The Sturgeon Bay Open starts today. It’s one of the largest pure smallmouth tournaments in the world. If not the very largest. Every year it attracts hundreds of competitors, set as it is in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin. Surrounded by Lake Michigan, Door County harbors some of the most exemplary smallmouth fishing anywhere. A participant boating 50 or more averaging 3 pounds or better—per day—is common. But a 3-pound average, in this tournament, is chump change. Last year fish of 6 and 7 pounds were weighed in. You need to average 4 pounds or better both days just to be a player in the SBO.
SBO created some of the most vivid smallmouth memories of my life. My partner in crime, Captain Tim Dawidiuk, fished the two-day event with me for 10 years. We won the tournament in our first attempt—in 1998. We finished third in 2003, and overall I believe we posted five top-10 finishes, cashing a check in all but one of those ten events.
Every smallmouth angler should visit this micropterus Mecca. The water is like air, the smallmouths 25 feet deep look like exotic birds flying through nothing. The surroundings are spectacular, with archipelagos of islands stretching out into Green Bay and beyond. (Sounds like something Buzz Lightbeer would say. “To Green Bay and beyond!”)
Almost every day in practice and during the tournament we popped walleyes in the 4- to 10-pound neighborhood (nice neighborhood to be in). Sometimes a big brown trout would rip into one of our suspending baits—and we had to take the time to land it because we needed every bait we could possibly keep in the boat, with all those big toothies swimming around. Dawidiuk had many multiple 20-pound-plus-pike days while guiding around the Door. And tournament contestants worked their way through the crowd many times at weigh ins to show me digital shots of muskies over 50 inches they brought in with smallmouth tackle.
This smallmouth, however, was caught by accident yesterday while fishing with famous guide, Tony Roach in Minnesota. But it’s A/ representative of the average size bass we caught most days in the waters surrounding Sturgeon Bay—in that 4-pound neighborhood, and B/ it was caught using the same method that worked so well for us in the SBO for all those years—slowly swimming plastics on light jigs with light, 4- and 5-pound monofilament lines. Colors and styles may vary, but the technique is exactly the same—a slow, do-nothing swim somewhere between bottom and half way to the surface. When the water’s like air, smallmouths will rise 5, 8, even 10 feet to hit plastics moving at the right speed. Out on northern Green Bay, we often watched smallies rise slowly and strike the bait—a real nerve bender. Memory candy.
Those were special years, fishing in the SBO. Many of the competitors are good friends. Good luck to all this week. Just remember—you can win the SBO, but you can’t lose it.