2015 FLW Lake Erie Recap

By Mike Mueller

We made it!!! Hard work pays off, and sometimes the weather actually cooperates!

Going into the final FLW event in the Northern Rayovac division, I sat in 29th place in the points standings, knowing full well that I needed a solid performance to punch my ticket to the Rayovac Championship in October on the Ohio River out of Paducah, KY.

Smallmouth fishing on lake Erie and the Great Lakes is something that I’ve become very comfortable with over the past few years so there was no intimidation going in, as I knew exactly what I needed to do this time of year. My plan was three-pronged: Dragging my Snack Daddy 4″ Elite Tube, Drop Shotting my Snack Daddy Snack Stix, and slinging my Bass Craft Crankbaits DD² and the DP3.5 in a special Yellow Perch color we had made exclusively for these events. Knowing that I would spend the week throwing this arsenal on my Razr Rods and Lews reels solidified my comfort level.

My preparation for this event was different than with my other events, as I didn’t need to do a lot of detailed research, just a little bit of extra map studying of the general areas that I knew we would likely be fishing…the Bass, Sister, and Pelee Island areas. What I did do, however, was take a little extra time off from work to spend on the water, as I knew how important this event was. The week prior to the event was beautiful, relatively calm, and hot. Oh, how that was all about to change.

As I drove up on Sunday, a large front had just passed through and it pushed out all of that calm, nice weather, promptly replacing it with cool, nasty, WINDY weather. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that wind and the Great Lakes do not mix!

To say that the weather for the first three days was miserable would be an understatement. There were small craft advisories on Monday with 25MPH winds, but that didn’t stop us! We took out of Sandusky and made the hour-and-a-half trek to the Pelee island area amidst 6-8′ rollers. This is normally a 30-40 minute trip under calmer conditions. In hindsight it was probably not the best idea to go out there. Once we got out to the islands, we found protected water behind the islands and proceeded to probe the depths for giant Lake Erie smallmouth. Unfortunately, they never showed up. We started our day deep – in the 22-25′ depths – and spent the day working shallower until we found some fish in the 14′ range. We actually caught these fish on spoons and drop shots. Although we found some fish during the day, they were few and far between, and the area was thick with Freshwater Drum. After spending a 12-hour day on the water, working hard, we called it a day and made the rough ride back.

Snack Daddy Bass Jerky rigged on a drop shot

Snack Daddy Bass Jerky rigged on a drop shot

Day two of practice offered more of the same. My practice partner and I made the long run again out to Pelee and continued to spend another 10 hours dragging tubes, drop shots and spoons all over Lake Erie and we only had 3 smallmouth to show for it – although one of the three was a bass that came in a hair over 6 pounds. Too bad I wasn’t the one to catch it! After two days of high winds, big waves, and this old man’s body getting beat up, I was ready for a good night’s sleep!

Day three opened with a more promising weather forecast! The winds were only supposed to be 10-15, which is still bad out there, but the tournament forecast was really promising. The weathermen were predicting the winds would lay down significantly, only 4-6 MPH for day one and only 5MPH on day two. As refreshing as this seemed, we still had work to do as I was not able to put a single thing together through two days. I tallied a whopping 2 smallmouth and about 50 drum.

For day three, we decided to spend the morning targeting shallow largemouth around Catawba Island. We thought that we could make a quick pass to get a small limit of largemouth and then move out to catch the big smallmouth. This tactic proved fruitful as during our first pass I quickly picked up three keeper largemouth, but they were only 2-2 1/2 pounds apiece. We stayed close to try other smallmouth areas, but with the check-in meeting time drawing closer, we chose to get off the water early and go to the meeting early.

The pairings meeting discussion all revolved around how tough the fishing had been all week. Out of the many people that I know and trust, no one was catching them with any regularity. As the meeting came to a close, I found myself paired with FLW Tour Pro Jim Dillard out of Louisiana. Jim echoed the sentiments of all others I spoke to regarding how tough it was for him as well.

