Eyes — and more than a few friendly bets — will be on Ryan Said when Bassmaster anglers launch into the Detroit River for the Aug. 19-21 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open.
Said is a local favorite to win the $45,000 top prize just because he's from Wixom, Mich., and very much at home on the tournament waters of Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie as well as the Detroit River, which connects the two big lakes.
But pundits aren't missing the fact that Said came in second last month in the Lake Champlain Northern Open season opener ... and that Champlain winner and points leader Dave Wolak isn't scheduled to compete in the Detroit tournament.
That gives Said fewer worries in the Northern Open's points race. He's trying to qualify through the Northern Open for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic. (Wolak, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, has a Classic seat sewn up through the Elite Series.)
Besides the prize money and one of the Northern Open's two Classic berths, Said — who works as an engineer with Chrysler Automotive when he's not competing on the water — is aiming for the Elite Series. Top Northern Open pros will earn Elite invitations after the season's third and final event in September.
"I've been working pretty hard at this," declared Said. "I started fishing tournaments when I was 18; I'm 29 now, and I'm looking at going into it full time."
Champlain was his first Bassmaster event as a pro. He had competed in other circuits on Champlain, so he wasn't a lake rookie. He knows his chances are good in the Detroit event.
"I'm fishing in my backyard now," he said.
It's a very big backyard. Anglers will begin each day at 6:30 a.m. ET on the Detroit River at Elizabeth Park Marina (it has a Trenton, Mich., address: 202 Grosse Ile Parkway). From there, the pros can head north to Lake St. Clair, or south to Lake Erie.
Most won't stay in the Detroit River, according to Said.
"Walleye and catfish are pretty popular in the river, and anglers can find smallmouth there, but for the most part, the bass that will win the tournament will come from Lake St. Clair or Lake Erie," he said.
Also fair game are the bass in the St. Clair River, the waterway that connects Lake St. Clair with Lake Huron. But running far north from the launch point — about 40 miles — would be a game changing decision.
Besides narrowing down their options, anglers will also have to contend with toothy species. Pike, muskie and walleye teeth can easily chop through the lines used by bass anglers. Once in a while, an angler targeting bass will haul in a nice-size muskie whose teeth missed the line, according to Said.
Largemouth likely won't be factor.
"A guy who works very hard might be able to find 15 pounds or so of largemouth," he said. "It's questionable if he could do it for two days. For the most part, smallmouth are bigger and there's more of them."
The heat wave that has a tight grip on much of the East hasn't pushed into the Detroit area, he said. Still, temperatures have been higher than normal, and the smallies have moved to deeper water, Said said.
Commercial traffic is a factor anglers will have to figure into their game plans. While the pros will run north or south of the launch ramp early enough to avoid heavy barge traffic, coming back is another story.
"In the morning it's not bad, but in the afternoon it can delay you as the traffic picks up, the wind picks up and the waves and wakes get big," he said. "It may take you 30 minutes in the morning to get to Lake St. Clair, but coming back it can take you an hour or more."
Anglers will bring their catches back to the Elizabeth Park Marina for the weigh-in, set to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET. The first two days, the full field in both pro and co-angler divisions will compete. Only the top 30 in each division will advance to the final day.
Bassmaster.com will provide daily results and photo galleries.
The local sponsor for the event is Detroit Sports.
Bassmaster Open Title Sponsor: Bass Pro Shops
Bassmaster Open Official Sponsors: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Skeeter Boats and Yamaha
Bassmaster Supporting Sponsors: Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats and Triton Boats
View the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open points standings.