On Monday I was in the airport waiting on my flight to Orlando for ICAST when the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule came out. The 2017 schedule – with Texas venues like Conroe, Rayburn and Toledo Bend, plus great fisheries like Okeechobee and Dardanelle – was my dream schedule, but we’ve been thrown a pretty consistent diet of curveballs. Even though I’m in decent shape heading into the northern swing I haven’t done as well as I would’ve liked. Next year’s schedule doesn’t look to be as firmly in my wheelhouse, but to tell you the truth I’m much more excited about it than you might expect.
Of all of the events that they’ve announced so far, the one that has me most pumped up is Lake Oahe in South Dakota. I’ve never set foot in the state of South Dakota, and six or seven years ago I asked former Elite Series pro Jami Fralick if they had good bass fishing there. I don’t remember if he mentioned Oahe specifically, but he stated that his home state has some great unpressured fisheries and that if the pros ever visited we’d likely have a great tournament.
Five years ago, I would’ve preferred to see a bunch of known commodities on the schedule. If we visited familiar tournament sites, I wouldn’t have to spend a bunch of time pre-practicing. I might not even have to go at all. But the more I fish, the more I realize that every time we go to a new lake for the first time it’s a huge opportunity. If you can just find something special, it’s possible to run away with the tournament. With the quality of the tournament coverage these days, you only get one crack at having a completely clean canvas.
That’s particularly true on a lake like Oahe that doesn’t have a lot of tournament pressure. The locals mostly fish for other species, so not a lot is known about it. Normally when we go someplace we can say it’s a dropshot lake or a flipping lake or characterize it some other way, but as far as I know no one in the Elite field can do that about Oahe, and with the new “no info” rule nobody in the field can call up a local and get dialed in before dropping their boat in the water.
I’ll definitely head up to Oahe shortly before it goes off limits next year, and I might go later this year as well. It’s a big body of water, twice the size of Toledo Bend, and I’ll try to locate what I consider the most dynamic areas of the lake, those places that have a mix of features like drop offs and points and water colors. With a variety of features available to me, I won’t narrow my options heading into the official practice period. Instead, I should have multiple patterns that I can investigate.
A few years ago, and certainly before the new no info rule went into place, this is the tournament that would’ve scared me the most on next year’s schedule. Now I am excited about it because I know that it’s the type of tournament where the winner will have done it on his own. He will truly have earned the trophy and the check. That’s the best news I heard all week.