Expect big weights, tough fishing

Celebrity angler Al Lindner is a member of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to rebuilding, preserving and maintaining the lake as a top-flight smallmouth fishery. Lindner is also involved in helping educate anglers, local businesses and visitors about the benefits of catch and release and advocating sound fish management.

ONAMIA, Minn. — Expect to see some huge five-bass limits of smallmouths in the three-day Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship at Mille Lacs Lake. What you won’t see is all the hard work it will take to catch those 20-pounds-plus bags. Mille Lacs isn’t exactly on fire right now.

“They’re in a transition period now,” said Seth Feider, the Bloomington, Minn., angler who probably has more experience on this lake than anyone else in the 50-man field. “If we were here a couple of weeks later, there would be crazy, crazy weights. But I think you’re still going to see a lot of 23- to 25-pound limits.

“There’s just so many big fish in here. We might not be throwing back 5-pounders, but you’re still going to see good weights. There are 6- and 7-pounders swimming around here.”

Ish Monroe probably caught one of those 7-pounders in practice.

“It was 23 inches long,” Monroe said. “I didn’t have a scale. But I couldn’t get the whole fish in a selfie (photo).”

Monroe, who is 32nd in AOY points for the year, needs to solidify a GEICO Bassmaster Classic berth, which now extends to the top 39 in AOY points.

Unlike his usual practice tactic of finding a spot to concentrate on during the tournament, Monroe says he’s scattered over the whole lake. And this is a big round bowl of a lake – over 120,000 surface acres.

“My goal is 20-pounds-plus every day,” Monroe said. “If I do that and don’t make the Classic, I had fun trying.”

Gerald Swindle looks like he’s not having a whole lot of fun right now. He enters this event with a 43-point AOY lead over the only angler who can mathematically catch him — Keith Combs. Swindle looked like a man on a serious mission when he left LaCrosse last Sunday after a 12th-place finish there. His expression hasn’t changed.

“I’ve got one thing on my mind and I’m not taking my eye off that,” Swindle said at the anglers’ briefing Wednesday night. “I want to be at the top. If I take care of business and stay at the top in this tournament, I ain’t got nothing to worry about.”

Having said that, Swindle, like every angler polled after practice, doesn’t think Mille Lacs is going to a smashfest.

“I think there will be at least 15 bags over 20 pounds,” he said. “But these smallmouth just ain’t that easy to catch.”

That was the recurring theme Wednesday: Big bags, but they won’t come easily.

“I’ve had a lot of big bites, but they’re very far between,” said Jacob Powroznik, who is in sixth place in the AOY standings. “It’s going to be a grind. It’s a good lake, but we’re fishing for 15-year-old fish. They’ve seen everything in the bucket.

“I think there will be 15 guys that are really going to catch ‘em. But it’s not going to be one of those typical smallmouth deals when you just catch the snot out of them.”

Powroznik thinks it will take 71 pounds to win. Remember this is a three-day event, not four days like the regular season Elite Series tournaments. So that’s 15 fish weighing an average of almost 4 ¾ pounds.

Feider is sticking with his prediction last week of 78 pounds as the winning weight, an average of 26 pounds a day, or 5.20 pounds per fish.

“I don’t think it’s fishing as good as it can, but there’s just so many big fish in here you’re still going to see big weights,” he said.

The anglers launch at from Eddy’s Resort, 41334 Shakapee Lake Rd., Onamia, Minn., at 6:40 a.m. CT on each competition day. The weigh-ins will be held at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs, 777 Grand Ave., Onamia, Minn. Bassmaster LIVE begins at 7:30 a.m.