Craig Schuff is far out in front, but he's far from feeling comfortable about his lead in the race to the Bassmaster Classic through the Oct. 21-23 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open season finale on Lake Texoma out of Denison, Texas.
"If this lake doesn't turn around over the next two weeks, the points race is going to be anyone's ball game because you're going to see some people zero here, and I might be one of them," he said.
Schuff was talking from his boat while struggling with the vast fishery that straddles the Texas-Oklahoma border, about an hour and a half drive from his Watauga, Texas, home. "Something's up," he said. "This lake is fishing tough for me, so tough I can't get a handle on what's happening. It's a good lake, it's just off. It looks like the shad population is down, but I bet in two weeks it won't be this way."
By tournament time, more fall-like fishing conditions will kick in as Texoma water temperatures continue to drop, he said. "That alone should make the fishing during the tournament much, much better," he said. The Texoma event offers a winner's purse of up to $45,000 based on a full field of 175 pros.
But more on Schuff's mind is his chance at one of the circuit's two Classic entries. Barring his imagined disaster of a goose egg, Schuff has a golden opportunity to qualify for the Classic, and he earned it.
He won the Central's opener in April on Lake Amistad. Then, in June, he finished second in the Red River event. That one-two gave him 600 points, so far ahead that other competitors are in effect playing for second place. His nearest challengers are in the distance: fellow Texas residents Keith Combs with 545 points, and Elite pro Clark Reehm, who has 502 points (Central Open points standings ).
Schuff's 2011 Classic appearance would be his second in the world championship. He was in the 1996 Classic, an entry gained through the 1995 BASS Federation Nation Championship, which he won. Now 49 years old with his own insurance business, Schuff at one time was headed directly into a pro career. It was in 1996, just after the Classic, that he took a new position selling insurance.
He believed the job would give him time to compete, but life happened, and he never turned pro. Once again, he is considering the top level of competitive bass fishing, now the Bassmaster Elite Series. "Let's see what happens at Texoma," he said when asked if he'd become an Elite pro. At least one of Schuff's fellow Open competitors won't think twice about joining the Elite Series.
It's the primary goal of 26-year-old Jared Miller of Cookson, Okla., a college senior who is fishing the Opens for the first time this season. "Hopefully I'll be fishing the Elites next year. That's my goal," said Miller, who sits in 9th place in points, just below the 7th place cutline for automatic Elite Series qualification. Miller cut his angling teeth on Texoma.
The bite is off, he said, attributing the downturn to a recent threadfin shad kill. "It's been tough fishing," he said. "You can catch some fat ones, then some scrawny largemouths. But the smallies are doing well. I think they've been feeding on crawdads, and they're looking good." He said he's noticed a strange tick in the fishery: Largemouth baits are triggering striper bites.
Because a striped bass can't be weighed in at a BASS event, a striper on the hook becomes a nuisance factor and time-waster for Open anglers. "With the shad kill, you can catch a striper on a plastic worm or a jig. It's kind of strange. You can catch a striper on a spinnerbait or a crankbait all the time here, but when you catch them on plastic worms, that's rare." Water level could come into play, too.
He said he heard Texoma will drop a foot by tournament time, so what's hot now could disappear. Falling water temperatures should help. "It needs to be in the 60s for the bite to be good," Miller said. "It's getting there." The public is invited to watch the outcome of the Texoma event from Highport Marina (Full event details). Daily results and photo galleries will be available at Bassmaster.com. The Classic and Elite invitations will be awarded Saturday, Oct. 23, after the final weigh-in. That also will mark the end of the entire 2010 Open season.
Last weekend, Alabama's Randall Tharp and South Carolina's Andy Montgomery won Classic entries through the Southern Open circuit. In the Northern Open division, which concluded Sept. 18, Michigan's Ryan Said and North Carolina's Tracy Adams qualified for the Classic.
The 2011 Classic is set for Feb. 18-20 on the Louisiana Delta out of New Orleans.
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