Day One: The Detroit Lake Erie tournament brings two things to mind as I drive, big smallmouth and BIG water. Big rough water is more what comes to mind. I meet up with Little E in Greensboro, the goal today is just to get to Michigan in time to get license, some sleep, and then move on to Canada. Little E booked us a room in Canada so we wouldn't have to make long, bone jarring runs out into Lake Erie to reach some popular shoals and fishing grounds. Not a bad idea considering that Lake Erie can be more physical than mental when it comes to preparation. Only thing, on the way up to Lake Erie, Little E remembers he's got a little problem that might prevent him from crossing the border into Canada. An unpaid speeding ticket he got many years ago while on a summer break fishing trip in Canada with Dustin Wilks. There could be a "failure to appear" or who knows what once we get to the border check. I tell Little E, "the Mounties Royale du Canada await"! Or in English, the Royal Mounted Police!
Day Two: Its up bright and early this morning. First to beat the Detroit morning rush hour, and second to pass thru border check. The thought of being stuck in a Canadian jail while his boat and truck was impounded made Little E do alittle cross the border house cleaning before we reach the border. In other words, he called the Canadian Police and paid the ticket for good measure. And by the resistance we met at the border check, it was a good move. They force us to pull off to the side, to a check point, go inside and register with the government officials. They do a complete background check, so there's a good probability that Little E would have got red flagged.
What will happen next will go down as one of the most crooked business practices I have ever experienced at a hotel. A major chain hotel that will go un-named (Ramada). Our first tip off that this was not gonna be a good experience was as soon as we walked into the lobby to check in. At the counter was a young couple with 2 small kids who had traveled to spend a quiet, long awaited trip on the shores of Lake Erie. The young desk clerk informed them that they only had one room left because it was full due to the date being 7/7/7 (sign of luck), a huge gathering of wedding parties were there. Little E and I felt secure we had a room since he had booked it days earlier. The clerk ask the young family what they are willing to pay for the room? What they are WILLING to pay like they were hostages. OK, I know we are in a foreign country, but this seems like some form of a ransom rate policy. The family agrees to an outrageous rate due to they just want to get their young sons to bed. Again, this is a well known major chain hotel which will go un-named (Ramada!). Next, its our turn at the desk. I feel like a little kid who just got caught doing something bout to get his punishment as we step up to the huge front desk. We give the clerk our name, and even though they have our reservation name spelled wrong, we are registered. Bad news is that the rate is $120 a night, a bargain compared to the faith of the family before us. This is were the experience only gets worse from the un-named chain (Ramada Inn).
When we finally enter our room, we realize that its a single bed. OK, Little E and I are friends, but we ain't sleeping together. Back to the front desk only to be told that there is no rooms left and that's all they have to offer. We explain to no avail that we booked a double, its their mistake. She calls the manager and he informs us that we can get a roll away for the night. OK, its late, I'm tired, we agree to it for tonight and will just check out tomorrow instead of staying the planned 2 nights. The clerk, via the manager, informs us that they have a 36 hour cancellation policy and since we did not meet that, he will increase our rate to $150 a night if we leave. What, I have never heard of a chain hotel, or any hotel increasing the rate because they made a mistake in our reservations. We become angry but only have the young desk clerk to "express" our disdain as the manager has chosen to relay his crooked practice via a phone from his office. Again, this is a un-named chain, ....RAMADA Inn! I feel sorry for the clerk that she has to take the blame for a low life manager who doesn't even have the guts to face us. Little E and I agree to pay it, get out of Canada in the morning and be done with Ramada forever.
Back at the room later, the young desk clerk brings in the roll away only to timidly say, "I'm almost sorry to have to say this and please don't yell at me, but my manager has told me I must collect an additional $15 for the roll away. "WHAT"! I am p******! I tell her by no means will I pay an extra fifteen bucks for a rollaway when its their mistake we have a single bed and we are already being penalized by an increase in our rate. Tell the Manager to come get it. The young clerk teary eyed leaves. You think the manager comes to our room, Nope Instead this so called manager behind some door calls us on the room phone. Little E answers and to make an already long night story short, he takes what the manager says alot better than I would. Alot better! We will have the last say so with Ramada Corp Headquarters after we get back to the states. For all you out there, I highly recommend that you avoid the Ramada Inn in Leamington.
