BUFFALO, N.Y. — There's little doubt which Bassmaster Elite Series angler did the best job of planning for Lake Erie's Empire Chase presented by Farmer's Insurance. That would be Brian Snowden of Reeds Spring, Mo.
Snowden came to the 10th-largest lake in the world with a definite advantage — a Tracker Marine Tundra 21, made primarily for walleye fishermen. It's outfitted with a 225-horsepower motor, which will push the 21-foot boat at a top speed of 55 miles per hour. That's more than enough speed on this lake, where the almost-constant big waves have most anglers claiming they're rarely pushing their throttles past speeds of 25 mph."I was asking for more wind today, because everybody else could run as well as I could," said Snowden after Friday's competition, when the wind didn't blow nearly as hard as it did Thursday.Most of the anglers brought their regular sponsor-wrapped bass boats to Lake Erie. Both veteran Steve Kennedy and rookie Corey Waldrop almost sunk theirs Thursday when their bilge pumps couldn't keep up with all the waves crashing into (and over) their boats.And even if you kept the water out of your boat, it was definitely a rough ride for the rest of the Elite Series anglers Thursday, when 6-foot swells became common on Lake Erie.Snowden's Missouri home isn't far from the Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield, and the company is one of his Elite Series sponsors. But it was through that sponsorship Snowden was able to change boats this week."I was very fortunate," said the 35-year-old Snowden. "I requested one from Tracker Marine. They worked out a deal with a (boat) dealer who wanted to buy it at a discount after I was done with it."Snowden hasn't second-guessed that decision a single second this week in Buffalo."The bass boats just aren't made for this," Snowden said. "In this boat, the high sides allow you to go in this water and be safe. The guys in the bass boats can't move around as much, because it takes so much time, due to the rough water."It's equipped just like the bass boats. You've got plenty of storage for all your tackle and big livewells."For fishing this lake, you're fishing offshore structure. You're not fishing docks or anything where you've got to make accurate casts."I think it's more efficient for this type of fishery."
Snowden has proven his point. He caught a five-bass limit weighing 19 pounds, 9 ounces the first day — and topped that with 21-2 Friday, putting him in seventh place with 40-11 after two days on Lake Erie.Crack cocaine for smallmouthsScott Dubiel, field services manager for Pure Fishing, proclaimed himself "the man this week" before the Wednesday anglers' meeting. That's because he knew the Berkley Gulp and Gulp Alive products were going to be the dominant lures at this tournament.True to his word, after two days on Lake Erie, angler after angler has mentioned the various Gulp and Gulp Alive products they've been drop-shotting with success in catching smallmouth bass here.
Elton Luce Jr. of Brookeland, Texas, was one of those anglers. Friday he caught the Purolator Big Bass weighing 5 pounds, 13 ounces, helping him tie Kevin VanDam for 14th place in the Empire Chase with 36-10 after two days.
Luce caught his 5-13 on a green pumpkin Berkley Gulp 3-inch Fry."That line of Berkley Gulp products imitates what smallmouth feed on, like leeches and gobies," Luce said. "And once they bite it, they'll hold on to it. That's what I like about it."Glenn DeLong of Bellville, Ohio, made the two-day cut in 18th place with 36-3. He's been using Gulp gobies, 5-inch leeches and 3- and 4-inch minnows when drop-shotting on Lake Erie."It's crack for smallmouths," DeLong said. "They absolutely won't pass it up. You can see it on your (sonar) graphics. You drop it down and they'll go get it."
The Berkley products are popular at every Elite Series stop. But why are they so dominant here on Lake Erie?
"It's just what smallmouth eat," Dubiel said. "It's 100 percent biodegradable and it gives off a bazillion times more scent than anything else"In this part of the world — the Great Lakes — Gulp and Gulp Alive are the No. 1 baits these guys are throwing."
Shawn Maynor, a co-angler competing in the Empire Chase, never knew how to drop-shot until the Talala, Okla., resident met two very special instructors.
Back home in Oklahoma, Evers and Butcher, also brothers-in-law, took time out of their busy schedule to instruct Maynor in a practice so vital to smallmouth waters. The three men have since kept in touch along the way.
Clearly, Maynor is a quick learner. He now finds himself holding second place going into the final day of fishing for co-anglers.
The Golden Rule
Sure, it's rough on Lake Erie. The wind-driven waves have made it difficult to navigate, let alone fish. But for Elite Series pro Pat Golden, the hits just kept coming on Day One and Day Two.
"I blew an engine for the second straight day," Golden said from the stage, nodding his head in disbelief.
Along with Steve Kennedy, whose broken bilge pumps forced a zero on his day, Golden failed to weigh a fish on Day One. On Day Two, he just managed to get to the stage and present one fish. Golden finished the tournament in last place.
"A man coming to the stage with a hook in his hand? I don't want to shake that hand."
— Bassmaster Elite Series emcee Keith Alan to Clark Reehm, who would need medical attention after his fourth fish of the day "gave me a present."
"I hope it blows like crazy tomorrow. 30 mile-an-hour gusts. That's all I'm saying."
— Bill Lowen, who is ninth with 38-12, on how he's catching fish on Lake Erie
"I'm not happy and I'm happy."
— Scott Rook, who missed the cut in 63rd place but solidified his spot in the Bassmaster Classic.
"It's nothing more than grouper fishing. You check your electronics, drop it down there and pull it up."
— Florida native Preston Clark, on how to catch smallmouth bass in Lake Erie
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Empire Chase with weigh-in host Keith Alan, July 31-Aug. 3, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 5:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 4:15 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 1 p.m. and 4:20 p.m. ET, with the final day weigh-in and real-time leaderboard content starting at 5:00 p.m. ET.