WOODHAVEN, Mich. – With his spot in bass fishing history already secure, it would be easy for Larry Nixon to coast for a few years before riding off into retirement. But Nixon simply isn’t wired that way; the competitive fire still burns. This week at the Walmart FLW Tour Open on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, Nixon clinched his fourth FLW Tour win and his second on Lake St. Clair – a week before his 62nd birthday no less.
After a poor practice, Nixon was apprehensive about his chances to even cash a check. He’d go hours without a bite, but every time he’d return to one particular area, he’d get bit and then immediately leave. What Nixon didn’t know was that this 1/4-mile area of St. Clair, located on the south end near the Belle River, was absolutely loaded with giant smallmouths.
Thanks to a stable stretch of weather, these bronzebacks were on the feed in preparation for fall. The area itself was essentially a flat in 15-feet of water with a hard bottom and scattered rock and grass. Also cruising the flat was a considerable amount of baitfish – namely emerald shiners. Nixon fittingly named this spot “awesome” on his GPS after day two.
“There was one big school of fish out there and it just happened that four of us (McDonald, Shuffield and Fukae were the others) found it,” Nixon said. “But we all worked together and never got in each other’s way. And you wouldn’t believe how many smallmouths we caught from it.”
To mimic the baitfish, Nixon drop-shotted with a variety of baits. He started with a Berkley Gulp Jerk Shad, but late in the week ran out and borrowed some Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ from fellow Chevy pro Luke Clausen. He would simply cast his 1/4-ounce rig to the fish as opposed to dropping it straight down – a technique he referred to as “drag-shotting.”
In addition, he would mix in a swimbait (Havoc Sick Fish) with a 1/2-ounce head. While most of his fish came on the drop-shot, the swimbait accounted for several of the week’s kickers.
“When that wind blows on St. Clair they don’t chase nothing,” Nixon explained. “But if it gets flat calm and sunny, they will chomp that swimbait. Overall I had to use a lot of baits. It didn’t work the same every day. I’d get there and couldn’t get a bite, so I’d grab another rod and start catching them.”
As good as his primary area was, he left around 10:30 a.m. to sample another spot. Twenty minutes later he caught a 5 1/2-pounder that brought his limit past 20 pounds. All of his final-day weight (officially 20-4) came on the drop-shot in Sunday’s blustery weather. After that, he decided it would be wise to ease his way back in the heavy chop.
“That rough water today by the Chevy building coming down the Detroit River? I’m glad I left an hour and a half early, because it took every single bit of it to get through the ‘Miracle Mile.’ You know why they call it that? It’s a miracle if you get through it in a bass boat.”
Nixon’s four-day cumulative weight was 84 pounds, 11 ounces. All 20 of his bass were smallmouths that came exclusively from Lake St. Clair. This was Nixon’s 18th tour-level win, his first since 2007, in 36 years of professional bass fishing. He earned $100,000.
“I’m in total shock. We found those fish on the first day of practice, and I really didn’t know how many were there. And after that I just kept struggling and struggling and looking for something else. I didn’t dream there was enough fish there to win the tournament.
“A lot of my body parts are worn out, I’ll tell you that right now. I’m not a spring chicken anymore. But fishing is my fountain of youth. They say for every day you go fishing you get another day to live. If that’s true, I have a long, long time yet. This one is pretty special, and that lake (St. Clair) has been awful good to me.”
As he vowed to do, Bill McDonald stuck with his game plan on day four. The end result was his lightest bag of the week, but it still cemented a second-place finish. McDonald’s five-bass limit Sunday weighed 14 pounds, 8 ounces, bringing his total weight to 78 pounds, 10 ounces.
“I had to buy spinning rods before I even came up here; I’m a flipper,” said the Greenwood, Ind., pro. “I’m mad at myself; I live only 300 miles from here and I always go to Kentucky Lake. I’m going to be making more trips in the future.”
McDonald’s pattern was just as straightforward as his candid personality. All week long he drop-shotted a Poor Boy’s Erie Darter (smoke purple) in 14 to 16 feet of water. Each of the first three days he used a 1/4-ounce weight but today he upsized to a 3/8-ounce. Like Nixon, his leader length was a relatively standard 16 inches.
Occasionally, he cranked a Rapala DT 14, but all 20 of his weigh fish came on the Darter. In addition, every fish he weighed, except one from the first day, came out of the Belle River flat.
