Exceeding my expectations at the St. Lawrence River

Jody White

I really didn’t have high expectations when I signed up to fish the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at St. Lawrence River. It’s not that far from where I live in Vermont, and the event would give me an opportunity to see old friends and fish what may be the best smallmouth water in America.

Of course, I also hoped to do well. But even if I pulled off a small miracle and won the tournament, I would not qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, which is every angler’s lifelong dream.

My job keeps me so busy in the spring and summer I was only able to enter the one Open event. You have to fish all three tournaments in any of the Opens divisions to receive a berth to the Classic.

I’m the editor for Major League Fishing’s website. I also take photos and provide coverage at the league’s tournaments. I don’t mind the workload because bass fishing is my number one passion in life. My job has taken me to many of the best bass fisheries in the nation.

I fished the St. Lawrence River several years ago as a co-angler. I learned how to catch smallmouth bass on a marabou jig from a Canadian named Tom Hardy. I came away with a new technique, but it wasn’t the deal this time.

I exceeded my expectations by winning the Bassmaster Open on the St. Lawrence with more than 71 pounds of smallmouth. It turned out to be a perfect week.

To win a Bassmaster Open is, honestly, the most incredible feeling. It’s amazing how many people continue to reach out to me. I don’t know that I’ll ever do it again. I’m so glad it happened once.

This wasn’t my first Bassmaster Open. In 2016 through 2017 I fished seven Southern Opens and one Northern Open, mainly as a co-angler. I won the co-angler division at a Southern Open on Smith Lake, Alabama, in 2016.

I also competed as a pro angler in the Eastern Opens in 2018 and the Central Opens in 2019. I was definitely not good, especially in the southern events. Doing so poorly dulled my enthusiasm for fishing.

I’m Vermont born and raised. After I graduated from Virginia Tech, I worked in Minnesota for a short stint. Then I settled in Kentucky for about five years. In 2019 I moved back to Vermont. Lake Champlain and other bass-rich northern waters rekindled my love for bass fishing.

Fifteen pounds is a bad day up here. That was a good day in a number of the Opens tournaments I fished down South.

On the Saturday before the St. Lawrence Open, I competed in an ABA tournament that allowed anglers to fish Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Because the St. Lawrence was off limits to Bassmaster Open anglers prior to that same Saturday, I had to launch and practice for the ABA tournament on Lake Ontario. I cleared this ahead of time with Bassmaster Opens tournament director Hank Weldon.

While practicing on Lake Ontario, I caught plenty of smallmouth. But I didn’t handle enough of them heavier 4 pounds to feel confident about fishing there. I knew it would take well over 20 pounds to win.

When the ABA tournament started, I figured I’d poke around in the St. Lawrence River for a few hours. If nothing else, it would be good practice for the Open. I landed on a smallmouth goldmine right off and won the tournament by sacking 27 pounds of smallmouth.

I knew I was on the kind of bass that could make me a contender in the Open. I was so nervous I couldn’t stay in bed later than 3:30 a.m. over the next four days leading up to the tournament. I’ve had my share of tournaments go badly when I thought I would do well.

On the first morning of the Open, I caught more than 20 pounds of smallmouth in 90 minutes. That settled me down. I went to work with a swimbait, drop shot and a Carolina rig and culled up to 25-11. That put me in second place behind Canadian Bassmaster Elite Series pro Cory Johnston who weighed in 26-14.

Cory is such a smallmouth hammer on northern bass fisheries that I expected him to win even before the tournament started. Being second to him prevented me from over stressing about possibly winning. I didn’t believe I could beat Cory.

I was still in second place behind Cory the next day. On the final day, I weighed in more than 23 pounds. I was pleased with what I’d accomplished, but I still believed Cory would win. I couldn’t believe it when the scales showed that I had won by 14 ounces.

Winning an Open as co-angler was fantastic, but nothing I’ve ever done fishing compares to this.