Coming off his first top-12 finish since joining the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2013, Chad Pipkens was feeling pretty good about going back to his home waters for the final stop of the Bassmaster Northern Open series on Lake St. Clair. The truth is, he was on a bit of a mission.
“It feels really good to get some redemption on Lake St. Clair after having one of the most frustrating events of my life last year on Lake Erie with the Elite Series” says Pipkens, “so it was nice to get back out there and have it fall into place.” In 2013, Pipkens finished the Plano Championship Chase on the same body of water in 74th place, finishing with a two-day total of 26.9 pounds. In winning this year’s Open, he nearly matched that total every day, weighing in 67.4 pounds over the three-day event.
Pipkens made a long run to Lake Erie each day, and he was surprised to find his fish in parts of the lake that were shallow. “I found some fish up shallow, and it was just a blast when we found them” says Pipkens, “once we figured out what was going on, it was unreal”. A change in the weather allowed Pipkens to hit his final day spots in Erie in relative calm, a bit of change from the first two days where the wind would move his Skeeter FX20 some 75 yards down a drift after catching a single fish. “On the final day, when we showed up, the water wasn’t muddy, the wind was rippling, there were actually shad busting in places. Smallmouth were jumping, not even on the sweet spots but next to them. We would just cast over there and catch one. I had a 4 and a half pound smallmouth on, and a two and a half pound largemouth ate the crank bait with the smallmouth in the net…it was just unreal. We probably caught 50-60 fish that last day in four hours, and we were literally leaving places because we were only catching 3.75 and 4 pounders…we caught well over 100 pounds of bass. It was a blast.”
Pipkens relied on his Humminbird Side Scan units to pinpoint fish in areas along the north shore of Lake Erie, and was able to catch fish in 8-14 feet of water. “I love drop shotting,” says Pipkens, “ 90% of the fish I weigh out there are on smoke pepper Poor Boy’s Erie Darter. It’s a little slower fishing, but that’s how you have to fish for them a lot of times when they are deeper. But when they are up shallow, they are just eating. Every fish I weighed came on that DC300 “. Pipkens used a Damiki baits DC 300 in “Real Shad” color. “It’s a lot more fun to crank, the way you can chunk and wind, and how they hit the bait.” Pipkens fished the crank bait on a Powell 703 glass rod, one that he chose for its overall balance and soft tip when handling big smallmouth on crank baits. Pipkens used 12 pound Sunline Sniper when fishing the Damiki DC 300.
The bait, which dives between 12-15 feet, was modified by Pipkens during the tournament after seeing the damage voracious smallmouth did to the hooks. “I put a #4 Gamakatsu on the front, and a #5 on the back, a little bigger hooks than they come with. It helps with the hook-up ratio, I think.” Pipkens switched to the non standard hook pairing after observing that some of the larger smallmouth he was catching were actually straightening the treble hooks on his crank bait. “They are big, even with the fish I was fighting, I had two split rings that broke and came off on me. One of them was on a 6 pounder I caught; I caught it on the front hook, and the back one had come off in the fish’s mouth. The split ring had pulled loose.” Even with the change, Pipkens constantly had to check his crank bait hooks for damage caused by large, aggressive smallies that didn’t want to go for a ride in his boat. “On the first day, I changed hooks 3 or 4 times because they just kept bending. Its not pretty when you’re hauling a big one in, and you can see a hook or two straightened out”.
Pipkens backed his crank bait pattern with a drop shot setup, utilizing a Powell 702 light action spinning rod equipped with 8 lb. Sunline Sniper. Pipkens bait of choice? The Poor Boy’s Erie Darter in smoke pepper on a ¼ ounce weight. Pipkens and his co-anglers routinely caught fish following up crank bait bites with the drop shot to the same area immediately after landing the fish. “I’ve played around with it, but really the only color – my favorite color for smallmouth, period, is smoke pepper. Whether its Erie, St. Clair, Champlain NY, 1000 Islands – I have a lot of confidence in that color.”
Pipkens feels he had a distinct advantage over other anglers in that he uses Hullspeed Performance Marine Coatings on his Skeeter FX 20. The water based epoxy/silicone bottom paints are designed to improve speed but more importantly in the Open, where he was making a very long run, fuel economy. “The gas mileage (with Hullspeed) is big, because I was making a long run every day. I might not have been able to get there (without it). Or, I would get there, and be at 0% on the gauge. So the gas mileage is huge”. Coupled with a Yamaha 250 SHO, Pipkens’ fuel efficiency was maxed at a time when it needed to be, and he was able to fish without worrying about fuel consumption.
After a solid sophomore season which saw Pipkens improve his overall performance on the Elite Series, he needed this win in the Northern Open to punch his ticket to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. Leaving the three day event with trophy in hand as the 2014 Northern Open on Lake St. Clair, Chad Pipkens can say “mission accomplished”.
Learn more about Elite Series Pro Chad Pipkens by visiting his website: http://www.chadpipkens.com
Follow Chad on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/ChadPipkens) and Twitter (@ChadPipkens)