DETROIT — Chris Lane didn’t have to go to the storied smallmouth waters of Lake Erie to win the Elite Series tournament out of Lake St. Clair two years ago. And he’s not going there this year either. It can be a notoriously rough ride down the Detroit River from St. Clair to Erie.
“I promised my body, my wife, my kids and everything else I’ve got that I would not run the Detroit River,” Lane said Wednesday, on the eve of the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair. “I’m absolutely not going to Erie.”
But a lot of the 107 anglers in this event will be making that run, which caused Aaron Martens to suffer a zero on the final day in 2013 after a “perfect storm” of giant boat wakes disabled his boat.
This is a do-or-die event for many of the competitors. Only the Top 50 in Toyota Angler of the Year points will advance to the AOY Championship at Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay in mid September. And if you don’t advance, you don’t stand a chance of making the cut for Bassmaster Classic qualification, which currently includes the top 39 in AOY points. (It could still extend another place or two, depending on double qualifiers from the Opens.)
“I think there’s a bunch of them (going to Erie),” said Stephen Browning. “I’ve been all over St. Clair (during practice), and I’ve seen hardly anybody. Other guys have said the same thing. There are not a lot of trucks-and-trailers in the parking lots (around St. Clair).”
There is a Rayovac FLW Series tournament on Lake Erie this week out of Sandusky, Ohio, which is likely to crowd some popular areas on the lake.
“I’m going to say there are 30 (Elite Series) guys who, it wouldn’t matter if there were 10 tournaments going on, they’re going to be there because they know it’s their best chance to salvage the season,” Browning said. “It’s all or nothing now.”
So where is Aaron Martens going? Will the AOY leader play it safe and stay close to Detroit or venture to Lake Erie and risk another breakdown, like in 2013?
It should be noted that Martens let out a belly laugh when asked where he was going to fish Thursday, then emphasized he’s got lots of choices.
“I might fish somewhere different every day,” Martens said. “I feel adventurous right now. I’ve caught ‘em every day (in practice) pretty good. The weather has been really horrible, and now it’s going to get really nice. (The fishing) is going to be really good the next few days, and I’ve caught ‘em pretty good when the weather was nasty.”
High winds have made fishing difficult during the three-day practice period. But that’s predicted to improve significantly during the tournament. There seems to be an agreement on what it will take to win here, and it’s not a low number.
“Eighty-four or 85 pounds,” said Browning.
“Twenty-one pounds a day,” said Edwin Evers.
“I think you’ll have to be around that 85-pound mark to win,” said Lane.
Catching big smallmouth bass is exciting no matter what the circumstances. But with everything on the line for so many anglers here this week, this will be a fitting finale for the Bassmaster Elite Series regular season.