A very eventful week is coming to an end. Team Michigan does their job at the TBF Northern Divisional Championship putting almost 500 pounds on the board for an 86 pound win over 2nd place Indiana. Michigan TBF member Derek Cummings wins the whole thing with over 63 pounds. Six of the top 11 anglers in the final standings are from the Michigan team – pretty good considering there are 6 states / teams.

(L to R) Front Row: Steve Griffen, Jeff Cox, Mark Modrak, Derek Cummings, Leo Reiter, Dan Kimmel Back Row: President /2nd Alt Dennis Beltz, Jon Jezierski, Rob Roberts, Wayne Macklin, Eric Peck, Teddy Bradley, John Serniak (not pictured: team alternate Tom Kiefer) (Photo by Scott Ellison/FLW Outdoors)
(L to R) Front Row: Steve Griffen, Jeff Cox, Mark Modrak, Derek Cummings, Leo Reiter, Dan Kimmel Back Row: President /2nd Alt Dennis Beltz, Jon Jezierski, Rob Roberts, Wayne Macklin, Eric Peck, Teddy Bradley, John Serniak (not pictured: team alternate Tom Kiefer) (Photo by Scott Ellison/FLW Outdoors)

Overall, we had really good weather on St. Clair for a multi-day tournament that actually ran 6 days total. Lake Erie was worse… but there should be no surprise there… it’s Erie.

The last day we had more wind, a rougher morning ride and rain most of the day, but surprisingly (not the norm), the rain stopped and the weigh in was dry and even a little sunny. Made for a much nicer weigh in and awards ceremony.

I was happier at the point. I had a much nicer day Friday, the final day of the tournament, with a very nice partner – James Berry from Indiana. Day 2 was not very fun for a number of reasons ending with not getting a limit even though I helped my nonboater get almost 17 pounds off the same spots.

An odd thing happened at the end of the day gas station boat refill stop. As I was dwelling on what I had not enjoyed about that day, full of myself and my ‘problems’ a complete stranger walked by and with a big smile on his face told me, “man, you are living the good life!” That was another one of those moments that makes you think about coincidence and what is truly important (for not the last time of this week as you have read yesterday). It did not cure me totally of my problems – Wayne Carpenter’s letting me vent later that evening and then my next day with James did that, but it was a pretty good start.

The morning of day 3, James said he had no particular place he wanted to go, but he was visibly less than excited when I told him I wanted to start the morning in the St. Clair River. He had spent much of day 2 in the river and caught nothing. I could understand based on my own confusing experience of the first two days, but my plan was to start deep on a spot Wayne helped me with prior to the cutoff.

The shallow stuff I’d been catching bass like this one on:

A big St. Clair River smallmouth bass caught by Dan Kimmel in practice.
A big St. Clair River smallmouth bass caught by Dan Kimmel in practice.

And this toad with my good friend Jeff Bishop:

Jeff Bishop with a big St. Clair smallmouth bass caught in prefishing.
Jeff Bishop with a big St. Clair smallmouth bass caught in prefishing.

was not working now for me. I don’t know why. It just wasn’t. But I figured the deep bass would not affected as much by the same thing. Since my Anchor Bay bass were not biting well until late morning, it was something to try. And you never know when those big river bass will start whomping your lures again! I’d been catching big bass from 4 to 40 feet, but hadn’t really tried a lot of 22 foot or deeper the first two days. I’m not a huge fan of drifting and dragging or vertical jigging, but I can’t argue the effectiveness at times. It just puts me in a coma when it is slow verses casting to spots – my preference.

So, after a couple stops to get my bearing in the overcast low light of our start and the rain and some spray in my eyes – believe me, I was not running at speed – James and I made it into the North Channel via the Middle. We stopped at the nonboater into the river community spot for a quick hit (indicator check) I asked to please not take a dive today as my 2nd day partner had. He promised not to. James immediately caught a small largemouth on a shallow crankbait. More of the same – largemouth bass everywhere right now. He was much happier about the river when he caught a nice greenhead over 2 1/2 pounds. Really got our day off to a better start relieving his concerns despite no big smallies being home.

