Bertrand Believes the Entire St. Lawrence Fishery Will Be in Play
Published on 07-19-2023
By Pete Robbins
Bass Pro Tour angler Josh Bertrand may hail from Arizona, but he has a soft place in his heart for the St. Lawrence River smallmouths. Not only do they provide him with a near-annual excuse to get out of the desert heat, but they’re big and numerous and there are lots of ways to catch them. Perhaps most importantly, it was the site of his first major win, a 2018 Elite Series tournament where he caught 95 pounds 3 ounces over four days to beat fellow Berkley pro Justin Lucas by 13 ounces.
That tournament took place in late August. Right now, Bertrand is jealous of the anglers who will fish the inaugural Big Bass Tour event on the river in a couple of weeks because he expects far more of the fishery to be in play. Yes, the big lake will be off limits, but he believes that “it could be won anywhere in the river, shallow or deep. It won’t be a full-blown deal where they’re all out deep. Yes, some will be in their summer holes, but there will still be plenty of fish comparatively shallow.”
He expects that the overall winning fish will be well over 6 pounds, and possibly over 7, and it’ll take a heavy five just about every hour to claim the top spot. Fortunately, there are several proven ways to catch not only numbers but big ones.
“One hundred percent, the number one way to catch them is dropshotting a Berkley Flat Worm,” he said. “If you can get away with a 3/8 ounce weight, that’s better because it gets hung up less and looks more natural, but when you’re fishing in heavier current or a little bit deeper you may need to go up to ½.” His three favorite colors are Brown Back, Green Pumpkin and straight Black, but he added that “you can’t go wrong with Smoke Purple or Goby, sonance that’s mostly what they feed on there.”
It's classic river fishing, so anglers should look for any sort of obvious and not-so-obvious current breaks – shoals, points that stick out, or current seams caused by irregularities in the bottom.”
“The further you go toward Massena, the current is swifter,” he explained. “Sometimes that keeps the fish shallower. It can be more challenging to fish, but there’s usually less pressure. Closer to Ontario the river widens out, so there’s less current.”
He wouldn’t expect giant smallmouths to be up on the banks like largemouths, but he’d target comparatively shallow flats with 5 to 15 feet of water with a variety of tools.
“The biggest fish can be rogue fish,” he said. “In a tournament where you’re just looking for one, I might go up shallow hoping to stumble on a giant or a pair of them.” He’d try to tempt them with a Berkley Stunna jerkbait, probably in Stealth Shad or Shad Fillet – relatively natural colors with just enough brightness to trigger sight-feeding smallmouths.
One other lure that may get overlooked because it’s relatively small is a spy bait, but Bertrand would be sure to have a Berkley Spy 70 on the deck at all times.
“It’s so natural that it fools a lot of big fish,” he explained. “It shines when it’s calm and sunny. As you get closer to the lake where there’s less current, you can cast it any which way, but from Alexandria Bay on down you’re going to want to throw it at a 45 degree angle across the river. That’ll give it a perfect action. It’ll look completely natural with the current.” Again, Stealth Shad is a killer color, and may be Bertrand’s all-around favorite, but he called solid black “a sneaky one” that is just as deadly as a black hair jig, a well-known smallie killer.
One last piece of advice: “Check your line a lot. There are tons of mussels on the bottom.”
That’s one reason he favors the dropshot over a Ned Rig, Carolina Rig or jig, because he feels that with the lure suspended slightly off the bottom it leads to fewer break offs.
No matter what technique you use, be sure to keep the live leaderboard running. Hourly prizes and even the top prizes will likely be separated by fractions of ounces in this ultra-prolific smallmouth factory, and it would be shame to miss out on an hourly check as the result of poor planning.
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