DETROIT, Mich. – As the competitors filed into Lake St. Clair Metropark this morning to launch on the first day of this year’s second Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open, it appeared to be somewhat of a reverse snowbird migration.
There were, of course, plenty of Michigan boat registrations, along with a smattering of high-sided walleye boats, but at times it seems they were outnumbered by anglers who’d traveled from south of the Mason-Dixon Line. License plates from Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas dotted the parking lot.
Some of them measured their trips north in terms of driving time rather than mileage. When asked how far he’d driven to get here, former Elite Series competitor Kurt Dove responded, “Twenty three hours.” Dove lives and guides on Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, about as far south as you can go and still remain in the continental United States. There were pro entries from even farther south – the Southern Hemisphere, specifically Brazil and Australia – but they likely had little idea of the historical tensions or differences between the “sweet tea” drinkers of the southern United States and those who imbibe “pop” in the Upper Midwest.
Into this fray stepped Elite Series pro Kevin Short. He’s a son of Mayflower, but if that conjures up images of the Boston skyline or the Cape Cod seashore, it’s an incorrect connotation. He’s from Mayflower, Arkansas.
Clearly he is not someone who is afraid to stand out amongst his peers – his garish pink truck and boat attest to that fact – but while his slight twang is undiminished, gradually he’s becoming more acclimated to northern climes and norms, as he’s spent substantial portions of recent summers away from home chasing Great Lakes region smallmouth bass. This summer the Elite Series brought him to Wisconsin for two events, and except for a brief sojourn to Orlando for ICAST, he’s remained up north ever since.
“When we first started doing it, it was for two reasons,” he said. “First, because the fishing is so good and second because it’s typically a lot cooler. Then again, the other day it was 102 here and 103 at home.”
A listener gets the feeling that the temperatures really don’t matter, though. He’d likely endure wider extremes anywhere the fishing is this good. His wife, Kerry, noted backer of boat trailers, clearly agrees. “She’s gotten so spoiled that she won’t go at home unless the fishing is really good. This year at Big Bay (de Noc) she looked at me while holding her wrist and said she didn’t know if she could catch another one. Then she saw another one and decided to catch it.”
The time spent up north, while fun, has also served a serious tournament purpose. It has enabled Short to better understand his electronics and to improve his drop shotting presentations, but mostly it has taught him that not all smallmouth are the same.
“They’re different on different bodies of water,” he explained. “On Erie, out of Buffalo, it’s typically a deep thing. On Big Bay, you don’t have to fish over 5 feet. And on the Thousand Islands, you can do either one. It’s tough wrapping your brain around the idea that you can see a 4-pound smallmouth in 4 feet of water. They’re not on beds – that’s where they live. If you were at home this time of year and there was a 4-pounder in 4 feet of water, even if you could see him it’d be gone in a flash. It taught me that you can’t overestimate how shallow these things will get.”
In addition to learning and improving his skills, Short has also accomplished a feat that few other fishermen will ever attain – he’s caught a smallmouth over 4 pounds from each of the Great Lakes, as well as from Lake Champlain. The task was so fun that he aims to do it again, this time in a single calendar year. “I just think it’s a really cool thing for a river rat from Arkansas to do,” he said.
Short skipped the first Northern Open of 2012, so even if he wins this week it won’t provide him with an automatic berth in the Bassmaster Classic. Apparently it’s just another chance to earn a check and perhaps to satisfy a thirst to stay up here even longer. Would he consider making a full-time move?
“We like it here in the summertime,” he clarified. “But we couldn’t spend the winter up here.”