Elite Series ‘Mystery Lake’ to be revealed

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Since the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule was announced last summer, professional anglers have been kept in the dark about the seventh stop on the circuit — the Mystery Lake Elite June 28-July 1.

The secret will be revealed at 1 p.m. CT Thursday, May 24, a month prior to the start of official practice for the event. The fishery will immediately be placed off-limits to the competitors, who will also be forbidden to obtain any information about the fishery that isn’t publicly available, noted Trip Weldon, B.A.S.S. tournament director.

“Keeping it a secret is definitely a challenge,” said Weldon. Not only does the advent of the Internet and social media channels make it hard to maintain secrecy, but logistical considerations also add to the difficulty. It takes at least 50 staff members and volunteers to conduct an Elite event. Plus, travel and lodging must be lined up, and Marshals must be recruited as observers for the 99 anglers. It’s a big production.

It was easier to pull off a mystery event in the early Bassmaster Classics, after which the Mystery Lake Elite was patterned. In 1971, only two dozen competitors were invited to fish the first championship, and they weren’t told their destination — Lake Mead, Nev. — until their chartered jet was en route (Watch the 1971 Bassmaster Classic).

It was more of a challenge to keep the Classic location a secret in 1972 (Watch the 1972 Bassmaster Classic). That year, Ranger Boats became the official boat sponsor, and the company was required to transport identical rigs — at night — to an empty hangar near Nashville’s Percy Priest Reservoir. Trouble was, Ranger owner Forrest Wood was one of the qualifiers for that Classic, as was Blake Honeycutt, who was responsible for moving some of the equipment.

To keep the two from revealing the secret, B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott had the pair held under house arrest in a Memphis, Tenn., motel, guarded by city policemen who were also B.A.S.S. members, until the announcement. The 1972 mystery flight was the shortest. Classic contestants and their media observers boarded a plane in Memphis and landed in Nashville.

A year later, the Classic contingent flew east out of New Orleans, giving most of the anglers the idea they would be fishing in Florida. They weren’t told the true destination until their plane circled low over Clarks Hill Lake before landing in Augusta, Ga.

In the succeeding years, mystery flights embarked for airports near Wheeler Lake, Ala. (1974), Currituck Sound, N.C. (1975) and Lake Guntersville, Ala. (1976).

By 1976 — the first of Rick Clunn’s four Classic victories — the event had grown too big and become too popular with fans to keep a secret. For the next several years, however, locations were not announced until weeks prior to the events, in an effort to keep the pros from scouting the lakes in advance.

The same strategy was behind B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis’ desire to hold a Mystery Lake Elite event this year. Unless some anglers made lucky guesses, no one was able to “pre-fish” the fishery that is soon to be revealed.

Because the official practice period begins Monday, June 25, the day after the finals of the Mississippi River Rumble at La Crosse, Wis., everyone assumes the lake will be within an eight-hour drive of that host city. Speculation among the pros has placed the location as far away as Kentucky Lake, with others predicting lakes in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and, of course, Wisconsin.

The only Elite angler with Mystery Lake experience is Clunn, who fished the last three Mystery Lake Classics and won the final one on Guntersville. 

“I totally love the concept,” said Clunn. “Everybody has a system for preparing for tournaments, and this is going to force them to adapt that system to this format if they’re going to be successful.”

Will the Mystery Lake be a largemouth fishery, or will smallmouth dominate? Will it be natural or man-made? Will it be deep and clear or shallow with lots of cover? How do you pack for all these contingencies?

The answers to these questions matter. The Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and nearly three dozen berths in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic are at stake.

Stay tuned. Bass fishing’s biggest mystery of the year will be revealed on May 24, in a special video presentation on Bassmaster.com.