with premium-quality stringers (Jones' weighed 21-08 and Lane's was about a pound and a half heavier). The spent all of the following day there, this time it was Jones who left with the bigger sack (22-03 to 19-11). Lane's was plenty big enough to secure the win, but compiling it was far from easy as the area almost became a Miracle Mile-type scenario. "I spent a lot of my time trying not to fall out of the boat or sink it," he said. "Imagine a place that's maybe three football fields wide, and there's 50 boats coming at you from one direction and 50 coming from the other direction all the time. "It got so rough that there really wasn't any adjustments to be made at that point. You just have to be physically and mentally prepared for a butt-whipping."

Winning Pattern:

Lane primarily fished a dropshot rig around the buoys and seawalls, but also employed a spinnerbait and a jerkbait. "The key for me with the dropshot was seeing balls of bait holding around the buoys, and I could also see them along the seawalls," he said. "If you found a bunch of bait, you found the smallmouths. They'd bit anything in natural colors that looked like a little minnow or shad." The buoy fish usually came from 18 to 20 feet of water, while the ones relating to the seawalls were 5 to 9 feet down. On the drift he shared with Jones, he drug a tube down 30 feet. It was important to stay along a quasi-mudline where the water went from crystal clear to somewhat dingy. "My Lowrance electronics were important for me because I needed to stay on the contour line," he said. "A lot of guys will use their electronics to see the fish and then just drop down there, but I don't really know how to do that yet. I'd throw out and drift down the line, and sometimes I'd see fish on the graph when I went over them and I knew I should get a bite when my bait got to that spot."

Winning Gear:

Dropshot gear: 7' medium-action All Star AST Drop Shot Abu Garcia Revo SX20 spinning reel, 6-pound Stren Fluorocast line, 1/4-ounce unnamed weight, size 1 unnamed dropshot hook, various 3" and 4" minnow-style plastic baits (natural shad colors).

Tube gear: 7'1" heavy-action All Star AST rod, Abu Garcia Revo Rocket casting reel (9:1 ratio), 15-pound Stren Fluorocast, 3/8-ounce Luck "E" Strike jighead (with rattle), Luck "E" Strike Fast Lane Tube (green-pumpkin/gold). He said the super-high speed of the reel (a new product that will reach store shelves this fall) was critical for that technique. "Dragging a tube with that much line out and with that much wind, you'll almost always have a bow in your line when you go to set the hook," he said. "I'd set and reel and set and reel and set and reel to make sure I got the hook in their mouth."

Spinnerbait gear: 7'1" medium-heavy All Star AST Carolina Rig rod, Abu Garcia Revo SX casting reel (7:1 ratio), 15-pound Stren Brute Strength monofilament, unnamed 3/4-ounce spinnerbait (perch with double willow-leaf copper blades). He doesn't think he weighed any of his jerkbait fish. The bait was a Luck "E" Strike RC Stick (green back/clear).

Main factor: "Fishing with no worries. If I didn't make the Classic at this event, I'd have gone to Okeechobee (for the Bassmaster Wild Card in December) and tried to make it there. If I didn't make it there, I'd have gone to work for the town and my sponsors and come back and started over next year. I'd have been disappointed, but it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world."

Performance edge: "I'd have to say my Legend/Mercury combo. Counting practice, I drove it about 700 miles, and a lot of those miles weren't real smooth. I never had any issues at all and that thing holds like 62 gallons of gas, so I never had to gas up during the day."

St. Clair Elite Series Winning Pattern Bassfan 8/27/13 (John Johnson)

Mark Davis' Pattern, Baits & Gear

Mark Davis, a former Bassmaster Classic winner and three-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, posted his highest finish since returning to the circuit in 2008 (he was an FLW-only pro for 2006-07). Needing a strong showing to qualify for next year's Classic, he made a long, perilous journey to Lake Erie each day hoping to coax an average of a couple of bites per hour. He was highly successful in that quest for the first 3 days as he popped 20 pounds or more on each occasion and sat atop the standings for the 2 middle days of the event. On day 4, the big bronzebacks pulled off of the shoal they'd been inhabiting and he had to scramble for his four-fish, 13-pound sack. He farmed two bites that day, including one in excess of 4 pounds. "The place was just a regular shoal out around some islands in the middle of the lake," he said. "It was really textbook smallmouth structure rock, zebra mussels and boulders. I found it by looking at the map on my Lowrance (electronics unit) and drove out there in practice, and the second hump I came to had fish on it. Those first fish I found weren't big, but one thing led to another and I stayed in that general vicinity until I found the big ones. "I've only spent about 9 days on Erie in my life and I don't want to say I was totally out of my element, but a gamble like that was necessary this time for me. I was behind the 8-ball (on the points list) and I knew I had to do something like that."

Dropshot gear: 7' medium-action Team Lew's rod, Team Lew's Gold spinning real, 8-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce Strike King tungsten weight, size 1 or 2/0 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook, nose-hooked Strike King Dream Shot (green-pumpkin/gold/purple flake with tail dyed chartreuse) or wacky-rigged 4 1/2" Roboworm Fat Worm (margarita mutilator).

