Rusty Salewske's Winning Pattern, Baits & Gear
Most people love a good comeback story, and Rusty Salewske's certainly qualifies as that.Whether you're talking about the Southern California pro's career or just his performance at the FLW Pro Circuit TITLE Championship on Sturgeon Bay, it's seemed like Salewske has always been battling back from something.After 9 years away from FLW's premier level, he finally came back to face a season rife with hurdles because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He navigated those murky waters to make the TITLE, only to nearly lose any chance of winning on the first day of the Qualifying Round.Yet, just like his career, he simply never gave up. And even when Mother Nature was throwing its worst at him and the other anglers in the Championship Round, that mantra stuck with him. It's what propelled him to make a key final move and catch the winning fish with 12 minutes to go to take home the first-ever TITLE belt and $200,000.
With only 2 days of practice and no prior experience on Sturgeon Bay (plus limited time fishing for big-water smallmouth), Salewske knew there wasn't much room for error.The first day he checked out the northern end of the bay, and on the second,he went south toward Little Sturgeon Bay."I got the same amount of bites, but the ones in Little Sturgeon were a little bit bigger," said Salewske. "So that's where I figured I'd go to start the tournament."
Admittedly, he didn't really realize what he'd found down there. One spot, in particular, would prove key throughout the event - a long point off Snake Island outside of Riley's Bay (the bay just north of Little Sturgeon Bay) with scattered rock and few breaks from 13 to 18 feet of water."The spot from practice I thought would be my best spot I never caught a fish on in the tournament," he said. "That point, I figured was maybe my third- or fourth-best spot. Turns out, I caught half my fish there the second day, all my fish there in the Knockout Round and then all but two the final day."
There was not much to suggest Salewske would even eventually win this event after the first day of the tournament.While Kurt Mitchell stole the show on Group A's first day on the water, Salewske finished the day in 16th, well behind the leaders but only 6 pounds out of 10th. Yet, if not for some key words of advice from fellow TITLE angler and Alpine, Calif., resident Wade Strelic, Salewske may never have made it past the Qualifying Round."Wade told me that when I caught one, to park for a little bit because there were probably more there," said Salewske. "That was huge."
Huge indeed, as he ended up posting the biggest haul of Group A on the second day of the Qualifying Round to make it to Friday's Knockout Round. And in the Knockout Round is when he finally realized just how special his point off Snake Island could be, catching all his weight there to easily make it to Saturday.Of course, he was doing this all "fishing blind," as he didn't have the Garmin Panoptix Livescope like most everyone else in the field. But that handicap became an advantage the final day when the winds and waves made it impossible for some guys to even get to their areas, let alone stay steady enough to use the electronics to see fish.
Camping on his main point, Salewske posted 28-15 on ScoreTracker in Period 1 and hovered in the Top 3 until early in the second period. But Salewske couldn't relocate a consistent bite for the next 4 hours, slowly falling behind Bradofrd Beavers before chipping away at the lead in Period 3.With 30 minutes left, his trolling motor batteries basically dead and trailing by nearly 7 pounds, Salewske finally left his main area and went to a place a quarter-mile away where he had only caught a couple small fish in practice and the first day. You know the rest, as he caught a 2-15 and then a 4-14 with 12 minutes left to take the win.
"I'd go there every day of the tournament to check that spot," he said. "It's right next to a big current hole. To me it was going to be a good spot, but it didn't really materialize during the tournament - except those last two fish."When you're meant to win, things just happen. They did for me this week."
Dropshot Gear: 7'4" medium-action Evergreen Brett Hite Combat Stick rod, Diawa Steez spinning reel, 12-pound Sunline braid to a 7-pound Sunline fluorocarbon leader, No. 1 and No. 2 hooks (whatever he could get his hands on, as he kept running out), 3/16 or 3/8-ounce weight, Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm (multiple colors) or Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm (multiple colors).
The Bottom Line
Main factor in his success: "Probably my area, but also that help from Wade. I learned a lot this tournament. That first day, I'd catch one and keep going. He told me to stay put and catch what was there. I'd been fishing over them. Plus, he helped me with weights and baits. I was out of almost everything by the last day."
Bradford Beavers' Pattern, Baits & Gear
If you'd told Bradford Beavers he'd finish 2nd after the practice and first day he had, he never would've believed it."I caught seven fish in 2 days of practice and I only caught five fish the first day of the tournament," said Beavers, who was in 24th after the first day of the Qualifying Round.He said the Major League Fishing format (catch-weigh-release, all bass over 2 pounds count) threw him off the first day as he spent too much time without a line in the water. Fortunately, things took a major turn for the better on day 2.
c八影院c八影院,痞女军王痞女军王Instead of looking for schools of fish like everyone else, he focused on a large shoal near Egg Harbor - 15 miles north of Sturgeon Bay - picking off single fish he saw on his electronics. He figured he needed 17 fish on that day to make the cut, and he caught that number exactly.From there, he never deviated from the plan, even when it meant getting beaten up by what he called the scariest waves he's ever fished in during the Championship Round. Still, despite burning through one trolling motor and then swapping boats to continue fishing, he was leading the majority of the day. With about 20 minutes to go, though, his second boat's batteries finally gave out and he was forced to go shallow out of the wind, which opened the door for Salewske's late go-ahead fish."Overall, it was an unbelievable day," said Beavers. "I only lost one in that mess out there [on the final]. So I'm thrilled. Someone had to finish 2nd."
