Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2017 St. Lawrence River BASS Elite

Whenever our tour visits the St. Lawrence River, I know my chances for success are strong. I’ve been fishing there for decades, and in that time I’ve experienced all types of conditions. I was looking forward to this event more than any other on the schedule.

The St. Lawrence flows northeast out of Lake Ontario, separating Canada from the U.S. It’s fairly wide in places and peppered with countless, scenic islands — some small, others large.

It’s full of bass, too — both smallmouth and largemouth. And they’re big!

Serving as the eastern border between the US and Canada, the St. Lawrence River is beautiful and loaded with prime bass fishing habitat.

Serving as the eastern border between the US and Canada, the St. Lawrence River is beautiful and loaded with prime bass fishing habitat.

Because the event was to be hosted by the town of Waddington, NY — some 70 miles from Lake Ontario — I decided to spend two of my practice days closer to the lake. Much of my history is there, and it’s where I feel the most comfortable.

Getting Started

Launching at French Creek Marina on day-1, I ran from island to island, shoal to shoal, searching for big smallmouth in less than 10 feet of water. My lure selection included several types of topwaters, jerkbaits and swimbaits, with several bottom-probing soft-plastics thrown in.

I located solid schools of fish in three key areas. They were aggressive, too. I felt like I was on my way.

On day-2, I moved to Chippewa Bay and spent a few hours on largemouth. After locating a small productive area of deep milfoil I began looking for smallmouth. Again, I found several schools — all of which were in the mood to play.

Around 7pm that evening, I drove north to Waddington to meet up with travel partners, Cliff and Kelley Prince, and their son, Syler. They had rented a cabin with a spare room near take-off, and that would serve as base camp for the remainder of the week.

Early the next morning, I ran to some old GPS numbers to see if those spots were still productive. For the most part, they were. But I still wasn’t comfortable in that part of the river.

Deep down, I knew I was fully committed to areas closer to the lake.

Competition Time

The first morning of competition, I decided to start on a spot near Alexandria Bay. There, the smallmouth were shallow and, I felt, likely more aggressive … especially early. The gamble paid off!

Slowly, I put together an excellent bag of smallies that included a 5-pound kicker.

Big brownies like these can test the boundaries of light-line angling.

Big brownies like these can test the boundaries of light-line angling.

Most fell for a Hildebrandt Drum Roller swimbait or a 1/8-ounce green-pumpkin tube jig. My best five weighed more than 21 pounds, which placed me solidly in the Top-12.

On day-2, I decided to repeat the process, hoping to score early on the same school of fish. Things changed, however, and I was only able to fool a few of them with the swim jig. Switching to a Rapala Shadow Rap jerkbait, I was able to finish my limit.

As the day wore on, I culled with some fat 3-pounders using the green-pumpkin tube and a drop-shot Shad Shape Worm in the goby pattern.

Back at weigh-in, I added another 19-pounds of bronzebacks which kept me in the Top-12 going into the weekend.

Reaching For Championship Sunday

On day-3, I ran directly to the same area and quickly put two big smallmouth in the box. Both hit a Rapala Skitter Vee on the surface. I missed several others that weren’t really in the mood for a topwater, but I had to give it a try. I’m glad I did … those first two fish combined for a total weight of more than 8-pounds.

But then things got tough.

Unable to produce more strikes in that location, I ran to a nearby back-up area and managed to fill out a limit. About that time, on-the-water BASS commentator Davy Hite showed up with a film crew. They found me by using BASStrakk — a GPS locator based at tournament headquarters. I knew then I must be in pretty good shape. Otherwise, they would have been covering someone else.

Drive-thru weigh-ins always add excitement to Championship Sunday.

Drive-thru weigh-ins always add excitement to Championship Sunday.

Realizing the situation, I decided to test the waters farther west past Clayton. Traveling another 20 miles away from check-in was a gamble, but I felt it was my best chance to win.

Over the next several hours, I caught numerous smallmouth, but only two helped my overall weight. By day’s end, I added another 19-pounds to my tournament creel, and that guaranteed my spot for Championship Sunday!

Fishing the Final Day

The next morning, things changed dramatically. The wind was now blowing hard from the northeast, and it was cold — a rare occurrence in late July, even for upstate New York.

As I made my way to the south, the waves stacked higher and higher. The wind was stiff against the river’s current, and that’s never good … especially when both are strong.

After taking a few waves over the bow, I finally reached my destination at Alex Bay. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing directly into my best spot. It was choppy and difficult to see, but I tried it anyway.

After hours of effort and very little to show for it, I pulled the MotorGuide and ran to the deep weed edge where I had found some largemouth in practice.

They weren’t biting there either, but I did manage to flip up a small limit using a Fat Baby Craw in the green-pumpkin color. In a last-gasp effort to improve my weight, I returned to my best smallmouth areas. But it just didn’t happen.

A who's who of smallmouth experts made up the Top-12 in this event.

A who's who of smallmouth experts made up the Top-12 in this event.

By weigh-in, I was wore out and thoroughly dejected. The crowd was huge, and though the drive-thru weigh-in was exciting, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed by such a poor showing.

My 9-pound limit had dropped me to 12th place, but there was no time to mope. I exited the stage, secured my equipment, and began the drive to Lake Champlain — site of the next Elite Series event, which would begin the following morning.

YAMAMOTO PRODUCT IN THIS ARTICLE

Shad Shape Worm

Shad Shape Worm

Fat Baby Craw

Fat Baby Craw