More Details About Ike’s Winning Ways at Erie Open
If Ike didn’t win the recent Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Erie, he would not qualify for a 15th-consecutive Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing. So, he went big, upsizing his baits and hooks and targeting bigger fish.
The bold move yielded a big payoff – Ike won the tournament with 48.8 pounds of smallmouth bass, almost four pounds more than the runner-up.
“I focused on catching bigger quality fish, not necessarily numbers,” Ike says. “It’s important to develop a pattern to catch bigger fish. I can’t tell you how important that was for me, winning the Lake Erie tournament.”
Ike’s big-fish pattern was part of a “one-two punch” that accounted for his winning weight. To target bigger, “kicker” fish, he cranked a Smash-pattern Rapala DT-14 over the tops of humps, shoals and ridges near islands about 30 miles from the tournament’s launch site in Sandusky, OH.
“The DT-14 caught less fish, but the ones it caught were the real important fish for me,” Ike says. “Three of the big fish that I weighed during this event came on that DT 14. You take those three big fish away, I probably wouldn’t have won the event. It became a really important tool for me in the tournament.”
While pre-fishing for the tournament, Ike noticed that the bigger smallmouths he was catching were coming from the shallower tops of humps – rather than the deep edges – and that they were feeding on yellow perch, rather than the gobies the Great Lakes are known for. That’s why he tied on the Smash-pattern Rapala DT-14 in the tournament.
“It’s a really great perch imitation – especially of the perch that live on Lake Erie and the Great Lakes,” Ike explains. “It’s got a lot of green in it. And the real key – it’s got a pale, orange throat. Those big fish, they don’t eat a lot, but when they eat, they want a big meal and that DT-14 was perfect for doing it.”
While the DT-14 was the haymaker in Ike’s winning “one-two punch” combination, the drop-shot was his jab. Around the deep edges of the humps, shoals and ridges, he dropshotted a soft-plastic stickbait on a 1/0 VMC Wacky Hook over a 1/2 to 3/8 oz. VMC Tungsten Drop Shot Cylinder Weight.
That 1/0 Wacky Hook is a bit bigger than what most anglers use for dropshotting, Ike says. “It helped me get those fish in the boat and it compensated for that little bit bigger soft stickbait,” he explains. “So that was key. Over the course of two days, I landed 99 percent of my fish on the dropshot. That’s a really big testament to that hook.”
Ike used a cylindrical, “pencil style,” VMC Tungsten dropshot weight to avoid hang-ups on Erie’s rocky bottom. Less time freeing hang-ups or re-rigging break-offs makes for more time fishing,
“A lot of guys were out there fishing lead which wasn’t as sensitive,” Ike explains. “And a lot were fishing a ball weight, which was tending to get hung up a lot. But that tungsten, pencil-style weight really comes through that scattered rock better. And that was key for me, because I had to be able to pop it out of the rock and out of the little crevices. And that pencil style made a big difference.”
By winning the Sept. 12-14 tournament, Ike qualified to compete in a 15th-consecutive Bassmaster Classic. Fishing in the Classic is the goal of most bass pros, owing to the event’s prestige and its $500,000 purse. Because Ike did not finish high enough in the Bassmaster Elite Series’ Angler of the Year race to qualify for the Classic, winning Erie Northern Open his last best chance to make the Classic.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Ike says. “I definitely felt it. But it was a great opportunity.”