Great week at the SLR 

When the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule was released last year, the mid-July stop at Clayton, New York and the St. Lawrence River caught my attention. Having been to this venue a few times in recent years I had seen first hand that it is one of the top smallmouth bass destinations in North America.

The fishing is excellent, the fish grow huge and it is one of the most scenic places I have ever fished. I was excited for months leading up to this one!

When you fish at the St. Lawrence River you also have access to massive Lake Ontario, where it’s been well-documented that the fish grow even larger and more plentiful. In three previous visits to this waterbody, I had always stayed in the river. It’s huge as well and offers fantastic fishing but I decided this time around that I had to try and get out on the big lake. The first morning of our three day practice, the conditions were calm, allowing me to get out there.

I quickly found some nice bass, both out deep on a hump in 25 feet of water as well as shallow in four to eight feet of water. By mid-day the wind started to blow from the west and it got uncomfortable out there in a hurry.

All it takes on the Great Lakes is about a 15 kilometer wind to make things bumpy. There aren’t many islands or places to hide so it’s almost like going out on the Ocean. In short order, it can go from calm to four and five foot waves. If it gets really windy, you could see ten foot waves and things can get scary. It does make me appreciate Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake where we can usually find some islands to hide behind when we want to get out on the lake. It truly doesn’t get that rough around home compared to when you get out on a gigantic body of water like this.

Jeff Gustafson spent last week fighting bass on the impressive expanse of Lake Ontario. – Submitted photos

I got out on the big lake again for a bit on the second day of practice, then strong winds on the third day kept me in the river. You always want to have a back-up plan closer to take-off in these tournaments in case of bad weather. Even though I had only gotten to spend several hours out on Lake Ontario, I felt like I had found an area with some fish and that’s where I would go in the tournament, weather permitting.

Fortunately, we were blessed with four days of fantastic weather in the tournament. Anglers were able to fish wherever they wanted, which is not always the case there and it showed in the weights. Wisconsin angler, Jay Pzrekurat, at 23 years old, became the youngest Elite Series champion ever, winning with a four day total of 102 pounds, 9 ounces. Canadian angler Cory Johnston, was second with 100-5. They were the first two anglers ever to bring in over 100 pounds of smallmouth bass over a four day event. Cory’s limit of 28-8 on the final day was the biggest five fish limit of the tournament! 

Their fish averaged over five pounds, which is just incredible. To put that into perspective, at the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship coming up this week on Rainy Lake, where we typically see the largest bass caught in all of our tournaments across the Sunset Country Region, the big fish each day might hit five pounds..  

It was a great week for me, ending up with a 23rd place finish. I slipped up a little bit on day three and only brought 20 pounds to the scales, so I dropped a few places. It was a fun week though and I gathered more valuable points towards qualifying for the 2023 Bassmaster Classic. There are two events remaining later in August at Lake Oahe, South Dakota and the Mississippi River in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.  

Big bass were caught this past weekend at the St. Lawrence River during Bassmaster competition.

It will be a quick turnaround at home for me and then I’m excited to get to Rainy Lake this week for the FFCBC. Rainy is one of my favourite places to fish and this tournament is always one of the highlights of my summer. They have dropped the entry this year to $500 in an attempt to attract more local teams, so if you’re considering fishing it this year, you can still sign up until Wednesday evening. The tournament starts Thursday and runs through Saturday. In Kenora, the Bronzeback Classic is taking place Saturday and Sunday. Good luck to all the anglers competing this weekend.