The home-field advantage played a big role in the first round of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by AllState on Lake St. Clair Thursday.
Two local anglers jumped to the head of the pack, with formidable pro Joe Balog of Harrison Township, Mich., sacking 22 pounds, 8 ounces, good for a 4-ounce lead over fellow Harrison Township angler Andrew Smith.
Canadian Chris Johnston is third with 21-12, while Bassmaster Elite Series pros Fletcher Shryock of Ohio and Michigander Chad Pipkens are tied for fifth with 21-6.
In addition to valuable prizes going to the winner of this final leg of the Northern Open is a berth in next February’s Bassmaster Classic to be held on Lake Hartwell of out Greenville, S.C., providing the winner has competed in two previous 2014 Northern Opens.
As always when fishing St. Clair and its adjoining waters, Friday’s weather could have an impact on how well the field does. The potential of thunderstorms and heavy winds loom in the forecast for Friday, which could affect those anglers making the long trek to Lake Erie.
“I made a big run today, and the weather will be a huge factor in what I do tomorrow,” said Balog, who won a Bassmaster Open on Lake Erie in 2006 and was second to Michael Iaconelli on Lake St. Clair last year. “I have other options, but at this point, I’m not sure what I will do.”
Historically, Erie produces the heavier weights in St. Clair events, but storms can not only hamper fishing conditions, but they also cause anglers problems trying to return.
That held true for Derek Remitz, of Grant, Ala., who received a 2-pound penalty for being two minutes late. His hefty sack of 22-1 was diminished to 20-1 and pushed him into 10th place.
“It’s 40 miles from here (Metropark in Harrison Township) to the mouth of Erie,” noted Balog. “If it’s rolling, that makes for a short day, and you have to allow for it.”
Bad weather could bode well for second place Smith who said he stayed in Lake St. Clair to catch his fish.
Smith went to his first spot and caught a small keeper and a 5-9 smallmouth — but the spot went dead.
“I decided to go to a place where I previously had caught only 2 1/2-pounders, and the big ones were there,” said Smith, who grew up on St. Clair.
Several anglers said the fish were moving around and the hot spots they found in practice produced very little.
“Fishing had been pretty good, and the bass were gobbling up perch and crawfish,” Smith explained. “But the weather got hot, and they seemed to have scattered.”
Co-angler Jay Ahonen of Ortonville, Mich. caught the biggest bass of the day, a 6-pound, 10-ounce smallmouth. He caught the fish on a drop shot rig in 18 feet of water while fishing with pro Troy Morrow of Georgia.
Tournament anglers will take off daily from Metropark in Harrison Township at 7 a.m. Friday’s weigh-in will be held at Metropark at 3 p.m., but on Day 3, only the Top 12 finalists will compete, and the weigh-in will be held at Bass Pro Shops in Auburn Hills beginning at 4:15 p.m.
Image courtesy James Overstreet/Bassmaster