Giant Smallmouths on the St. Lawrence River

The Bassmaster Elite Series resumed last week at the St. Lawrence River on the New York/Ontario border. Known as one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the World, the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario have been a regular stop on the tournament trail for the past several years because of the giant smallmouths that live in these waters.
For me, it was nice to get back to work and get to fish a tournament. I fished at this venue last year and had a good event so I was excited to get back again this year. Getting to fish some of these tournaments up north and on water that has a good smallmouth population is to my advantage against a lot of the southern anglers who don’t have as much experience on these types of fisheries.
In general, the smallmouths in the Great Lakes have exploded over the past twenty years because of the introduction of invasive zebra mussels and gobies, a small bottom feeding baitfish. Zebra mussels have cleared the water, helping smallmouths that feed so heavily by sight. The gobies are a prime meal because they are really high in protein and they have no spines or hard spots, they have to be just like candy to a smallmouth. These invasive critters are the recipe for a big population of giant smallmouths in the four to six pound range.
Having never fished before on Lake Ontario, I decided to fish in the river. I had some confidence that I could add to what I found last year and since we only have three days to practice before the tournament, going to the lake was just a lot of water to explore. There is also the wind factor on the big lake because it’s like going on the ocean so if it blows, it can get uncomfortable out there pretty quick.
There was one change to our boundaries this year in that we were not allowed to fish in Canadian waters, which include half of the river and the lake, due to Covid-19 restrictions. There are a lot of good areas on the Canadian side, including my best spots from last year but it was the same for everybody.
My tournament went okay and I landed a 12th place finish, coincidentally, the same position I finished last year at the same event. I was a little bit disappointed because I just missed making the top ten to fish the final day but I had a really tough first day of the tournament, bringing in 16 pounds for 47th place. I wrangled up 23 pounds for five smallmouths on day two and moved up to 12th. I caught 18 the third day and held my position in 12th. The fish on this river move around a lot, more than any place I have ever fished, so a few areas that I thought were going to be really productive kind of let me down.
There are two other Canadians who fish the Elite Series, Chris and Cory Johnston from Peterborough, Ontario. These brothers are good friends of mine and we stay together at all of the events. They have a lot of experience on Lake Ontario and Chris ended up winning the tournament, becoming the first Canadian to win a Bassmaster Elite Series event. I was a little bit jealous but very proud of my buddy, it’s a big deal and includes a $100,000 payday.
We are back at it again this week a few hours to the northeast, up at Lake Champlain, located on the New York/Vermont border. Part of the lake also stretches into Quebec on the north end. I fished a tournament here back in 2016 so I have a little bit of experience. It’s a big lake with great populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. My plan is to try and find some smallmouths and then try to mix in a big largemouth or two as well. The event starts on Thursday and runs through Sunday.