Finally, we arrive at a boat ramp. Border patrol, clean driving record, license purchase all behind us. If there's one thing that this southern boy loves about going north, its catching those brown fish. What freight trains they are! The first day on Lake Erie is calm enough that I can run without much teeth jarring about any where I want to go. And the fish are biting. There is nothing more fun than seeing a big brown torpedo zeroing in on your bait. You can judge the size of the fish before you catch it by its color, the darker the fish, the bigger it is.
The day will go pretty good, with alot of fish and mother nature working with us. But the forecast is not good. The next two days, a front is coming in, with south winds 20-25 mph forecast. A south wind on Lake Erie is a killer wind. There is no way we will be able to launch out of Canada, which basically sits dead aim to a south wind tomorrow. Again, we will change our plans to go back into the States and fish the protected shore of Lake St. Clair. At least we think we can easily change the plans, not so fast.
Day Four: A new hotel, a new day and a new attitude. The wind is somewhat calm today but forecast to blow this afternoon. I've decided to look at the Detroit River today as another back up for weather. Little E has decided to run by water to some islands on Erie. Its our last full day of practice. And it will show to all who are rookies, and even experienced, just how fast Lake Erie can rear its ugly head with weather.
By early afternoon, the wind has picked up to over 20 mph. The Detroit River is even rough, in fact, I think its rougher than the lake. There is atleast a constant current flow in the river of 10 mph, with this going against the 20 plus winds, its one washing machine type ride back to the ramp. It takes me 30 minutes just to go 3 miles, all the long I'm wondering about Little E out on Erie. My phone rings, its Little E. He says "Its bad"! But he is gonna try and make it back in. If I don't hear from him in about 3 hours, call the Coast Guard! One thing everyone should do before they even launch there boat is make sure someone, a friend, family member or fellow fisherman has a spare key to your vehicle. I have one for Little E's truck and like wise. If worse comes to worse, I can drive around to Ohio and trailer his boat. It will be late into the night, but Little E makes it back in. We both are so sore, the mandatory short day tomorrow is a welcome respite.
Day Three: An early morning escape best describes our cross over the border back into the good ole USA! I couldn't get back on the water fast enough to cleanse the soul, lol. Heck, I even throw my Canadian loose coin change back across the water in jest. The wind is howling today, so we have to trailer to any protected area we can to even fish. I don't know what it is, perhaps the wind, the front or just a continuation of 7/7/7, but the sheephead are biting today. Man these critters are annoying. I never thought I would see the day I don't want to get a bite but my arm is getting sore just catching sheephead.
In between sheephead, the day will be very productive even with the wind. I feel I have found alittle backup pattern or area if the wind won't let me get out on the big E water. OK, time to go find another hotel. I feel like a traveling nomad, from one hotel to the next. Back on the I75, Little E points out, "hey, there's a Ramada Inn, you wanna stop"? Yea, just like the Ramada slogan,
"Ramada: A very good place to be..................Screwed !!
Day Five: We get up this morning, the wind is howling. Its a short opportunity to be on the water today any way, so I decide to spend the time mending mind, body and equipment. I feel pretty good about what I found in practice, with options for any weather. I spend the morning tightening any loose bolts and screws on the boat and trolling motor. Make sure my bilges work, untangle my drift sock and have a good supply of tylenol extra strength available.
The meeting is downtown Detroit, near the Joe Louis Arena. I've never been downtown Detroit, well cept by water. Instantly you can tell economically, the city is not doing well. I don't know if it due to the Big Three Auto Makers problems or just the economy in general. On the way into the inner city, you see alot of homeless people, with little make shift communities under every bypass bridge. Looks like power within that community is who has a box spring or perhaps even a box. Sad. But overall, I am pleasantly surprised about downtown Detroit. Its overall clean, full of charm and diversity. Interestingly enough, the first person we meet when we enter the Convention Center is Jesse Jackson, in town for the National NAACP convention.
