1. Was it the fishing, which produced big smallmouth bass and lots of them?
Of the 99 Elite Series anglers, only six failed to catch a five-bass limit on both Day One and Day Two. And Brandon Palaniuk's winning total of 88 pounds, 12 ounces says everything you need to know about the size fish it took to win — that's a 4 ½-pound average, for smallmouth bass.
As Britt Myers put it one day, "This is the Zapata, Texas, (i.e. Falcon Lake) of smallmouth bass fishing."
2. Was it the B.A.S.S. record setting crowds that showed up for the weigh-in and the other activities at Waddington?
No one expected attendance records to be broken here, especially after Orange, Texas, set new marks during the Sabine River Challenge, the first event of the season. The population of Waddington is only 2,200. Official attendance for Saturday's events alone was over 14,000, including 6,500 for the weigh-in.
3. Was it the hospitality?
That may be No. 1. On the Elite Series tour, there are many proud men from the South, where hospitality isn't taken for granted. Numerous anglers mentioned it onstage, but J Todd Tucker said it best: "We pride ourselves on this in Georgia, but this is the best hospitality I've seen anywhere I've ever been. I'm not just saying that. Ya'll are all welcome at my house anytime."
(But you might want to call ahead before showing up at that high-dollar quail hunting plantation where Tucker hangs out in the offseason.)
But the St. Lawrence River and nearby Lake Ontario presented the toughest decision of any tournament this season. As Kevin VanDam said, "I've been torn all week about whether to go to the lake. But taking a gamble on a really long run was something I didn't want to do."
VanDam has a Bassmaster Classic berth sewn up. He's still in the AOY race, too. His decision had more considerations than Brandon Palaniuk's. Palaniuk had to go all-in and take the long run to the lake – come hell or high water (high winds and 6-foot waves).