Mt. CLEMENS, Mich. Anglers competing in the season-opening Michigan CITGO BASSMASTER Tour, Aug. 22-25, will find conditions have changed since they were here in August 1999.
"The water is lower and there is less grass," says 2001 BASS Masters Classic Champion Kevin VanDam, a pre-tourney favorite. "Fishing hasn't been what it was two years ago, but it is still pretty good."
Area experts say a lengthy winter and heavy ice on the lake stalled vegetation growth in areas where it had been abundant in previous years. Lake levels also are about a foot lower due to falling water tables throughout the Great Lakes region.
B.A.S.S. unveiled the fabulous smallmouth fishery when it held the first national tournament there in 1994. The relatively round, glacial lake is 26 miles long and 24 miles wide with an average depth of 10 feet.
The 1994 event was won by Kim Stricker of Howell, Mich., who figures to be a threat again this year, as is Texan Larry Nixon who won the 1999 tournament there in late August. Nixon's four-day catch weighed 73 pounds, 9 ounces and was dominated by big smallmouths. Stricker won with 61 pounds, 15 ounces.
In addition to Lake St. Clair, the pros will have access to the St. Clair River that flows from Lake Huron; the Detroit River that drains St. Clair and feeds Lake Erie; and dozens of canals and backwater bays.
"Just about every section of the lake or rivers has the potential of producing the winning catch," says VanDam. "But a lot of the places that produced in the past haven't been quite as productive this year."
Despite the changing conditions, VanDam says the winner will still need a 3- to 4-pound average to win. "There have been giant creels caught in tournaments this year, but the overall number of fish appears to be down," he describes. "The lake has a number of smaller bass right now."
Stricker agrees, noting that you can still catch 25 bass a day. "But only 10 will be in the 3-pound-plus class, which is still pretty good by any lake's standards," he says. "We aren't seeing the 50- to 100-fish days with dozens of big smallmouths that we used to see."
The same types of lures that produced in previous events tube jigs, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and Carolina rigs are likely to produce a lot of fish this year as well.
"Kevin and I have shown a lot of people how to fish Lake St. Clair, so it's not like we have a major home water advantage," says Stricker. "But I don't think the tournament can be won in one spot. I think the winner will have to move around to upgrade his catch throughout the day."
The weather could be a factor. Wind churns St. Clair into oceanlike waves and could hamper anglers fishing open water. "If it's calm, you're going to see a lot of big creels," says VanDam. "The wind will control a lot of what happens."
Daily weigh-ins will be held at Metro Beach Metropark beginning at 3 p.m. The field will be cut to 10 for Saturday's final day of competition.
Additionally, a free CastingKids event, sponsored by Chevy Trucks and CITGO, will be held there Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. This fun-filled national program encourages children to perfect the skills of casting, pitching and flipping. Local B.A.S.S. clubs conduct the events and provide instruction to all youngsters.
By sanctioning over 20,000 tournaments worldwide, B.A.S.S. is the world's largest fishing organization. The CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit. It continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism, and sportsmanship after more than three decades. B.A.S.S. is a wholly owned subsidiary of ESPN.
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