GREEN BAY, Wis. — Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year leaders Brent Chapman and Randy Howell might camp near each other this week, but they won't likely be camped on the same spots on Lake Michigan's Green Bay.
While they will both will be fishing for smallmouth – which everyone agrees will comprise the larger share of the winning bags this week – they'll be targeting different water with different techniques.
"I'm going to hopefully catch smallmouth on a jerkbait and topwater, because I don't like drop shotting and fishing so deep," said Howell, currently third in the AOY race. "I hope we don't have to do that."
That, however, is exactly what AOY leader Chapman is hoping for.
"I'll probably have a spinning rod in my hand and do a lot of drop shotting," Chapman said. "I think a drop shot is probably one of the best smallmouth baits there are. I love to do it when I get on those smallmouths."
Several Elite Series observers wondered aloud last week at the Mississippi River Rumble if the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources boundary restriction would require anglers to target largemouth rather than smallmouth, since the much of the best smallmouth waters will be off-limits.
"I think it will still predominantly be smallmouth," Chapman said, although he speculated that some might catch some largemouth "up the rivers."
Others speculated that the biggest ramification would be smaller daily limits. Some estimated prior to the boundary announcement it might take 30 pounds of smallmouth a day to win.
"They say it's still really good water," Howell said. "Some guys said it wasn't, but I heard several other guys saying that it's still going to take over 20 pounds a day to win on smallmouths. Who knows, we'll see. If Sturgeon Bay's that good, just 10, 15 miles away from where we can go, why wouldn't the rest of the place that we're going to be that good, too? I don't know, we'll see."
Chapman, too, is expecting weights to be lower than initially expected, but still pretty stout.
"From what I hear, right at the boundary line is where the water color significantly changes," he said. "And anybody that fishes smallmouth a lot [knows that] when you get that clear water, you tend to get into those bigger schools and bigger smallmouths."
Elite Series anglers that fish often for smallmouth are few and far between because the brown fish rarely comprise the majority of winning bags in Elite Series events. So Northern anglers will likely enjoy a slight advantage this week. Asked who would be tough to beat on Green Bay, Chapman named two Michigan natives: Nate Wellman and Kevin VanDam.
"If anybody's going to have an advantage there, it's definitely going to be Wellman, because he's at least been on the water before," he said. "But Kevin is always a heavy hitter when smallmouth come into play."
That said, Chapman doesn't count out himself, Howell, or any other angler on the tour, regardless of where they hail from.
"We've got such a good group of fishermen that anybody's liable to win."
Targeting clear water and smallmouth will require a game plan "180 degrees different" from last week on the muddy Mississippi, Chapman said. And an entirely different arsenal of gear.
"All the big, heavy line and big rods and braid I had on will all be put away, and I'll probably pull out the spinning rods and lighter line," he said.
The drastically different fisheries – and techniques required to fish them – will really show "the versatility of the anglers" in the AOY race, Howell said. "It's really going to be neat to go from one extreme to the other."
Chapman and Howell agree that the "Mystery Lake" concept both challenges anglers and offers a rare opportunity for a true "level playing field," as Howell put it.
"Because this was a mystery event and we have no information on this body of water … there could even be some neat areas found that have never even been discovered there before," Howell said. "That's the cool thing about seeing a hundred guys that are good anglers go to a new place and really figure out a puzzle together. So I'm excited about it. I just hope the wind doesn't blow."
Heavy winds on such big water could make for dismal – and potentially dangerous – conditions for both anglers and spectators. Both Chapman and Howell encouraged Elite Series fans to take appropriate safety precautions if they head out on Green Bay to get a look at the action – wear your lifejackets even when you're not running your big motor, bring a wind sock or two and pack extra dry clothes and rain gear.
"It floors me to see people out on the Mississippi River fishing, running up and down this river not wearing a lifejacket," Chapman said. Accidents can happen so fast anywhere, he said, "but especially on a big body of water like Green Bay."
Another way to be safer on big water, Chapman said, is to switch out your prop for one with more blades.
"Running a four- or five-blade prop really makes a big difference," he said. "A three-blade prop is always the fastest, but in rough water, you're not worried about going fast, you're just going consistent. I run the Mercury High 5 when I'm up on that rough water, and it’s amazing the difference it makes in rough water."
And don't be in too big a hurry to get from one spot to another, Howell said. "Just take your time in rough water, don't push it too hard."