Dropshot gear: 7' Dobyns Fury 703SF spinning rod, Shimano Stradic spinning reel, 15-pound PowerPro Super Slick braided line to an 8-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon leader, No. 1 Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook, 1/2-ounce tungsten or 5/8-ounce lead weight, Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm (gobi or green-pumpkin candy) or Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Minnow (white, fished in sunny conditions).
Main factor in his success - "Keeping an open mind, especially on the second day. I was fishing water that hadn't been productive, but I knew if I fished it long enough I'd run into them. And I did."
John Cox's Pattern, Baits & Gear
New format? No prior experience on Sturgeon Bay? Not even any practice? Of course, John Cox was going to excel.Fresh off a 3rd-place finish in the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake St. Clair, Cox was still driving to Sturgeon Bay from Michigan while guys in Group A were launching for the first day of the Qualifying Round. So his "practice" started when Group B launched on Tuesday.
Fortunately, he'd done so well at St. Clair he decided to look for "something similar" to what he'd just fished there, where he basically bank-fished in the river. The shipping channel was the closest thing, so that's where he started, though it hardly started well as he went 2 hours in Period 1 without a scorable fish."I was worried," said Cox. "I mean, I started on the lake side and there were hundreds of them down there, but I couldn't get them to bite for some reason. So I made a move and caught a 4-09, and then I just started hammering them. I was like, 'Oh, God!'"From that point on, Cox only left the shipping channel on his second qualifying day, when he sampled a few rivers just to see what was up there. Come the Knockout and Championship rounds, though, he dedicated himself to the shipping channel. He lost five key fish in the Knockout Round that made him sweat out making it to the final, and for a good portion of Period 2 on the last day he looked to be in contention for the win. He didn't catch a bass in Period 3, however, as the wind got too bad even in the channel.
Dropshot gear: 7'2" medium-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier spinning rod, Abu Garcia Winch spinning reel, 6-pound Fireline Crystal braid to 6-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluoocarbon leader, No. 2 Berkley Fusion19 dropshot hook, Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm or Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Minnow (white, black, green-pumpkin or watermelon red).
Main factor in his success - "The combination of the Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm paired with the smooth drag of my Abu Garcia reel to handle those smallmouth. That, and the baddest boat and motor on the planet with my Crestliner and Mercury."
Kurt Mitchell's Pattern, Baits & Gear
Pros and fans alike expected Sturgeon Bay to show out with multiple single-day totals in the triple digits. Turns out there was only one, and it came from Kurt Mitchell on the first day of the tournament.Hanging in the shipping channel, the Delaware pro caught more fish and weight in Period 1 of the Group A Qualifying Round alone than almost any other angler did all day the rest of the event (the lone exception being Shuffield's Knockout Round weight of 86-13)."It was just one of those days that don't ever happen, but it did," said Mitchell.
Unfortunately, the pressure in the channel never really allowed him to have a day close to it the rest of the week, especially the final day, when numerous local anglers were out practicing for an upcoming tournament.While in the channel, Mitchell said he was focusing on "obvious current seams" around three bridges and a bulkhead, with the bulkhead having a unique feature."The one bulkhead I fished had 20 ladders and they were all orange," he said. "When it was calm, that's the only time I could get bit on those ladders, and I think it had to do with the baitfish being attracted to that bright color."
Dropshot gear: 6'10" medium-action Impulse Energy spinning rod, Daiwa Luvius spinning reel, 15-pound braid to an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader, No. 1 Gamakatsu Aaron Martens TGW dropshot hook, 1/2- or 3/4-ounce weight, Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm (white, natural shad or green-pumpkin).
Main factor in his success - "To be able to fish my places. By the final day, I had five local anglers on each of my spots. There's not much I could do then."
Kyle Hall's Pattern, Baits & Gear
Hall was the 2020 Rookie of the Year on the FLW Pro Circuit, but he's still a first-year pro and a young one at that, being only 23 years old. So he's bound to make mistakes, and he feels he made one the final day."I didn't stick with my main area long enough," said Hall. "My trolling motor was dying so fast, but there were a lot of fish down there."
His main area ended up being a 150-yard stretch around the Sister Bay islands. It was basically a shoal in 25 to 32 feet of water that made a "checkmark under the water and looked like a roadbed down there."He milked that area all 4 days, moving with the fish, and on the final day, he found them again and said there were enough down there to make a run at the win. Unfortunately, the conditions forced his hand a bit too soon.
Dropshot gear: 7'1" medium-action Odiehammer spinning rod, Shimano Stradic Ci4+ spinning reel, 10-pound Berkley x9 braid to 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader, No. 2 Owner Mosquito hook, 5/8- or 3/4-ounce weights, Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm (gobi) or a Berkley Gulp! Minnow (smelt).
Main factor in his success - "Garmin Panoptix Livescope. I saw almost every fish I caught this week with that and I could see and watch how they were reacting to the bait. If they didn't immediately swim away, I could reel up and pitch something else at them and usually catch them."