This is the fourth installment in a five-part series retracing the steps that led Elite Series pro Scott Canterbury to his first Bassmaster Angler of the Year title in 2019. We pick back up at the seventh stop of the season.
St. Lawrence River
Canterbury had spent a couple days on the St. Lawrence River, but had no prior knowledge of the expansive fishery. And the conditions had changed drastically over the off-limits period, so he quickly found himself scratching his head late in the official practice period.
“The third day of practice I was still riding the struggle bus,” he said. “I went back to a stretch of the river where I had caught a couple decent fish the first day of practice. I just slowed down in that stretch and started picking it apart. I’d catch one off a place and then I’d leave. I wasn’t catching a bunch of fish, but when I got a bite it was good one.
“I caught a 4-pounder off a place, and then the next place I caught a 4-pounder. Then I just tried to find as many places as I could. I ended up catching a 5-11 and a 5-13. It was pretty good that third day of practice. I knew I was going to spend my tournament in that area.”
On Day 1 he bagged 23-pounds, 8-ounces, and started the tournament off with a hot hand.
“Day 2 of the tournament, I ran to make one of my drifts, and I started about 75 yards before I got to where I had my waypoints. It was 45 feet deep and I caught a 5-pounder. That was a huge clue. I ended up catching a 6-pounder there on the final day in 44 feet of water. Those are some of the deepest fish I’ve ever caught.”
He averaged better than 20 pounds of smallmouth per day over the following three days of competition to finish the event in third place. He also regained the AOY lead with a 17-point margin headed into the eighth stop.
On Day 2 of practice Canterbury started putting together the pattern that he ultimately rode throughout the tournament. With limited knowledge of Cayuga, he attempted to find fish in some of the more popular areas revealed by past tournaments held there. Fishing a large grass flat near takeoff, he began dissecting the vegetation and gradually connecting the dots.
“I ran out about a mile in front of the take-off area at sunrise, and put my trolling in the water and didn’t pick it up until 12 o’clock.” He said. “I just started casting a worm and worked my way out to 12 or 14 feet. Then I’d work my way back in to 7 or 8 feet. I’d catch a 3-pounder, then I might fish another 30 minutes or so without a bite and then catch another 3-pounder.
“I got into a little area where I could see the grass. A lot of that other grass I wasn’t able to see with my eyes, but could follow the edges of it on my depth finder. When I got in that area where I could see the grass, I caught a 4-pounder. There was a clump or grass to the right of where I had caught that one, and I threw over there and caught a 2 1/2.”
That was the first time all morning Canterbury had multiple bites in an area.
“I marked a waypoint and put a ‘stop sign’ and I wrote ‘good.’ I fished up about another hour or so and caught another 4-pounder where I could see the grass. So, I started keying in on that.
“The first morning I ran straight to that first waypoint, and when I got to it I hit Spot Lock, and I went to catching them. I caught three fish in four casts. And they were good ones. I caught about 17 pounds, and then cranked up and ran to my second waypoint where my first cast caught a 5-pounder. I had a pretty good bag then, around 20 pounds.”
He fished in that second area the rest of the day to guard it, but his starting spot never left his mind.
“With about an hour left in the day I ran back to where I had started,” he said. “I made one cast and caught a 5-pounder and then I left again.”
That gave Canterbury 22-14 for Day 1 and had him sitting in third place for the tournament, and still hanging onto the lead in AOY.
“The second day I caught another 22 pounds that morning. They had the cameras on me, and I was laying down on the front deck of the boat by 8 o’clock. I was done for the day. It was absolutely insane.”
Day 3 was a different story. A strong north wind blew in and messed up Canterbury’s main area. With 15 minutes left to fish, and a small limit in his livewell, Canterbury needed a little divine intervention to finish the week off strong.
“I thought to myself, ’This has got to be my last cast. Give me one good one Lord.’ I threw out there and when my bait hit the bottom one ate it. I set the hook and caught my biggest fish of the whole day.”
That fish landed Canterbury in 11th for the tournament and had him firmly in the lead for Angler of the Year with only two stops remaining on the Elite Series schedule. Canterbury could see the mountain’s peak now. But it’s often the last stretch of the climb that’s the most treacherous. The summit was within reach, but not his yet.