The St. Lawrence River, site of this weekend’s Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite tournament, is widely known as the outflow between the Great Lakes system and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also known as one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in the world, a fact not lost on Cabela’s/GEICO For Your Boat professional angler Mike McClelland.
“This is such an awesome fishery,” McClelland said. “I’m really excited to get this event underway. The potential to catch a 20-pound bag of smallmouth bass on this river is better than anywhere I’ve ever fished but you have to make good decisions. They’re not just going to jump in your boat; you have to find them.
“I love fishing smallmouth. Being up here in the Northeast, the home of GEICO, and having a boat full of Cabela’s gear, I feel like the odds are in my favor to have a big weekend. But like I said, I’ve got some work to do if I want to make it to the final round. I need to catch big bags every day, starting tomorrow.”
Having spent the last few days practicing alongside his fellow anglers and plotting out some potential honey holes, McClelland has reached the same conclusion as many of his peers: The bite is a little off from the last time the Bassmaster Elite tour visited this area.
“The fishing is nowhere near as good as it was two years ago,” said McClelland, who hails from Arkansas. “It’s definitely hotter outside than it usually is up here, but the water temperatures are about the same, in the mid 60s, so it may be more a product of what the fish feed on than the fish themselves.
“I definitely ran through my bag of tricks in practice and nothing really jumped out at me as the sure-thing way to fish. We’ll have to just get out there and fish hard and find the best way to get them in the live well. It’s not the first time we’ve faced a situation like this.”
While applying most of his focus on this weekend’s event, McClelland also admitted to keeping a wary eye on the Toyota Angler of the Year points and his positioning for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, which will take place next March in Tulsa, Okla.
“That tournament is not only the biggest one in our sport, but next year it’s nearly in my backyard at the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees,” McClelland said. “I just have to be a part of it. I know that fishery better than almost any other and I desperately want to fish that event.
“The best way to do that is to keep fishing hard. Of course, winning an event is an automatic berth, so that would be the best way possible, but if I can’t do that, then I need to keep the pressure on myself at every tournament left on the schedule.”