Recently I fished a small local tournament on Lake Erie out of the Detroit metro area. It featured some of the craziest weather I have seen on the water over a lot of years of fishing. I also learned and reinforced a couple of valuable lessons which I would like to share. In my early years of fishing, my dad used to tell me that while on the water, “never run out of ideas”. That advice came in handy on Saturday.
Now I admit that I can be hard-headed at times but the truth is that advice led to some fishing flexibility that (almost) won the day. Let me set few points of context :
· Despite Lake Erie being my favorite lake, this was my first time fishing it this year.
· Weather conditions were predicted to be mild winds in the morning, building throughout the day out of the south, with a mix of clouds, scattered sun and rain. Temperatures were forecast to be cool in the morning but climbing to the low 70’s in the afternoon.
· The tournament took place in early October, but up until that time Michigan had not yet begun true fall-type weather.
My favorite way to fish Lake Erie out of southeast Michigan is to throw a crankbait in
anywhere from six to twenty feet of water. I have lots of relatively small, isolated spots up and down the north shore of Lake Erie as well as in the mouth of the Detroit River. These spots lend themselves to a run and gun, target-fishing type pattern. Having not been on Erie all year, my buddy Mike and I decided our “A-plan” would be to go with this pattern we had enjoyed many times and with which we were comfortable.
When the tournament started we decided to run quite a ways to our first spot- a spot that had been deadly for me in the past at this time of year. The depth is twelve to fifteen feet and its key feature, like most of Erie, is its arrangement of large rocks and gravel. When we arrived I made three casts with a crankbait and could already feel something was not right. Was it my 6th sense? Maybe. Mike threw a dropshot and caught a 2 lb. fish. While this might have seemed like a good sign, on Erie it usually is
not. Fish generally group by size, so it would be rare to catch a 2 lber in the mix with larger fish. That fish told me the school I was looking for was not there. The absence of bait was another troubling clue. We fished that, and several other spots in the vicinity, for about an hour, but we only had one additional fish, a nice 4 lb spec
imen caught on a LiveTarget goby, also by Mike. Time to move.
The next spot I wanted to hit was a spot with a feature in six to eight feet, which was also near a good feature in fifteen to eighteen feet. There was, however, one problem- the wind. Cranking is a great game plan on Erie, but with a south wind beating up these areas, it can be difficult to control the boat and make the precise casts needed,
especially on the super-shallow areas. We made a pass on the deeper feature but only got a 3 lb. walleye to show for it. Wrong fish, time to move.
At this point, I was starting to sour on my cranking ideas. Smallies love the sun and we had very little of that, and judging from the clouds, it was looking like we wouldn’t get any. Shallow smallies also seem to prefer a little bit of clarity to the water and the south wind was quickly creating a muddy situation. I concluded that we were not going to be efficient shallow under these conditions. Mike suggested we try a spot in twenty-two feet where he had caught a few three-pound fish the week before.
With heavy winds out of the south, we resigned ourselves to dragging the dropshot and tubes over rocky flats for the next couple of hours. By 12:00, thanks to Mike’s scouting, we filled our limit with about 17lbs giving us a little more confidence. Enter the craziest weather I have ever witnessed on Lake Erie.
Remember, until now the wind was blowing hard out of the south, and with it the waves had grown steadily into three to four-footers with some fives mixed in. At 12:30 I looked over my shoulder and it looked like someone was pulling a blanket of clouds out of the
north. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was one of the most distinct lines of clouds I had ever seen, and it was coming from the wrong direction. So much for the forecast for the day- it said nothing about this. In the back of my head I was thinking, “This is how tornados form.” In an instant the wind was out of the north, and then, within fifteen minutes, the lake was flat calm. The blanket of clouds passed, the sun popped out and I thought, “here’s our window of opportunity”.
My gamble though was not on shallow fish, but on deep fish. Last year at this time, while fishing with fellow iBass360 member Eric Evans, we caught a few nice fish from some of the deepest haunts on the north shore. The earlier heavy winds had ruled those areas
out. Mike and I could have sat on our current spot and kept slowly culling, but we would have probably only caught 20lbs at most- not enough to win. We decided to gamble. We made the several-mile run out to the deep spots and went to work.
We started marking fish right away, along with a lot of bait. The bites were not fast and furious by any means, and they were extremely subtle, but we caught five fish out deep over the next hour and half, culling out four fish. Included was one giant, a 5.44 pounder, big fish of the day. We were essentially dead-sticking our dropshots with the Lurecraft Big D in the smallmouth snot color. We never felt a distinct bite. These fish simply swam off with our baits and we set the hook. We were given a window of opportunity, we gambled on it, and bagged a five fish limit of 22.02 lbs.
The weigh-in revealed that we finished in third place, a mere 0.09 lbs. out of second. First place had beaten us by a lot so we did not feel badly about that, but what might have been if we had another half hour…. who knows! Nevertheless, we both felt great about our decision making. Having fished many tournaments at all different levels, I have concluded that is what separates the good and the great: decision making. Even then, it often comes down to simply playing the odds. The hope is that over the span of a tournament season (or even a career) you make more good decisions than bad, basing them on your study of time on the water and lessons learned. Those who learn the quickest, and make the most informed decisions, will consistently better their odds, and that’s the best you can do. Never run out of ideas.
Ryan Said is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain and guide on Michigan's Lake St. Clair. He also guides on Lake Erie, and many of Michigan's inland lakes. He books trips through Marcels Guide Service - an affiliation that is in its fifth season. In 2011 after winning the Bassmaster Northern Open points championship, Ran had the honor of fishing the Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite series trail. He has fished the Bassmaster Open Series several times, as well as the Costa Series. Ryan is an engineer and teaches high school math. He has recently started coaching the bass fishing team at his alma mater, Lawrence Tech. Ryan fishes for Dobyns Rods, Lew's Reels, Costa Sunglasses, P-Line and Simms Fishing.