History was made this past weekend at the St. Lawrence River, as two pros caught four, five-fish limits that totaled over 100 pounds apiece.
For several years, pro anglers have been knocking on the door of a four-day catch of 100 pounds of smallmouth. This mark, colloquially known as the “Century Club,” has been achieved on largemouth fisheries in states including Florida, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina and California, but no belts had been claimed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
That changed this past week (July 14-17) when the Bassmaster Elite Series visited the St. Lawrence River straddling the border of New York and Canada. While largemouths were the major players on this historic river decades ago, in recent years it has become an almost all-smallmouth affair. There is good reason for that: They grow huge there. While other bronzeback fisheries like Erie and St. Clair have also threatened to produce triple-digit brown fish catches, nowhere has produced more 90-plus efforts than the St. Lawrence.
Of course, there are complications involved in hitting that mark. First is the fact that there’s so much water to cover – and this year there was more, as not only was Lake Ontario open to the competitors, but so was the Canadian side of the lake, which had been off-limits since the dawn of COVID. Even with the best schools nailed down, however, that does not mean it’s easy. Usually the wind howls for one or more days, making getting to those fish a near-impossibility. Furthermore, this time of year is after the spawn and before the fall feed, so the bass aren’t necessarily at their fattest.
Nevertheless, this proved to be a blockbuster tournament. On Days One and Two, all 90 anglers caught limits. On Day Three, all 47 who remained caught limits. And on Day Four, all ten qualifiers caught limits. Five fish a day wasn’t hard, and 20 pound bags stopped turning heads. It took not only a 25-pound limit, but also a 25-pound average, to truly excel this week, with numerous 27-plus and even one 28-plus pound catches hauled to the scales.
Mossy Oak Fishing Breakdown
Host: Clayton, New York
Launch Site: Antique Boat Museum (Clayton, NY)
Fishery Description: This fishery consists of two distinct-but-related bodies of water: Over 70 miles of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Some anglers mixed and matched the two over the course of the event to manage various populations of fish and guard against possible weather changes.
Bass Species Present: Smallmouths for the win, although there’s also an exceptional largemouth fishery.
Forage Species: There are a variety of baitfish and crawfish in the St. Lawrence, but the reason these smallmouths grow so fat is because of the abundant population of invasive gobies.
Weather: The extraordinary catches were enabled by the fact that all four competition days featured calm conditions, which made getting to and from distant spots feasible. That came on the heels of a relatively windy practice, so many big schools had been unmolested.
How to Fish the St. Lawrence in July
While moving baits like crankbaits and jerkbaits often play a role on the resident smallmouth bass, most of the top performers used soft plastics to amass their catches. Usually that meant dropshots and light line, and protracted fights on spinning gear. If you’re headed to this premier smallmouth factory, prepare to take your time to wear the big fish down.
Top Mossy Oak Performers
The Mossy Oak Fishing team continues to excel and haunt the check line. Five of the seven anglers on the team finished inside the cut, with Greg Hackney fishing through to Sunday and ultimately finishing 8th.
- 8th – Greg Hackney
- 14th – Drew Benton
- 25th – Brandon Palaniuk
- 32nd – Brandon Lester
- 45th Gerald Swindle
- 62nd Bill Lowen
- 71st – Brandon Cobb
The Angler of the Year Race
Superstar and past Angler of the Year Brandon Palaniuk may have been disappointed that he didn’t earn his second St. Lawrence River victory, but he extended his lead in the Angler of the Year race to 41 points. He’s finished in the top seven on three occasions this year and has not ended up below 26th in any individual tournament – that would be the best finish of the year for numerous pros. The new father will seek to cement the title in the remaining events on South Dakota’s Lake Oahe and the Upper Mississippi River.
Meanwhile, he’s not the only Mossy Oak Pro high in the standings. Brandon Lester and Drew Benton are 4th and 5th, respectively, essentially locked into the Classic (Lester has already qualified via the Opens, but could double- or even triple-qualify), and Hackney is 10th. Swindle is 22nd overall and should qualify for his remarkable 20th Bassmaster Classic.
Lowen and Cobb are currently outside of the cut, but well within range if they earn a couple of good finishes apiece.
What They’ve Been Wearing
Many of the competitors chasing triple digits of smallmouths left the triple digits temperatures of the South and Midwest for the more temperate climes of upstate New York. Most days during the tournament topped out in the 70s, and in the morning, it was often sweatshirt or light jacket weather. We saw multiple competitors rocking the Mossy Oak Elements Tournament Tech Hoodie not just for the initial run, but to keep the sun off of them and to shield their eyes while sight fishing. Don’t forget to pack one in your bag for any trip, any time.