Main factor: "I really had to be diligent in the way I fished every day. I used a lot of patience."

Performance edge: "That's a tie between my Skeeter/Yamaha for getting me there and back and my Lowrance HDS-10 for keeping me around those fish the whole time. I could see them and drop right down on them."

Lake St. Clair Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 8/28/13 (John Johnson)

Alton Jones' Pattern, Baits & Gear

Jones, like Lane, made the northerly run to Lake Huron each day instead of accompanying the majority of the field on its south-bound journey to Lake Erie. He spent the entire tournament around the bottom end of that massive lake and he and Lane alternated making a 250-yard drift along a current seam for the final day and a half. He believes the presence of a strong population of gobies, the invasive baitfish that make smallmouths fat and happy, is the reason the area was so fertile. "I went and pre-practiced before the (off-limits period) with a good friend of mine who won a big tournament up there at this time last year," he said. "He showed me about a 10-mile stretch of the (St. Clair) River and the lake. We didn't go to that exact spot, but I used similar patterns and it gave me something to expand on." On his primary drift, it was important to follow a sort of mudline that was formed by waves crashing into the shore. "Not knowing about that is what caused me to miss the fish that first morning. They were using that mudline as a type of structure. Once I got set up on the right drift, I'd get a bite on almost every pass." He dragged a tube through 30 to 40 feet of water. The bottom composition in the area was primarily zebra mussels. "When I'd hit the lower end (of the drift), I'd just motor back up and start over. When (Lane) and I were both doing it, we were usually about 100 yards apart. There was plenty of fish for both of us."

Tube gear: 6'9" medium-heavy Kistler Z-Bone rod, Browning Midas casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 30-pound Power Pro braided line, 20-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader (4'), 3/8-ounce unnamed jighead, 4" YUM tube (green-pumpkin). He said the fish had no reservations about taking a bait attached to such heavy line. "Whenever I get in a situation like that, I always test to see if the fish are line-shy or not, and these were not. I could reel them to the top and fling them to the boat instead of cradling them like I would've had to do with spinning gear."

Main factor: "My first choice would've been to fish Lake St. Clair, but when I saw how skinny those fish were, I knew I needed to look at other stuff. I knew the (fishing) pressure would be going toward Erie, and Erie can take it. The mouth of the St. Clair River can't take a lot of pressure, and I knew it would be less crowded there. It worked out."

Performance edge: "No question, it was my Skeeter FX20. Making those runs with all the wakes and waves was brutal, there's no other way to put it. At age 50, I need a soft ride and that Skeeter delivers it."

Lake St. Clair Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 8/28/13 (John Johnson)

Takahiro Omori's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Takahiro Omori joined a couple of other high finishers in fishing a long, slow-tapering point in Erie. The run from the launch in Harrison Township, Mich. was about 2 hours each way. He averaged about 10 bites per day and caught his biggest fish of the week, a 5-11, on the final day. "I put so much into this tournament," he said. "When (B.A.S.S.) first announced the schedule last year, I came up 1 week later and fished St. Clair, and it was awesome. Then (earlier) this year I came back for another 7 days and it was still good. But when official practice started, I could only catch about 14 pounds. "I went to Erie on the second practice day and I was able to find a few key spots."

Dropshot gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Daiwa Black Label casting rod, Daiwa Zillion J Dream casting reel (7.9:1 ratio), 7-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Kanji International dropshot weight, 1/0 Gamakatsu dropshot hook, Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm (green-pumpkin) or Xzone Fat Slammer (green-pumpkin/copper, purple/blue neon belly).

Tube gear: Same rod and reel, 10-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce homemade jighead, 3 1/2" Yamamoto tube (green-pumpkin). He currently fishes with only baitcasting gear because he has an elbow ailment that's greatly aggravated by using a spinning setup.

Main factor: "I think it was being open-minded during practice."

Performance edge: "My Yahama SHO and Ranger boat held up on that long run with big waves for 4 days in a row."

Lake St. Clair Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 8/28/13 (John Johnson)

Nate Wellman's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Nate Wellman, the lone Michigan resident to make the final-day cut, relied on spots that had produced for him in the past. His best spot was near Pelee Island, about 85 miles from the launch. "I fished the flats coming off the reefs that had scattered rock, and the fish would be right at the end in 25 to 32 feet of water," he said. "There's a lot of isolated rocks on those dropoffs and I was fishing those rocks. "The bite was really tough. When I'd mark a fish (on the graph), I'd try to drop the bait right down on its head with the bail of the reel open. Then I'd have to drift away about 10 yards, click the bail and then hold the bait still or maybe shake it just a little bit. I had to get the boat away from the bait this time and I don't know why. Normally you can just drop straight down to them.

Dropshot gear: 6'9" medium-action Cal West Custom rod, Shimano Stradic 2500 spinning reel, 6-pound McCoy fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce generic lead dropshot weight, size 1 VMC Spinshot hook, 3" Berkley Gulp! Minnow (black shad) or Poor Boys Erie Darter (mango magic).

Main factor: "Having those places that I've fished for many years. In practice I caught two 4-pounders and a 5 on my main place in the first 5 minutes."

Lake St. Clair Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 8/28/13 (John Johnson)