DETROIT — Mark Davis came to Michigan for the Aug. 22-25 Bassmaster Elite Series Plano Championship Chase ready to risk all to bag his 17th Bassmaster Classic qualification.
Saturday, leading the Chase for the second consecutive day, the 1995 Classic champ from Mount Ida, Ark., put himself in position to do just that. His risk was a round-trip daily run of 180 miles that left him soaking wet, hat to shoes, and shaken like a James Bond martini.
“It was definitely the Classic berth that drove me to do it,” Davis said.
The risk he took to get to Erie and back without a time penalty or mishap paid off. Davis weighed 20 pounds, 15 ounces Saturday to retain the Chase lead with a three-day total of 63-10.
After his third consecutive day of turning in a 20-plus-pound bag, he was 1 pound, 1 ounce ahead of first-day leader Chris Lane of Guntersville, Ala. Lane brought in 22-15 — the day’s largest sack of bass — for second place and a three-day total of 62-9.
Aaron Martens, in third with 62-2, also will be making a run at the Plano Championship Chase trophy in Sunday’s finale. But he was already a big winner on Saturday: He was awarded the 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy.
“This is one of the best days of my entire career,” Martens said as he accepted the huge piece of hardware. Then, as Martens started to say he regretted that his family wasn’t with him to share in his victory, his wife and children appeared on stage.
“It just got better,” Martens grinned.
Martens began the Chase 30 ticks behind points leader Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla. Evers, who led the AOY race after five consecutive events, fell out of the Chase Friday by missing the Top 50 cut. In 54th place, unable to earn more points, Evers left the door open for Martens.
“It is what it is,” Evers said on Friday. “I’ve had a great year, something to be proud of.”
Martens was able to pass Evers and win by 21 points.
Martens, who has lived through several near misses in attempts to add a twin to his first AOY trophy in 2005, was thinking about Evers.
“I feel for Edwin,” the Alabama pro said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a great angler.”
Michigan’s own Kevin VanDam, who has won the award seven times, finished third this season. Martens had 37 points on VanDam.
Davis, a three-time AOY winner himself, led the list of the 12 finalists who made it to the Chase’s final round on Sunday. Besides Lane and Martens, his biggest threats going into the last day were Derek Remitz of Grant, Ala., in fourth place with 57-14; and Kotaro Kiriyama of Moody, Ala., just 1 ounce behind Remitz with 57-13.
Leader Davis made the high-risk choice to run 90 miles one way to catch big Lake Erie smallmouth, but he wasn’t alone in that decision. Martens is also fishing the rough Great Lake. Lane is making a long run, but he isn’t heading into Erie.
The trip to Erie entails leaving from Harrison Township, covering much of Lake St. Clair, then navigating the Detroit River, where big yachts and even bigger commercial ships produce wakes that can easily swamp a low-profile bass boat. And then, if the wind kicks up, they buck the waves of Erie. The run can jar the bones as well as be time-consuming and nerve-wracking.
In fact, Davis said, the highlight of his second day was his safe return to the check-in point on Lake St. Clair.
Saturday’s run was again hard, but not because of high winds on Erie.
“The trip back was fine until you got to the river (Detroit River),” he said. “That river was horrendous. It was so bad, I stopped three times just to take a break and keep water on my fish. The water (in the livewell) bounces around so much, it runs out the overflow.”
Particularly hard was the stretch on the river with concrete walls that ricochet huge wakes produced by big boats. It’s called the Miracle Mile.
“I think it ought to be called the Miracle 20 Miles.” he said. “For 20 miles, it was as bad a water as you can imagine.”
Davis said the fishing action was slower, but the quality was still there.
“It was hard today. I caught seven fish. But I said earlier, if you can catch six to 10 fish, you’re going to average 20 on your best spot. They’re that kind of fish,” he said
His smallmouth came to him slowly. He fished for 1 1/2 hours before his first catch. He finally boated two, then a third, and waited another hour for the next two.
“Right before I came in, I saw one on my Lowrance unit, dropped on it, and it was a 5-5, the biggest fish I caught today,” he said. That one allowed him to release a 2 1/2-pounder in exchange for the 5-5, a key to his leading weight.
Davis is committed to returning Sunday to Erie.
“I’m too deep in it to change,” said Davis, who says he can count his former days of Lake Erie experience on one hand. “Actually, I can’t wait to get back down there tomorrow.”
Even if his game plan doesn’t win the Chase and the Classic entry that comes with the $100,000 first prize, he’s on track to qualify through points alone. Davis came into the Chase in 47th place in the points standings, well below the make-the-Classic cutline; by Saturday, he was 32nd in points, which might be enough if double-qualifiers push the 29th-place cutline down far enough.
Another prize of the season was determined Saturday. Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., won the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year title.
“I’m proud of it. I worked hard for it,” said Cherry, who won by 40 points over Cliff Pirch of Payson, Ariz.
Cherry’s solid Chase finish in 30th place helped him pass Pirch.
“I take my hat off to him, he’s a great fisherman,” said Cherry.
Cherry’s ROY award comes with an entry in the Sept. 27-29 postseason, the Toyota All-Star Week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship on Muskegon Lake out of Muskegon, Mich.
Cherry will be up against 13 other Elite pros vying for a piece of $100,000. The postseason winner will take $50,000 of the purse.
Saturday’s biggest fish was a 5-13 by Alton Jones of Lorena, Texas. Jones became the leader for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass award of $1,000 plus another $500 for wearing Carhartt apparel.
Actually beating his own 22-9, Lane reset the bar at 22-15 for the Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the Chase’s best five-fish limit.
The 12 finalists will launch their boats from Lake St. Clair Metropark at 6:45 a.m. ET. They’ll bring their catches back to the park for a 3:45 p.m. ET weigh-in. (GPS help: The address of the Metropark is 31300 Metropolitan Parkway, Harrison Township, MI 48045.)
The Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will open Sunday at noon. The Expo includes Elite Series sponsor exhibits, as well as a free concert by Purdy Good, and free demo boat rides in Nitro, Skeeter and Triton bass rigs powered by Mercury and Yamaha engines.
Bassmaster.com will provide extensive coverage of the competition, including BASSTrakk catch data coming straight from the water, Lowrance War Room analysis and interviews, and the live show Hooked Up! with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona from the Toyota Hooked Up! stage.
There’s no admission to Bassmaster events. Access to online features is also free.
Local sponsors of the Chase are the Detroit Sports Commission and the Lake St. Clair Metropark.
ESPN2 will air The Bassmasters coverage of the Plano Championship Chase Aug. 31, 7-8 a.m. ET. Fans can catch the same show again that day on ESPN Classic at 9-10 a.m. ET.
The show will reair Sept. 14 on ESPN2 at 6-7 a.m. ET, and Sept. 15 on ESPN Classic at 8-9 a.m. ET.
NOTE: The Bassmasters television program covering the recent Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown on the St. Lawrence River, which failed to air on ESPN2 on Sunday, Aug. 18, as scheduled, has been rescheduled for 8 a.m. ET Sunday, Aug. 25. It will follow a special presentation of the AutoZone Winning Ways program highlighting the most successful techniques from the Bassmaster Elite Series; it airs at 7 a.m. ET.