To the average fisherman, the idea of making a 240-mile round-trip run by boat for the chance to fish for 2 1/2 hours during the season-opening Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Sabine River might have seemed far-fetched.
Then when fog delayed the start of the tournament trimming the fishing time down to an hour at best, the idea of still making the run might have seemed downright ludicrous.
But for Elite Series pros Mike McClelland and Jeff Kriet, it was just another day at the office – a bumpy, gas-guzzling, wallet-pinching office.
“It was an incredible week, but a really stressful week,” said McClelland, who made the trip from Orange, Texas, to the other side of Galveston Bay all four days of the event. “Two hours was the fastest I could make the run, and that was under perfect conditions. On Saturday, it took me two hours, 47 minutes to get there. It was just brutal.”
McClelland, who has a long list of sponsors, including GEICO and Cabela’s, joked that he needed a gas sponsor after burning 75 to 82 gallons of fuel each day he made the run. During Saturday’s torrential downpour, he made it back to the weigh-in site at the City of Orange Boat Ramp with only four seconds to spare.
But after finishing second and earning a check for $25,000 with a four-day weight of 46-0, McClelland said he’d follow the same script if he had it do over again. Despite placing 47th after some missed opportunities and a particularly bad encounter with rough water on Day 3, Kriet said the same.
The journey’s origin
The origins of the Sabine Trek actually date back to Kriet’s pre-fishing efforts for the 2013 Elite Series event on the Sabine River.
“I made friends with a guy who invited me to stay at his house over in Houston on my way down to the Sabine,” Kriet said. “He told me we could fish an old bayou over there and have a lot of fun just messing around, but he didn’t think I would be able to fish it during the tournament.”
After inspecting the area, Kriet determined it was a legal area for the Elite Series event. He did some brainstorming with his buddy McClelland, and they decided it was indeed possible to make the arduous run from Orange as long as they stopped to refuel twice along the way.
Kriet ultimately abandoned the plan and found enough fish closer to the weigh-in site to finish seventh with a four-day weight of 35-0. So he left McClelland to fish the area alone, and he finished 11th with 31-8.
This year, they both decided to make the run.
The weight of the fog
On Day 1 of this year’s event, the entire field was forced to sit for nearly two hours waiting for the fog to clear. McClelland and Kriet left the launch site, knowing they’d only have about an hour to fish – and not caring in the least.
“I had decided from the start that if I could have at least an hour, that was enough,” McClelland said. “It was the kind of area where you just didn’t need a lot of time.”
Fog proved to be a problem each day of the event, but Kriet said lack of time may have even worked in their favor in some ways.
“When you don’t have a lot of time, you can share a place like that,” Kriet said. “It’s not like you’re going to beat it to death, because you’re only going to fish for a couple of hours if everything goes right.
“The problem is you have no margin for error whatsoever.”
The difference between the two anglers’ finishes likely came down to those errors. McClelland caught a quick limit and even culled a fish or two for a weight of 11-7 on Day 1, while Kriet missed a few opportunities and brought back only two fish that weighed 4-0.
“On that first day, after that long fog delay, I ran probably another seven or eight miles past him (for a one-way trip of 122 miles),” Kriet said. “I started fishing, and I was pressing a little bit. I lost two and caught a keeper. Then I looked down and realized I only had 24 minutes left to fish.
“Mike knew he didn’t have a lot of time, so he just put his trolling motor down and fished with no pressure at all.”
Kriet settled down on Day 2 and caught five bass that weighed 11-4 to make the Saturday cut easily in 28th place with a two-day weight of 15-4. McClelland, despite catching only four fish Friday, entered Saturday’s round in seventh with 20-15.
But only McClelland’s luck would hold out long enough to help him qualify for the championship round.
Kriet’s rough ride
After two days of surprisingly good weather, things turned sour on Saturday with thunderstorms and heavy rains across southeast Texas. That further complicated a trip that had already been no fun.
Kriet made the run through Galveston Bay, once again taming the rain, fog, wind, waves and barge traffic. But on the way back, with about 8 pounds of bass in his livewell, things got a little too rough.
“I started running out into Galveston Bay, and it was bad rough,” Kriet said. “The waves weren’t 5-footers, but they were 2- to 3-footers and they were right on top of each other.
“Every night, Mike and I had done everything right – tightened our motors, tightened our jack plates. But the one thing I didn’t do was check my battery straps.”
Running only 16-18 mph, Kriet hit a series of waves that caused one battery to come loose, crushing his main power switch for all of his electronics. The GPS unit he had been using to navigate the massive waterway was suddenly gone.
“It wouldn’t have been so bad if I could see,” Kriet said. “But it was raining and foggy, and I was trying to guess my way to get back into the Intracoastal. I finally saw a supertanker in the shipping channel, and I had to run the shipping channel back to the Intracoastal. That’s exactly where you don’t want to be in a bass boat, because it’s so swift and rough.”
He was 20 minutes late getting back, meaning his entire catch was disqualified. The loss likely cost him at least 25 places in the final standings and the early-season standings for Angler of the Year.
If not for the fog
McClelland went on to fish Sunday and finished 4 pounds behind eventual winner Chris Lane. He took a moment during Sunday’s weigh-in to consider what might have been.
“I wish I would have caught five that second day,” McClelland said. “The second day was the roughest ride over there. When I got there, I reached down to turn my HydroWave on, and I guess a fuse or something had come out of it. That was the only day I didn’t catch six or more bass.”
But Kriet said there’s more to the story.
“There was one canal that had a ladder in it, and I told him there was a big one there,” Kriet said. “The second day, he made a long pitch to that ladder and broke that fish off – a 4- or 5-pound fish. That could have made the difference for him.”
If the fog delays had just been half as long, Kriet believes the tournament’s history might read differently.
“It sounds easy to say, but I honestly believe it,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the fog delays, one of us would have won the tournament.”