Tournament Day One: My co-angler partner for today is from Ohio, so he has probably more big water experience than me. I tell him that I have fish both on St. Clair and Erie, but since I'm not fishing for points, plan on making the run out on Erie. The wind is already blowing, but we are going. He makes the comment he never ventures out much on Erie in these conditions. As they near our take off number, we begin to batten down the hatches, tie up any loose ends and I get mentally focused for what will be a mentally and physically pounding to reach our fishing area. Its about 30 miles out, and it takes about 90 minutes to get there. Overall, I do a good job of not beating us or our equipment up. I did spear one wave at the end, due mainly to a break in concentration. You sort of get hypnotized as you try and read each approaching wave over and over. One little mistake, and you get really wet.
The day will go pretty well, and gets off to a quick start, as my co-angler will catch a 3 lb smallie on almost his first drop. I tell him the plan is for both of us to get our fish early, so as not to have to rush to get back. And fortunately, it will go as planned because by noon, the wind has picked up so much that there is any where between 6 and 8 foot seas. I tell my partner I'm gonna give us almost 3 hours to get in, and its a smart decision.
Its really bad once we get about 10 miles back into our ride to the River. Its water conditions only suited for those huge freighters that cross the Great Lakes. And one will pass us on our return trip. If you have never experienced the Great Lakes, its like being in the ocean, with nothing but your confidence in your decision and equipment to guide you. You see no land in any direction, only breaking wave after wave. One has to think that when a huge ship like that passes by a small vessel like us out in these conditions, they have to really wonder what the heck we are doing out here. By the time we finally reach sight of land, I will be thinking the same thing.
We make it in on time and with everything cept the trolling motor transducer intact. A faith that some will not have. Several will not make it back in, with many report of anglers stranded on Pelee Island for the night. Ironically, my partner and I will find ourselves in the same position in the first day standings, in 53rd place. I really thought I had more weight than I had, over 15 pounds, but its hard to judge those smallmouth. Even under these conditions, they sacked them. I will have to catch atleast that amount again tomorrow to secure a good check.
Tournament Day Two: I awake this morning to a soreness that only can be experienced. I'm sore in places that I've never knew could be. My jaw is even sore! What a difference this morning is. Hardly any wind and sun. Over night, I made the decision to go to my St. Clair fish today. During boat check, some friends ask if I'm going to Erie again, and when they hear my answer under the calm conditions, think I'm nuts since I went yesterday. But I really think I can catch the same or better on St. Clair judging from what I saw yesterday. Plus I run the risk of making the long run out on Erie only to find my area muddy up from the high winds, then with nothing to resort to.
We arrive at our fishing area in less than 20 minutes today. And it will take only 5 minutes for me to land a couple quick keepers. So far, the decision seems right, since I was still trying to reach my destination at this time yesterday. A side note is that on our trip to St. Clair, we pass right thru downtown Detroit, where you can see the title sponsor of this events headquarters, General Motors. And you can see the Convention Center where the final days events will take place. The day goes quick and pretty productive. By late afternoon, Little E has arrived at the area I am fishing. He ask "how's things going"? and I tell him if I can land one good fish, I have a shot at a good check. He makes the comment he only has about 10 pounds and regrets not going to Erie again.
In about 20 minutes, I will get the bite I need, right in front of Little E. You know, its kind of like you are not fishing a tournament today. The weather is calm and sunny, you basically just sit there and hold a rod while you drag a tube, and you are surrounded by boats close enough to carry on a conversation. Back to the fish, its close to 4 lbs or better and will give me around fifteen pounds. Bad news is that it has swallowed that Gulp so deep, I'm worried it will die. I already have one that I'm nursing from same problem. That Gulp is good, almost too good !
Again, as yesterday, I will decide to leave alittle early to reach weigh in. Its not the weather I'm worried about today, its the high speed boat race that is going on in the river the next couple days. I'm not sure how much traffic it will generate on the water, nor am I sure of the area the officials closed overnight for the course. I ask Little E how much time he thinks I should allow and he's not sure. I pull up the trolling motor, allowing an hour to make the 20 plus mile run. Good thing, as it will take almost that. Little E is in a later flight, and after weigh in, he makes the comment he had to push it hard to get back on time, narrowly making it with a minute to spare. The river was that congested and rough. You get all those big boats running up and down the river, the waves and wakes bounce off the sea walls, making a ride like running thru the Detroit Loins defense over and over. My limit today will again almost be 15 pounds, the bad news is that I lost those 2 fish who were gut hooked. Its a costly loss in more ways than just the lost of the fish which I hate. I can't remember having a fish die on me in years, but to have two is a pound penalty. That's huge when you realize that I will go from actual finish place of 60th to all the way to 77th from the pound deduction will cost me $6000. 60th paid $10 grand, 77th is $4000. That's $3000 penalty for each dead fish. Ouch. 8 ounces is too much penalty for a dead fish, its not like we are out here trying to kill the fish. We would and do take just as much care in survival of the fish if it were 4 ounce penalty. Overall, it was a good day and tournament, with me and Little E both securing checks while not breaking anything on our boats or body. Good thing because there will be no rest for me, as I will move on to Potomac River Stren Series right after the Fun Zone.