Snack Daddy Snack Stix rigged on a drop shot

Snack Daddy Snack Stix rigged on a drop shot

Day one of the event, we were boat #69. We took off and made a refreshingly calm run out to the islands, as the weatherman’s predictions rang true. We had a milk-run of spots that we made that took us from Kelly Island all the way out to the vicinity of Grubb Reef area of the North Shore. Although the weather was cooperating, the fish were not. We ran from spot to spot with no takers. By 11:00am, with more than half the day gone, things were looking bleak – but I kept focused on the mantra of 5x3Fishing which is “No Excuses”. I continued to work hard, fish hard, and fight through any adversity that came my way.

Our perseverance paid off, as between 11:15am and 12:30pm, we came across a finicky, but good school of smallmouth. I was able to put 4 in the livewell, although I lost a 3 pounder right at the boat. Losing smallmouth…especially Great Lakes smallmouth is just part of the game. It’s inevitable, but I couldn’t shake that feeling I had at the moment that this lost fish would come back to haunt me with as tough as the fishing was. While I was catching my 3-pounders, Jim was getting the 3 1/2 – 5 pound bites. His bites proved to be as elusive as mine were, but his were of a better quality. I ended day one with 4 fish that went about 12 pounds, while Jim only had 7 bites all day, but he was able to cull twice up to 20 pounds-10 ounces. After the dust had settled, he was in 3rd place while I was in 49th… Ugh that missed fish!

One thing that I’ve learned in all my years on the water is to stay attentive to all that is going on around you – be observant and LEARN every day. While I was catching the smaller fish on a drop-shot Snack Daddy Bass Jerky, Jim was catching his on a 4″ plastic stickbait – drop-shotted wacky rig style. Not only that, his were soaking in a solution of scent…mental note taken.

The end of day two showed me and my travel/practice partners just how dangerous Lake Erie and the conditions can be. One of my good friends, Jennifer Degrie (who happened to be the only female Pro fishing the event) loaded her boat only to find that the top two bolts that were holding her motor to the transom had sheared completely off. With the help of all of us working together, we were able to get the parts we needed and used brute force to lift the 250 horsepower Mercury Pro XS back into its proper place so we could install the bolts. Never take anything for granted out there…especially on big waters. Be safe always!

Although I knew that my 4 fish from day one gave me a good jump-start on making the Rayovac Championship, I knew that I needed more. Day three had me paired with a great guy and a new friend from Maine named Troy Garrison. Troy told me that his had nothing in practice, and was going to resort to fishing for largemouth just to try to catch something. He then informed me that his fortunes changed as he drew a local Co Angler on day 1 who was able to convince him to go to his spots. Luckily those spots paid off to the tune of almost 16 pounds for Troy on day 1 and 20 pounds, 4 ounces for his local Co Angler! More good news followed as his Co was letting Troy and me have that spot for day 2! I was able to rest easy knowing that we would be around fish, and that as long as I executed, we should be fine.

When I got back to the room, I had to quickly respool and re-rig to get ready for the next morning. I also took several packages of my Bass Jerky’s and 4″ Snack Stix, put them in their respective zip lock bags, and doused them with Kick-n-Bass Garlic and Anise Shad scents. After a quick night’s sleep, 4:30am came and we were ready to put together a big day…little did I know how special of a day it was going to be!

We were boat #32 in the morning on day 2 and, again, we made the long trek to Pelee Island. As we got to “The Place”, my boater Troy was apprehensive about the lack of wind in the spot. The prior day the water had a good chop on it, and he was fearful that the slick water might hinder us. In true form, I reply “Well, there’s only one way to find out!” and I fired my first cast with my drop-shotted, 4″ wacky rigged Snack Stix.