So up near Russell Island we go into 22 to 28 foot of water. We don’t drift far before I’ve put 3 small brownies (snail darters I sometimes call these little ornery smallies) into the boat. Then James gets 1 and he is very happy to finally catch one of these deep river bass. Then I pop a small keeper. After a couple minutes in the livewell, I notice the bass is struggling on its side.

Luckily, I have just the thing for that. I put in some livewell treatment and then clip on my first Flip Clip and it works like a charm! The bass is righted and move near the bottom of the well. It seems to me like the bass already looks more calm not being on the surface on its side. Very nice!

As Wayne had recommended, I mark a waypoint where the keeper is caught. Good thing because long drifts are not producing much. We end up drifting only a couple hundred yards each time aiming right through the waypoint each time. We catch the majority of our bass very near the waypoint even though we are in the ‘middle’ of the channel. This stretch produces a couple keepers for me with a small number of dinks before petering out. I did hook one fish that felt like the ones we need, but I lose it after only a few seconds. I have a very nice line slice across my finger tip pad to show for it.

We move further out on the same structure into 25 to 30 feet and find another similar little hot spot. More small bass and another keeper for each of us before this one peters out. James small keeper seems fine in the livewell, but the other 2 of mine also are on the surface on their sides with slightly distended bellies. Two more Flip Clips take care of them. Throughout the day, only 1 clip comes off despite fairly long runs and various wave conditions. My bass make it fine to the weigh in, alive and look pretty healthy. After I replace the one that fell off, it stays on the rest of the day. I chalk that one up to my being a Flip Clip rookie.

It feels good to get a few bass in the livewell fairly early for both of us. I still can’t give up on the big bass spots so after trying one more deeper drift in 30 to 40 feet Wayne showed me that produces only 1 dink this time, I decide to try my best shallow spot. All I catch is another small largemouth – again, a spot I’ve never caught a green bass on.

I can’t resist hitting a couple community spots heading out of the South Channel. About 6 more dink smallies are all I have to show for it, but… this reminds me of a similar spot Wayne also worked with me on like the one I’m fishing in Anchor Bay. I decide, since I know the Anchor Bay spot is getting hit much harder on day 3 (funny how that happens), why not try this spot we’ll have all to ourselves.

In fact, on this rainy solidly overcast day, it appears we have the lake to ourselves. Within a 100 feet of where I lost a quality bass in pre-practice with Wayne, my spinnerbait gets slammed and a good smallie is thrashing the surface.

After the best fight I’ve had in 3 days, I boat my best smallmouth bass of the tournament – a bruiser over 4 pounds!! Now we’re talking! We both are starting to warm up to the day despite the breeze and rain. James hooks but loses a keeper smallie on a shallow crank a few minutes later. This might be a very good idea.

We continue to work the spot farther out for about 10 to 15 minutes when my spinnerbait is slammed again with some authority. The line comes up, but stops before breaking the surface. A minute into the fight I’m thinking something doesn’t feel right. It’s not – big pike! Shoot!!

We work the area for a while longer before I decide they aren’t loaded in here. I tell James I know there’s a lot of bass on the Anchor Bay spot so we better head there while we still have a fair amount of time. We are first flight today, so a half hour less fishing.

We run to Anchor Bay. It’s not too bad. There’s 4 other bass boats in the area, but we see a couple bass caught right after we get there, so we settle in. I have 4 and James has 2 keeps. A few minutes in, I get creamed on my spinnerbait (I thought maybe the bass would be back on the blades with more wind and the overcast like in practice), but it turns out to be another big pike.

Then James has a really, really nice smallie smash a trap just as it is coming up to the boat. The quality bass immediately launches into the air right next to boat and comes off. Disappointing to say the least. A few minutes later, his spirits are picked up dramatically when he hooks and lands a 4 pound class largemouth from the edge of weeds. I swear it is the same largemouth that busted minnows next to my boat in about the same spot the day before! He is very happy.

Just before that, I fill out my limit when I say, “they aren’t giving many clues today, are they?” and a small keeper smallie instantly smashes my shallow crank I used yesterday. I almost throw it back, but James wisely advises me to measure it and it goes 14 inches by the lobe of its tail. Rookie… As Kim Stricker would say – you too can be a bass professional…!

