As I write this, I’ve just finished packing up to leave for La Crosse, to fish what I expect to be one of the most important tournaments of my career. Despite the fact that the 2016 season is still going on, I’m having trouble thinking about anything other than the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule, which was just announced. To put it bluntly, if I could have scripted the perfect schedule myself, this would be pretty close to it.
A lot of you reading this probably think I’m biased because three of the events – the Classic on Conroe and later Elite Series tournaments on Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn – are on bodies of water in my home state that I know well. I can’t really deny that, because I love all of those places and I’ve had some success on all of them, but given the incredible quality of the Elite Series competitors from top to bottom there’s really not much of a local advantage anymore.
Even without the three Texas tournaments, it would still be a pretty formidable slate.
We’ll start off on Lake Cherokee in East Tennessee. I’ve never been there, but I’m hoping that it’s a lot like Douglas, where I fished an early season PAA tournament a few years back. I remember that it was cold, and this one is slightly earlier so we could have freezing temperatures and snow, but in my experience that’s the best time to bust a big bag on those deep, clear fisheries that feature a mix of largemouths and smallmouths.
Then we’ll head south to Lake Okeechobee, a place I’ve loved since the first time I went there. I wish we’d go there every year. If things line up right, there’s a legitimate chance that it’ll take 100 plus pounds to win.
Those two tournaments take place before we fish the Classic, a change from recent practice. While it’s a very different fishery than Conroe, I expect that Okeechobee will give us a good warm up for the “Super Bowl” because they’re both loaded with big fish. If Conroe was going to be a four-day event I could easily see the winner breaking 100 pounds again, but it’s only three days. Nevertheless, I expect that the Classic weight record will be broken.
We’ll stay in Texas to fish Toledo Bend, which Bassmaster called the number one lake in the country. We’ll hit it with fish in all stages of the spawn, just like when Jacob Powroznik won in 2014, and if it doesn’t take 100 pounds to win again, it’ll likely only be because we encounter absolutely horrible conditions.
With the possible exception of Cherokee, all of those early tournaments could require 25 pounds a day to hoist the winner’s trophy. We’ll take a brief break from that at Ross Barnett. I fished an Open there and it’s a great shallow-water fishery, but it won’t produce the huge weights of the earlier tournaments. Still, we’re hitting it at exactly the optimal time, and it should be a true test of the best.
After that brief detour into Mississippi, we’ll head back to Texas for the Toyota Texas Bassmaster Texas Fest on Sam Rayburn. A lot of you may know that I have a strong history in the TTBC series over the past several years, and I’m hoping that I can keep that momentum going on Rayburn, the tournament lake that’s closest to my house. While Toledo Bend has been getting a lot of the publicity, as a result of three years of high water Rayburn is fishing better than it has in the last 15 years. Last weekend, it took 31 pounds to win a local tournament. Second place was 28 pounds, and if you don’t have over 20 you can’t expect to get a check. That’s in August. In May, our field will be able to chase those big bass both shallow and deep, and I have no doubt that one or more anglers will surpass the 100-pound mark.
Rayburn will be followed by Lake Dardanelle, another fantastic fishery we’ve hit before. It’ll be close to the same time of year as when Jason Christie won in 2014, and I expect that just like Rayburn you’ll be able to catch big bags both shallow and deep. Dardanelle fishes big, and it’s a challenging tournament venue with the potential for surprisingly large catches.
We may leave the South after June, but we we’ll still be on some exceptional fisheries. The St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain and Lake St. Clair may not have 100 pound potential, but no one will be surprised if the winner has 80 or even 90 pounds on any of them. Where else can you consistently go during the heat of summer and accomplish that? It’s the perfect cap on a season full of slugfests.
I am thankful every day that I have the opportunity to fish the Elite Series, but since I joined the tour in 2011 we’ve had only scattered events where we hit a couple of lakes in a row at their absolute peak. I think they had more of that when the Series first started, like at Amistad in 2006 or Falcon in 2008. With any luck, that’s how 2017 will shake out.
I’ve had a very good season so far on tour. My only complaint is that it seems like I’ve had a lot of events where one sure enough kicker would’ve made a huge difference in propelling me from a good finish to a great one. Next year, the way things are shaping up, you’re going to need not just one kicker, but five kickers every day if you want to be competitive. I love that idea, and I’m really looking forward to testing it out.