Stren Tournament Day One: Bump and I had little if no rest coming into the Stren Potomac tournament. We left Sunday straight from the Fun Zone late that afternoon, having driven 10 hours over night to reach DC by Monday afternoon. Basically we are showing up and gonna go fishing in the tournament. Now I don't feel too bad for Bump as you may remember he won the FLW Tour event here weeks back. But me, I'm sore, tired and not sure where I will even start. The river has really changed since we were here, with the grass having matted everywhere and most with some kind of yellow slime on it. Oh well, no rest for the sore and weary. My co-angler partner for today is a young kid, I mean young in only 16, from Conn. Its his first FLW Outdoors event and he's excited. Me, I too tired to be excited. The day will go good, having secured a limit, be it small, but putting me in contention for a check. They really caught them as usual on the Potomac, the place is a fish factory.
Stren Tournament Day Two: Today, I am gonna go to area's I didn't even fish yesterday. I need to up my weight if I am to stay in contention for a check in this 3 day cut format. The day starts off quick, as I will land a nice 4 lb fish early. But the day will end like no day I have experienced. I have a limit by my weigh in time of 3 PM. Its about 20 minutes to weigh in, and you can see a storm looming off in the distance. I decide to get alittle closer, a good move. By the time I reach the mouth of Matterwoman Creek, its already thundering and sharp lightning. We move within yards of the check in boat and a storm like I have never experienced hits us. I mean, we go from no rain, to you can't see your trolling motor instantly. We also go from no wind to what later will be reported as speed in excess of 100 mph. Its so bad, that the check in boat is nearly swamped as it is anchored, and has to run for shore.
In about 30 minutes, the storm is gone, the sun comes out and the aftermath is apparent. The weigh area is a disaster, with tree limbs everywhere, the tents are completely gone too. Then word gets out that several boats are in trouble on the river. The Coast Guard is dispatched, and several local Rescue boats are deployed from the harbor. An couple ambulances set up a command post at the ramp. Its a chilly few moments as everyone realizes what has happened. The good news is that all involved are found and rescued. Several boats were either swamped or sunk, but nobody was injured. I get to weigh in my fish and move up in the standings. On the return trip into town, you can see the damage everywhere, with trees down and power even out at the hotel. Tonight we will have to use generators to charge our boat batteries. Again, everyone is accounted for and safe. The news reports it was a tornado, and I believe it. It happened so fast, was here, with lightning striking all around us, and gone.
Stren Tournament Day Three: I'm not sure my batteries got charged last night but I give the hotel owners credit, they were quick in bringing in generaters for use. The power is still off this morning. The wind is howling this morning, did I suddenly wake up back in Detroit. When I arrive at my primary area, the wind is whooping it into a muddy froth. I stay probably too long with little success. Since I had limited practice time, I have little to fall back on. I decide to just pick up my trusty Skeet's Custom Signature Series Flipping rod and go fish mats. The decision seems like a good one, as I will land a nice keeper pretty quick. The size is there, but overall, the bite is slow for me. I make the decision to continue the coarse as the tide begins to change. Overall, it was a good decision, as I will go on to weigh in almost 12 pounds and win the Snickers Big Bass Award for the day. A bonus check while I finish in the money overall.
Finally, I get to go home. I'm so sore and tired, I can hardly remember my name. When I call home, my wife reminds me that there will be little time for rest as the grass hasn't been mowed since July 3rd and we have to move my daughter into a dorm at NC State before I head to the FLW Championship. Where's that Tylenol?