As I began to slowly work my first cast over the 10′ hump that had 18′ deep-water access nearby, I felt that tell-tale thump of a nice hit. I immediately set the hook into a good fish, only to have a drum make its way into the net. Not a good way to start the day, as I commented on how sick I was of catching drum! I fired out my next cast…and words cannot possibly to justice to what happened next….

As I jump to the end of the day as I was up on stage, I told the crowd at the weigh-in that I’ve been doing this almost 30 years, and I have never experienced what I am about to describe. It was a feeding frenzy of epic proportions!

After unhooking the drum, I made my 2nd cast and got another solid thump, but this was no drum. A common theme for Lake Erie fishing is to always have a line in the water until you get a limit. Once you get a limit, you cannot make a cast until you cull. This 2nd cast quickly produced a nice 3 pound smallmouth! As I netted the fish I just caught on the wacky rig, I quickly tossed out my Bass Jerky drop shot into the same area. I unhooked the fish, stuck a cull tag on her and dropped her in the livewell. As I picked up my 2nd rod…you guessed it, there was a fish on there!

Bass Craft DD2 and DD2 Junior

Bass Craft DD2 and DD2 Junior

I repeated the same exercise of netting the fish and throwing the wacky rig out again…now my boater has a fish. I’m holding my fish, trying to net his, when my other rod starts taking off! I net his, throw the net down, drop my 2nd 3-pounder in the livewell, and proceed to set the hook into another big smallie – this one pushing 5 pounds! But wait, as my partner is taking care of his fish, and netting mine, HIS other rod starts taking off! It was complete and utter chaos for about 30 minutes, as this scene repeated itself over and over again.

Within about 10 minutes after arrival, I had a 15 pound limit and my boater’s limit was pushing 17 pounds. After that 30 minutes, it was done-they completely shut off. The boat looked like a war zone with rods, baits, and gear all strewn about during the frenzy. Troy and I couldn’t stop laughing, high-fiving, fist-bumping, and giggling like little kids after the special events of the day we just witnessed. Even as I write this, I realize that there are no words that can possibly do justice to the fishing that we were both lucky enough to be a part of that morning.

As the day went on, we milked that area hard and managed to each cull a few more times. I changed to a Bass Craft DP 3.5 crankbait and was able to cull, and also lose a few nice fish on it. We also sprinkled in more tubes and drop-shots to give them a different look. We were due in at 3:00pm, so by 2:00pm, we decided that we did all of the damage we could do for the day. We left to make a ride back and when we got to weigh in, half the field had already made it to the stage. After Troy weighed in his 19 pounds and I weighed in my 16+ pounds, we both were sitting in 10th place. They were paying 26 places, and Troy was lucky enough to stay inside the check line, where I fell just short, finishing in 27th place – I knew that coming in one fish short on day one would hurt!

The good news is that on the strength of that magical 30 minutes on day two, I was able to move from 29th place up to 17th out of about 250 that competed in the Northern Division…and THAT was the ultimate goal as I began the season.

My season was tough, as It began with a job transfer, being separated from my family for 6 months, a major shoulder surgery, a schedule that included three lakes that I’ve never fished before, and several key lost fish in each event. The entire time, I kept my head down, kept working hard, and kept fighting for my “Five Fish by 3 O’clock” – 5×3 NO EXCUSES!!!

I’m proof that hard work and perseverance will overcome ANY adversity, as long as you keep the right mental mindset! Next stop, the Rayovac Championship in October!

Solid smallmouth on the Bass Craft

Solid smallmouth on the Bass Craft

Bio:

Circuits fished: Central Pro Am, LBL BFL, Michigan BFL, Everstart Series

Years co: 25

Favorite technique: Flipping a jig

Hobbies aside from fishing: Watching my kids play sports

Sponsors: 5X3 FishingLew’s ReelsBass Craft CrankbaitsJewel Bait CoRazr RodsRudy Project EyewearSnack Daddy LuresElite Rod SleevesBionic Custom BaitsBlue Water LED, The Pond Pro, G2 Gemini, Eco Pro Tungsten