Chad Pipkens picked the right day to have the best day of his life fishing Lake Erie on Saturday.
The 31-year-old Holt, Mich., angler, who has fished Lakes St. Clair and Erie since his college days, bagged 23 pounds, 6 ounces to win the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open #3 presented by Allstate here on Lake St. Clair.
His three-day total of 67 pounds, 4 ounces edged out fellow Elite Series pro Fletcher Shryock of Ohio, who was second with 63-10, and Chris Johnston of Canada who was third with 63-6.
Joe Balog, the Harrison Township, Mich., pro and heavy favorite who led the first two days, lost valuable fishing time due to mechanical problems, caught only three fish, and fell to seventh.
Jeff Jenema of Marion, Mich., won the co-angler division by catching 13 pounds, 4 ounces on the last day while paired with Pipkens. Jenema posted a total three-day weight of 36 pounds, 11 ounces. He won a $25,000 Triton 17 Pro bass boat with a Yamaha F115LA outboard.
Pipkens won a $40,000 Nitro Z9 bass boat rigged with a Mercury 225 Pro XS outboard and $7,083 cash.
More importantly, he earned a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic to be held on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, S.C., next February.
“Winning this wasn’t about the money — it was all about getting that Classic berth,” Pipkens said. “And to lock it up on a day when the fishing was nothing short of fabulous makes it even more special.”
That’s why he gambled to make the long runs to Erie from Metropark on Lake St. Clair each day, a brutal ride across St. Clair, down the Detroit River and out into Erie.
A weather change on Saturday helped a lot. The strong winds switched from the southwest to the northwest, which made it easier for him to reach and fish the Canadian waters of Lake Erie that he had been plying all week.
“I only had two hours of fishing each of the first two days, but the change in wind direction let me fish longer and more effectively today,” he described. “My co-angler and I had periods where were catching big smallmouth on every cast.”
Pipkens targeted rocky, gravely corners on reefs scattered along the Canadian shoreline in 8 to 12 feet of water.
Everything came on a Damiki DC300 crankbait in “real shad” color. The lure dove to about 11 feet on a long cast with a 7-3 Powell fiberglass crankbait rod and Abu Garcia Revo STX baitcaster spooled with 12-pound Sunline Sniper Fluorocarbon line.
Shryock also fished Erie, working the area around Kelly and Pele Islands. “I was running 100 miles each way,” he said. “But that’s where the big fish are.”
He caught most of his fish on a green pumpkin tube with a 3/8 jighead and on two drop shot baits: Berkley Power Bait Twitch Tail Minnow and a 4-inch Gulp Crawler. The drop shots were rigged with a 1/0 Trokar hook and 1 1/2 –foot leader.
He fished ledges in 10 to 15 feet of water where the bass would set up and let the current carry the bait to them.
“They were on specific spots, but those spots changed daily because of the change in current,” he noted.
It was a tough break for Balog who had been on a big fish pattern. In addition to a 7th place finish, he also received the $250 Livingston Lures Leader Award given to the top finishing pro on Day 2.
In the co-angler division, William Langille of Ohio pocketed a Livingston Lures gift pack worth $250 for being the top finishing angler after Day 2.
The $500 Carhartt Big Bass prize for the largest bass caught in the tournament went to Jay Ahonen of Ortonville, Mich., for the 6-10 smallmouth he caught on a drop shot rig on Day 1.
Image courtesy James Overstreet/Bassmaster