Frank the Tank is ready

In December of 2018, B.A.S.S. invited all the new Elites to Birmingham for a preseason meeting. It was the start of a whole new Elite Series, and there were a ton of new faces. I remember very clearly the day before the meeting hearing a hubbub in our normally quiet offices. Frank Talley and his wife were here for a tour. They met literally everyone who works at B.A.S.S. and asked what they do, and showed genuine interest in how we work. It was kind of wonderful. He was so happy to be a part of the Elite Series, and it showed. 

Frank qualified for the Elite Series via the Opens, and there was never any doubt of how good he is. But that day I remember wondering if such a nice guy can compete on the highest level. There's Opens good, which is quite good. But there's also Elite good. Which is a whole different level. 

As it turns out, the answer is yes. But it took a year to get there. For Frank's first year, he finished 69th in Bassmaster Angler of the Year. But last year? Fifteenth. 

Last year on Guntersville, Frank became an Elite Series champion. And so I find him on Media Day at the Bassmaster Classic sitting in his boat not wide-eyed and just happy to be here. Today I meet a different Frank the Tank than the one who strolled through my office over two years ago. He's a true competitor now; he has a quiet confidence that was missing the first time I met him. He's not having a great 2021, to be honest. But he's tasted victory, and I can tell it's changed his perspective. 

Much like the whole time I've known him, you may think Frank is just a good guy in the sport and not a threat. 

I can assure you, Frank is a threat. But don't worry, he will be very kind when he beats you. 

He didn't tell me that he's going to win, but hearing him talk about practice, I could tell that this event is right in his wheelhouse. I would not be shocked if he's in the mix on Sunday. Defying expectations has led him here. 

Expectation versus reality

One of the more popular trends on social media is the idea of expectation versus reality. That’s exactly what I wanted Kyle Welcher to show me heading into his first Bassmaster Classic. On the left you’ll see Welcher holding a big hair jig – a bait that he initially expected to throw at Lake Ray Roberts. However, on the right is his trusty popping frog which is what Welcher will throw in reality.

“I initially figured it would be an offshore tournament,” Welcher said. “Once the water came up, I knew it would keep some of the fish up shallow.”

If you have followed the Alabama native’s career to this point, you know that he is thrilled to be able to power fish in shallow water here on Ray Roberts. 

Change of pace from recent Classics

After fishing his first two Bassmaster Classics in the prespawn time of year, Jake Whitaker is ready to switch it up in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. Traditionally in prespawn Classics, we see baits like crankbaits, jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits as predominant players. However, in this year’s Classic a new lineup of lures could be at play.

“Now that the Classic is in June, we have much warmer water temperatures and the fish are totally postpawn,” said Whitaker. “This is going to bring a whole new realm of baits to play.

The North Carolina native believes baits such as creature baits, jigs, worms, and topwaters will be at play this week.

“When was the last time we can say that someone was catching them on a topwater in the Classic,” Whitaker said with a huge smile. “It’s really just fun to change things up and pull those baits out that have sat in the bottom of the box in past Classics.”

Whitaker loves to fish shallow and feels as if this is going to be a great opportunity for him to showcase his ability fishing his strengths.

“I love it,” he said when asked if liked how the lake is setting up. “The frog is going to get a lot of time for me and if I can get a few good quality bites on it a day then it could be a good tournament for me.”

Media day lunch

Photo by Bassmaster Marshal Rick Moore

Mayfly hatch

Typically a mayfly hatch during tournament week is a really good thing. There have been some very large bags caught during these hatches all over the country. After speaking to Brandon Cobb and discussing his strategy, he doesn’t think that a mayfly hatch pattern would actually happen this week. For some reason the fish have not found the hatches at this point. Typically the mayfly bring in the bait fish and bream, and the bream bring in the big bass.

Element of luck involved

Within the first two or three minutes of covering Chris Johnston, he had a fish nearly take the rod out of his hands. Much like the rest of the field, Johnston is fishing without a hook on the final day of practice, so he shook it off. It doesn’t appear that getting bites is the issue for the first ever Canadian Elite Series Champion.

“I think it may be a numbers game,” said Johnston. “There’s definitely a bit of luck to it, but being on the right program and getting a few lucky bites will be the deal.”

Johnston claims that he hasn’t boated a fish since the first day of practice, but did mention that a few of the fish he boated were big ones. It will be interesting to see just how big some of the fish are that he has gotten to bite.

Loughran's got it covered

Ed Loughran has managed to cover an abundant amount of water during practice. He seems to be on what my boater calls “The country school bus pattern”… meaning he’s only picking up a fish every quarter mile or so.

“I only catch one about every quarter mile, everything looks good and there’s a lot of structure… so I’ve figured out what structure the fish are NOT on”.

Loughran is using this gathered information to key in on what to look for, what to avoid, and what specific structures to target. While covering him today he’s managed to put this info to good use and has increased his catch rate as the day moves on.

Gross in good spirits

Buddy Gross seems to be in good spirits this morning, considering the right ankle injury he is facing. It’s an obvious obstacle to overcome for this sport, but so far he has been able to move around fairly well.

The front leaner seat shown in the image is helping out tremendously. This seat allows Gross to swing his leg over, keeping it elevated while fishing instead of standing or putting any weight on it. He’s managed to cover plenty of water and swing a few fish in the boat during the final day of official practice.

Matsushita's got that Classic feeling

I’m riding along with Masayuki Matsushita, winner of Bassmaster Central Open at Sam Rayburn. He has been saying he can’t believe he is actually fishing the Bassmaster Classic.

It has been a long-time dream of his to fish at the Classic. After seeing a video of Toshinari Namiki, the first international angler to fish a Classic, back in 1997, Matsushita was inspired and thought it would be cool if he could fish it too.

He mentioned that had a regular 'open tournament' feeling until yesterday, but since going through registration and briefing and with the whole town welcoming Classic anglers, Matsushita says that feeling has changed. He is hoping to get few big bites. Looking for a big W this week.

Unexpected scene on Ray Roberts

We made a quick move across the lake to find Micah Frazier fishing flooded shoreline cover. An unusual scene for the former Elite Series champion who is a great offshore structure fisherman.

“I don’t really want to be fishing like this now,” Frazier said when asked if he expected to be fishing this way. “I’d really like to find them grouped up off the bank.”

Frazier claims that he doesn’t feel too good about the event, but I’m not sure that he’s ever openly said he was confident about any event.

In four Classic appearances, the Georgia native has only finished outside of the Top 15 one time. Although he’s quiet, he’s a gamer. Frazier finished in 5th place at the 2020 Classic, so expect him to be hungry for the top spot come tournament time.