Cox Mixes Lake And River Work To Take Lead At Bassmaster Elite At St. Clair

Employing a blended strategy, John Cox of DeBary, Fla., caught a five-bass limit that weighed 24 pounds, 12 ounces to take the Day 1 lead at the YETI Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, anglers were limited to the U.S. waters of St. Clair, the St. Clair River, Lake Huron and the upper part of the Detroit River. But the fishery still kicked out 18 bags of 20 pounds or better.

Starting his day on Lake St. Clair, Cox searched broad flats in 12 to 15 feet and caught a solid limit of smallmouth by 9 a.m. From there, he transitioned to the St. Clair River, where he made two key upgrades with a pair of 5-pound smallmouth that bolstered him to the leading weight.

“I left the lake with about 20 pounds, and then I caught two 5-pounders in the river, and then I went practicing,” said Cox, a veteran pro who is fishing his first season on the Elite Series. “On the lake, I was bouncing around a couple of grass clumps, but I don’t know about tomorrow. It was kind of rough out there, so I might just fish the river tomorrow.

“I felt more comfortable in the river, that’s for sure. The lake is not my thing. It just felt good when I was fishing in the river. I could move around and it was like ‘This looks good, I’ll stop here.’ It was kinda nice.”

On the lake, Cox rotated between three grass clumps and found his bass on the sandy perimeters. All of his fish bit drop shots with various worms.

“I went from the Berkley MaxScent Flat Worm to the Flatnose Jerk Shad; even The General when I started running low on those,” Cox said. “As long as it had the MaxScent (formula), you could sling it out there and they’d eat it.

“The drop shot also produced in the river. I wanted to throw other stuff, but I think that’s the best chance to catch a big one.”

Cox made a big run up the St. Clair River and fished near the Lake Huron inflow.

“I was just kind of fishing, drifting down with the current and just throwing at anything that looked good — docks, walls, whatever,” Cox said. “If I came to a current seam, I’d throw into it. Or if I saw one under the boat, I’d pitch out in front of it.

“I caught those two 5-pounders during a slow period. I caught one, then I went for another 45 minutes. I was catching a few small ones and then caught another big one.”

Noting that he got lucky on Lake St. Clair Thursday, Cox said he found more spots in the river than he fished — and he’s hopeful he can exploit more of the river’s potential on Day 2.

“Today was pretty amazing, but who knows what will happen tomorrow,” he said.

Trailing Cox by 10 ounces, Dave Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., is in second place with 24-2. Committing his day to Lake St. Clair, Mullins said he made a key morning move to a 5-acre area that produced all of his weight.

“I stayed a little too long and caught only one 3-pounder, but as soon as I moved a couple of miles and shut down on a place where I’d gotten some bites in practice, I started getting bit frequently,” he said. “With a west wind and bright bluebird skies, it was a perfect smallmouth day.”

Mullins mixed up his presentations between a drop shot and a Ned rig. He rigged the former with a Strike King Dream Shot, while the latter held a Z-Man Finesse TRD. All of his plastic baits were green pumpkin.

Ray Hanselman of Del Rio, Texas, is in third place with 22-3. Sticking with the 15- to 17-foot range on St. Clair, Hanselman tried to avoid congested areas, locate isolated schools of fish and stay on top of them. A mix of crankbaits and drop shots produced his bites.

“I stayed ahead of them and I didn’t pressure them too much,” Hanselman said. “In practice, it was hard to catch a 5-pounder, so when I was throwing back 4 (pounders) around noon, I knew it was time to leave.

“I found a couple of other spots and culled two more times — small culls of a few ounces. I left everything else alone and just went practicing.”

Chris Groh of Spring Grove, Ill., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-pound smallmouth.

Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. ET at Lake St. Clair MetroPark. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3:10 p.m.

The 85-angler field will be cut to the Top 40 after Friday’s round.

Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 7 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at with simulcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Check local listings for ESPN2 times.