Big Bass Tour – Lake Previews for St. Lawrence River & Upper Mississippi River (La Crosse)

By Pete Robbins

After establishing a popular and ever-growing series of tournaments throughout the southeast, ranging from Virginia down to Florida and over to Texas, the Big Bass Tour has heeded the call of northern anglers and will expand to smallmouth country this year. The 10th and 11th events of the 2023 BBT season will take place at the St. Lawrence River and the Mississippi River (La Crosse, Wisconsin), in July and August, respectively.

Actually, referring to the northern fisheries as “smallmouth country” is a bit misleading, because both of these venues have exceptional largemouth fishing, too – a sneaky-good an almost untouched one in New York, and a better-known one in Wisconsin.

The St. Lawrence may currently be the country’s premier smallmouth tournament venue. Last year in an Elite Series event two anglers topped the 100 pound mark with four limits of smallies apiece, and it seems that each major tournament produces at least one 7-plus-pounder, if not a near-8. The waters of Lake Ontario will be off-limits to the competition, but the main river and it’s tributaries and canals hold more than enough fish to produce a compelling outcome.

Oftentimes anglers cull through dozens if not more 4- and 5-pound fish, moving up by ounces, so this event will be one where hourly awards are tightly packed, and paying attention to the live leaderboard will be critical. This is the fishery that made the Berkley Flatworm famous – and, for a period of time, hard to obtain – but power fishing techniques like a Berkley Stunna jerkbait will also come into play. A spy bait or deep diving crankbait, along with Ned Rigs, will likely be on the decks of many top competitors’ boats, too.

In Wisconsin, anglers may have to choose between the main river smallmouths, who live on wing dams, rock cover and various spillways, versus traversing the numerous weedy backwaters in search of the ample largemouths. Both species will be in play for the overall big bass winner, and again weights will be jam-packed in the 3- to 4-pound range, with 5-pounders being likely contenders, although the occasional 6-pounder shows up, too.

For the smallmouths, various finesse plastics, crankbaits and ribbed swimbaits will produce quality fish, while the largemouths under the canopies respond well to hollow bodied frogs and punched creature baits. This is also the venue that made northern swim jigging famous and helped the local masters refine it, so expect those chasing both species to have one or more of those on deck. They may not be doing the “Alabama Shake” with them, but they’ll be setting the hook plenty nonetheless.

The BBT will compete on the St. Lawrence from July 28-30, and on the Mighty Mississippi from August 4-6, and will then resume the schedule at the end of September with consecutive tournaments on Smith Mountain Lake, Douglas Lake and Guntersville to cap off what we expect to be a record-setting and prolific season of big bass weigh ins.