PARK FALLS, Wis. (July 25, 2023) – Widely recognized as one of the top smallmouth bass fisheries in the world, the St. Lawrence River made history in 2022 when rookie Bassmaster Elite angler, Jay Przekurat, tallied 102-9 over four days of competition to become the youngest ever Bassmaster Elite Series Champion. Additionally, Przekurat’s historic 102-9 bag was the heaviest all-smallmouth limit ever weighed in a Bassmaster tournament.
The history-making fishery continued to impress this past weekend, with the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at St. Lawrence River wrapping up there last Saturday. Shaftsbury, Vermont angler, Jody White, caught a three-day 15-fish limit of 71-15 from a single spot to earn the Pro-Angler Division Open championship trophy and nearly $50,000. Meanwhile, Perry See of Rochester, Minnesota caught a two-day total of six bass weighing 25-6 from the back of the boat to earn top honors in the Co-Angler Division, taking home over $22,000 in cash.
Further down the list, but firmly within the top-ten, Rich Ortiz weighed a three-day 15-bass total of 60-13 to finish 8th in the Pro Division, while Cade Bacon tallied a two-day six-bass weight of 22-10 to finish 7th in the highly competitive Co-Angler Division. What did Ortiz and Bacon have in common? They were the highest finishers in their respective divisions fishing St. Croix rods.
“It’s a good fit for me because it allows me to travel and fish,” says the 20-year-old who calls Oneida Lake his home water. “I live within an hour’s drive or so from the Lake Ontario end of the St. Lawrence fishery, but don’t get to fish further down in the river itself very often. A lot of the same smallmouth techniques and presentations we use on Oneida and Lake Ontario definitely play there, though.”
Co-anglers in St. Croix Bassmaster Open events draw to learn which Pro angler they will fish with each day. Bacon drew Ontario pro, Danny McGarry, on Day 1 of the St. Lawrence Open. “We made a long, 75-mile run down to Wolfe Island near the mouth of the lake, where I have some experience and knowledge fishing,” Bacon recalls. “Danny was fishing his live sonar, so I started dragging a tube deep and doing some dropshotting. I caught some on the tube using a St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass VERSATILE 71MF. We moved shallow around noon, and I only had three bass weighing about eight pounds when we had to leave to make the long run back to Waddington. Luckily, Danny decided we had a little time left, so we stopped to fish one more spot at a bridge near Ogdensburg. I caught a 4.5 while dropshotting with my Legend Tournament Bass FINESSE XL 73MLXF and was able to make a critical last-minute cull.”
Day Two found Bacon riding along with pro, Shane Lineberger, a former Bassmaster Elite Series angler out of out North Carolina. “Day 2 was wet and windy; it was blowing about 25 out of the west, so we didn’t go far,” Bacon reports. “We found a shallow flat that had a couple nice grass spots. I was dragging a Dark Mellon-colored Strike King tube and caught three for a total of 11-3 by 8:05 in the morning. I caught a lot more bass but was never able to cull up.”
Cade Bacon finished 7th with 22-10 amidst a packed field of 197 co-anglers, earning a check for $2,496 and an additional $250 in St. Croix Rewards. I’ve always loved St. Croix rods,” he says. “I work at Dick’s Sporting Goods and we’re able to order four St. Croix rods per year with the employee discount. Those two Legend Tournament Bass rods I used at St. Lawrence were my most-recent additions!”
“I’ve been passionate about fishing since I was about three years old, but just started fishing competitively during COVID,” Ortiz says. “I’m a fourth-generation professional musician, so when I had to stop playing gigs during the pandemic, I decided to use the opportunity to start fishing some local and regional-level tournaments. I won like 11 tournaments that first year, so I got a new boat and decided to step up the competition and start fishing some Bassmaster Opens last year.”
A resident of Fort Ann, New York, Ortiz spends ample time fishing smallmouth bass at nearby Lake George, as well as at the lower end of Lake Champlain. “Believe it or not, I’d never fished the St. Lawrence River before,” he says. “I’ve caught a lot of big smallmouth on my home waters, including three over seven pounds last year, so I’ve never felt the need to travel over there, even though it’s not really that far.”
When Ortiz finally did make it to the St. Lawrence for practice, he says he realized he’d need to make a pretty long run if he wanted to stay competitive. “I found some good spots about 50 miles upriver in the Chippewa Bay and Alexandria Bay areas,” he says. “About half of my fish came shallow on hair jigs, including some I helped my friend, Jerrod Villa design, which he built for me. The rest of the fish came on some deep humps. There were post-spawn fish transitioning out of the bays and I was targeting flat rock with my forward-facing sonar FF sonar. There were certain rocks that had crevices down into the bottom and there were big fish down in those voids… 5’s and 6’s. I was targeting them with a combination of heavier hair jigs, football jigs, and dropshots.”
Despite varied weather, Ortiz’s pattern held all three days, but his third day of fishing was cut short by boat trouble. “My motor dropped a cylinder 25 miles into my run, so I was only able to run about 40 MPH,” he relates. “It got into my head as they day wore on and I started worried about getting back, so I left early to run back closer to Waddington. I had 18-8 in the livewell but wasn’t able to add any weight at any of those spots downriver.”
Ortiz finished 8th with 60-13 in a field of 250 other pros, earning a check for $9,940 and an additional $500 in St. Croix Rewards. His final Northern-Division Bassmaster Open takes place September 14-16 at Watts Bar Reservoir in Kingston, Tennessee. “I want to say it sets up well for me,” says Ortiz, whose goal is to win an Open and qualify for the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic. “I’ve never been to Watts Bar, but I’m strong at fishing offshore and am hoping to put together a winning pattern along the river channels in that September timeframe.”
The St. Lawrence River shuffled the deck a bit with respect to the Elite Qualifier points race. With a top-10 finish, JT Thompkins moved into first place with 1,089 points, just nine points ahead of Elite Series pro Kenta Kimura. John Garrett and St. Croix pro Trey McKinney fell to third and fourth respectively with 1,067 and 1,034 points, followed by Robert Gee in fifth with 1,018. The top nine EQ anglers at the end of all nine St. Croix Bassmaster Opens events will earn spots in the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.
St. Croix Rewards Program
St. Croix wishes to remind all pros and co-anglers fishing in any 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Open event that they can win even more with St. Croix Rewards, as long as they are fishing at least one St. Croix rod.
The St. Croix Rod Rewards Program pays an extra $1,000 to any registered pro angler who wins a St. Croix Bassmaster Open tournament fishing St. Croix rods, OR $500 to the highest-finishing registered top-10 pro angler fishing St. Croix rods.
Similarly, the program awards an extra $500 to any registered co-angler who wins a St. Croix Bassmaster Open tournament fishing St. Croix rods, OR $250 to the highest-finishing registered top-10 co-angler fishing St. Croix rods.
Anglers must register during the on-site registration prior to the tournament to be eligible to win St. Croix Rewards.
Remaining 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Schedule
Oct. 12-14, Harris Chain of Lakes, Leesburg, FL
Sept. 22-24, Lake of the Ozarks, Osage Beach, MO
Sept. 14-16, Watts Bar Reservoir, Kingston, TN