This week's Bassmaster Elite Series event at Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake has been tagged the "Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts" by B.A.S.S., a "tournament of concern" by many pros, and "sentimental" by Dave Wolak.
Wolak, who earned Toyota's Rookie of the Year Award in 2005, grew up in eastern Pennsylvania and used to make an annual spring pilgrimage with his college buddies to sample warmer weather and bass fishing in the mid-South.
One year, because of a late spring snow storm that hampered plans for fishing in Tennessee, he and his college buddies ended up at Smith Mountain Lake, and it's fair to say it sort of changed his life forever.
"I'm definitely looking forward to Smith Mountain. I won my first big individual tournament there." he said. "It was an early Spring BFL (Bass Fishing League) tournament about six years ago. I caught my limit on a spinnerbait that day and won around $5,000.
"And while the money wasn't enough to launch a pro career financially, the victory allowed me to move forward mentally toward a career as a pro. I drove home from Smith Mountain that day knowing that I could fish alone without the security of a team partner, put together a pattern, and win."
And the story on why he was even there makes it even more special for Wolak.
"The funny thing is, had it not been for that snowstorm I may have never paid much attention to Smith," he said. "My college buddies and I always headed south to Kerr, Gaston or Murray. That particular year we went to Tennessee instead, but a big snowstorm hit the Smokey Mountains and sent us packing east.
"We literally picked Smith Mountain by looking at a road map. Once we got there, I loved it, and started going back there several weekends every spring to fish tournaments. Then I won that BFL, so to this day, I sort of view Smith as the place that launched my tournament career."
So what will Wolak do this week?
"Smith is what I call a 'pick fisherman's' lake. You run around picking-off one here and one there on a variety of lures in run-and-gun style," he said. "That's my favorite way to fish. I don't think Smith is the kind of fishery that allows a 'specialist' to throw one lure in one spot and catch a huge sack of fish."
Is it fair to call Wolak a favorite to win?
"Remember, most of my experience and success on Smith came in the springtime, and this sport is way too humbling to predict success, but I am excited because it fits my style of fishing and holds a ton of good memories too," Wolak said.