“Everybody had their own area; nobody intruded in on anybody. It was just an unbelievable week.”
McDonald’s $31,824 check was the largest in his FLW career.
Pipkens rises to third
It’s been quite a run recently for Holt, Mich., pro Chad Pipkens. After winning the Beaver Lake Major from the back of the boat, Pipkens stepped up and won the points race in the BASS Northern Opens. In his first FLW Tour event from the front deck, he finished third with a total weight of 77 pounds, 14 ounces, earning $27,040.
“I fished Erie exclusively, mainly along the north shore near the Cedar Beach area, just past Colchester,” said Pipkens. “Yesterday it took me 15 or 20 minutes to get there, but today in those 4-foot waves it took an hour and 15 minutes.”
While many others who were fishing Erie turned back, Pipkens stayed the course and caught a 19-pound, 3-ounce limit. He still sampled a dozen spots and hit a few of the better ones multiple times.
“I had to drive slow to get there, but I knew the fish were still going to bite. I don’t spend a lot of time on any one area. I come to the fish. I’m not going to wait for the fish to come to me.”
Pipkens caught all of his smallmouths drop-shotting a Poor Boy’s Erie Darter (smoke color) in 18 to 22 feet of water. He mainly used a 3/8-ounce weight but upsized to a 1/2-ounce with the blustery weather. Pipkens said the key to his success was realizing the fish were not relating to structure but instead sitting in nearby gravel depressions. While the action was fast and furious on St. Clair, Pipkens was only getting six to eight bites per day on Erie.
“I missed two big ones yesterday and one today and that’s tough when you’re getting so few bites. But just about every bite I got was between 3 1/2 and 6 pounds. The fish that are out there are the fish to win.”
Shuffield finishes fourth
Spencer Shuffield slipped from third to fourth after catching a 14-pound, 13-ounce limit Sunday, his lightest stringer of the week. He said while the bite was definitely slower, execution was a problem just like it was on day two.
“I thought I wanted wind, but the fish didn’t bite any better and I couldn’t be real precise,” said the rookie pro from Bismarck, Ark. “I left and tried new water. That didn’t work so I went back, caught my biggest one and lost two.”
Shuffield would sort through upwards of 70 keepers a day during the opening round – hitting just a couple waypoints each morning. His pattern consisted of throwing a Cruncher’s tube (green pumpkin purple with gold flake), a Jack-It deep-diving crankbait and a Gulp Goby on a drop-shot. Shuffield attributed much of his success in the early week to his Typhoon Optics, which allowed him to swing a fish in and then immediately drop his bait back down and precisely target the fish that were just chasing.
“Most everything came on the tube. I guess three or four days of fishing pressure and these hot, hot afternoons made them quit biting.”
For a total weight of 77 pounds, 12 ounces, Shuffield earned $22,507.
Fukae rallies to fifth
Like Nixon, Shinichi Fukae found the St. Clair honeyhole on day one of practice. He also found another productive area in St. Clair. As luck would have it, he started the tournament on the other spot. After 30 minutes of unsuccessful angling, he ran to the honeyhole only to find Nixon already on the sweet spot.
Fukae conceded the area and worked around the General. On day one, he caught only 16 pounds, but on day two he managed 21-1. During the final round, he caught limits worth 19-13 and 19-3, finishing the tournament with 76 pounds, 2 ounces.
“I was using 3 1/4-inch tubes with Bite-Me Tackle jigs,” said Fukae. “I was also using a drop-shot with a Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm on the new Gamakatsu swivel shot. I mainly used the tube, but my two biggest fish today came on the drop-shot.”
Fukae estimated he caught nearly 15 keepers Sunday. He rose from ninth to fifth and earned $17,974 for his first top 10 of the 2012 season.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the FLW Tour event on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair:
6th: Chris McCall of Brookeland, Texas, 75-13, $15,254
7th: Tim Wilson of Gas City, Ind., 75-10, $14,347
8th: Cory Johnston of Peterborough, Ontario, 72-14, $13,440
9th: Joe Balog of Harrison Township, Mich., 70-7, $12,534
10th: John Cox of Debary, Fla., 69-10, $11,627
The next FLW Tour event is slated for Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala., Sept. 20-23, the third of four Opens.