On a Northern fishery known for producing monster smallmouth bass, three Florida largemouth gurus stole the show during the opening round of the Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River.
Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla., caught five smallmouth that weighed 22 pounds, 15 ounces and grabbed the lead ahead of Lakeland, Fla., pro Bobby Lane (21-10) and a second Gainesville angler, Bernie Schultz (21-7).
Grigsby said he made a long run that was slowed some by shipping traffic. But once he arrived where he wanted to fish, he caught bass steadily — even when the heavy rains began.
“I didn’t know what the weather was going to bring us, but I took off and drove a good long ways,” Grigsby said. “I hit one of those huge ship waves out there that are like two-story buildings and realized I needed to slow down a little bit. But once I finally got there, I started catching them and kept catching them all day.”
Pleasant overcast conditions at takeoff quickly gave way to thunderstorms with heavy rains and streaks of lightning that chased some anglers briefly off the water.
While Grigsby revealed little about the techniques he used, he said the rain never slowed him down.
“It was a gully washer out there for a while, but I just kept catching them,” Grigsby said. “Whether I can accomplish that again tomorrow, I just don’t know.
“For one thing, I don’t know if my heart can handle it. When you hook these fish, with every one of them, it’s like a 10-minute battle.”
The smallmouth on the St. Lawrence River were late finishing their spawn this year, and as a result, they’re late moving into the usual postspawn areas. Many anglers visited traditional midsummer hot spots during practice with no luck at all, and even those who had success Thursday said it’s hard to find fish in bunches.
“The fishing is very random,” Schultz said. “In places I fished two years ago where there would be 12 to 15 fish, I’m finding four to six fish. Places that would have had five or six fish two years ago have one or none.”
Schultz said he didn’t get a lot of bites, but he got the “right bites.” He also said the erratic weather worked in his favor.
“The weather change played right into my hands,” he said. “I caught fish one way in the morning when it was raining. Then when that sun came out, I switched gears and things just kept happening.
“After the tough practice I had, I was surprised I caught them like I did.”
Lane also had a tough time preparing for the event, but for vastly different reasons than Schultz.
On July 4, Lane stepped on piece of glass and suffered a severe cut on his right foot. It put him completely out of commission for two weeks, and he was worried he might have trouble standing up this week to fish.
With help from friends, he made it through practice and landed in second place after Day 1.
“My good friend Tony Chachere — of the Louisiana spice company of that name — drove me most of the way up here, and he’s helped me with anything I’ve needed this week,” Lane said. “Alan McGuckin with Toyota also told me to get some Dr. Scholl’s (inserts) to put in my shoes, and that’s been helping a lot.
“I’m feeling great. I had a good day, and hopefully I can go out and do it again tomorrow.”
Every angler in the Top 10 had at least 20 pounds, including Texas pro Alton Jones, who placed fourth with 21-4, and Oklahoma pro Edwin Evers, who is in fifth with 21-3.
Alabama angler Aaron Martens finished 13th with 19-8, but it was enough to grab the lead in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Arizona pro Dean Rojas, who came into the event leading the AOY race, finished 49th Thursday with 16-6 and slipped to second in the season standings.
The tournament will resume Friday with a full field of 107 anglers taking off from Whittaker Park at 6:15 a.m. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m.
The field will be trimmed to the Top 50 for Saturday’s semifinal round and then to the Top 12 for Championship Sunday.
Follow all the action on Bassmaster.com with Bassmaster Live at 10 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, plus photos, live blog updates, BASSTrakk and more.
The Elite Series Expo will have B.A.S.S. sponsor representatives onsite throughout the weekend with activities, games and prizes for attendees. All of the family-friendly activities planned throughout the weekend are free and open to the public.
2015 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, GoPro, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha
2015 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: A.R.E. Accessories, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Huk Performance Fishing, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Power-Pole, Rigid Industries, Shimano