I’m thinking after 3 days of pounding that maybe something different might trigger the big bass in the area, so I have a larger whitish shallow crank I usually use for big largies on and begin to toss it. 15 20 minutes later, it get stopped by a train!!!!!! Line strips on the hook set and then it pulls very hard… just like a big smallie. But a couple minutes into the fight, my heart sinks. I know this tune. Toothy critter. Big one!

Sure enough, it’s an even bigger pike. Takes me a while to extract the hooks from this maniac after it thrashes around in the net breaking off one hook point. Shortly after this, time to go in. I have a limit, albeit small with just the one good bass. James has 3, but he’s very happy.

We run in on time to find out Michigan has lengthened the lead with only half the anglers in. We end up with the 86 pound margin to win. Derek Cummings wins the whole thing with a final 19-1 limit and because Modrak manages 19-3. Todd Kuhn from Indiana actually moves into 2nd with a big closing 22-15 fishing the same pattern all three days (only a little ways from my final spot).

Sure, I would have liked to do much better personally. I wasn’t totally off the mark. My nonboaters all had the opportunity to do well off the same bass including my 2nd day partner who won his team Ohio after fishing similar patterns day 1 (19 pounds with Inidana winner Todd Kuhn) and day 2 (16-11 with me). I told him he owes me dinner at least. He was anxious about the different depths I was fishing from Todd, but I knew the bass where there and made us stick with them until the bigger bass started eating. It worked out well for him.

I had two very nice partners the 1st and 3rd days from Indiana. My final day with James turned things around me pretty well even though my limit was only 11-11. Still, it was a limit and I felt like I help my team out. I think James had a better day this day. Hope he did. I know I did after the stress of the day before.

Overall, the event was a big success and a lot of fun. All the state presidents had nice things to say. One angler asked his girlfriend to marry him from the stage and she said yes. Very touching moment for everyone. A Wisconsin angler even gave a note to the tournament director Mike Dunkerly saying he wanted to publicly thank the Michigan team members for help with patterns and lure, and general friendliness. That was one of my favorite moments.

The bad spot was my father-in-law passed away early Friday morning. I didn’t find out until the end of the weigh in Friday as I was leaving the boat ramp. He was very ill, but we all thought we had another week or two at least so it was a shock to my system and a complete opposite emotionally to the way things went that day up to that point. Tournaments are so much fun, but they are not life and we sometimes forget that. I know I do. I drove home with my joy from participating in a great event tempered by a heavy heart.

I have to add at this point that I would have been sunk in this event had I not had the help of a couple friends on the water prior to the official practice. I don’t try to get a lot of help but I’m not fishing as much as I used to and way less at St. Clair compared to the past. Jeff Bishop and I finally got out after a couple years not fishing together and had a fun day on the water with some toads to brighten things up, but Wayne Carpenter really helped with his knowledge, expertise and quality baits that work.

Wayne helped me with a couple new deep spots that saved me on the last day of the event from another discouraging morning, and reminded me of the 2 key shallow lake spots that produced my biggest tournament bass and the bulk of the bass for me and my partners. I had the bulk spot on my list, but there’s only so much you can do in a few days practice. Wayne told me the bass where there and how to begin my approach. That gave me the confidence to only re-familiarize myself with the area without using up a lot of time I then used to look for additional patterns.

Wayne also got some of his brand new Shad-X soft jerk baits into my hands. I caught a toad in practice matching it with a Mike’s Rx Baits-bought Scrounger. During the tournament. I caught a keeper largemouth on day 1 and lost a really good smallie on day two. I also failed to hook up on a couple more nice smallies with the lure. The action of the bait was really nice. The bass were moving around following bait so much that faster baits ended up being more efficient, but I think I saw enough to know the new Shad-X will be putting more bass into my livewells in the future!

I also appreciated getting some experience with the Flip Clips. Based on my past experience with deep caught bass, I really think they made a difference in the health of my bass due to reduced stress. I know my last day partner said he was going to definitely get some for himself. He also complimented me twice on how well my (15 year old) Ranger Boat handled the waves out there. I did my best to drive careful and smart to reduce stress on myself and the bass so I could last 5 straight long days of fishing.

Congratulations to team Michigan and to overall winner and Michigan national champion boater representative Derek Cummings and co-angler rep Mark Modrak!

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