Old Milwaukee Bass Trek Challenge -- Erie

ERIE, Pa. — The Bassmaster Bass Trek Challenge, presented by Old Milwaukee, was both a bass tournament and a celebration of our sport. When this no-entry fee team tournament was announced, the 40 spots filled quickly. The entries were extended to more than 50 teams to compensate for any no-shows.

The one-day tournament happened at Presque Isle Bay Marina in Erie, PA on Saturday, October 11. This unique event threw the anglers an unusual challenge. Each team was allowed to bring in only one largemouth and one smallmouth bass. If you didn’t have one of each species, you couldn’t weigh in.

Presque Isle Bay is known for its excellent smallmouth and largemouth fishing. However, the big brown bass that spawn in the bay spend their summers out in Lake Erie. Few of them had migrated back into the bay.

The strategy for most of the competitors was to fish Erie for a kicker smallmouth bass and Presque Isle Bay for a largemouth. The smallmouths here average heavier than the largemouths. The word among the anglers was that it would take a smallmouth over 4 pounds and a largemouth over 3 pounds to win.

The festivities began the night before the tournament at the Oasis Pub in Erie, PA. This spacious establishment features three bars, a stage for a band, a dance floor and plenty of Old Milwaukee beer.

The gathering provided an opportunity to meet Bassmaster Elite Series pro Fletcher Shryock and Bassmaster Magazine editor James Hall. Three Old Milwaukee Girls (who were anything but old) were there to help host the get-together.

A table near the stage was stocked with Old Milwaukee memorabilia, including T-shirts, ball caps, tumblers, sunglasses and beer coolers sporting the Old Milwaukee label. Anglers that bought an Old Milwaukee beer could choose something from the table. The items went quickly.

Many of the Bass Trek teams showed up at the Oasis that evening. The fun and camaraderie were infectious.

Registration for the tournament took place at Presque Isle Bay Marina the next morning at 7 a.m. Hot Tim Hortons coffee and a wide variety of their fresh donuts were provided to the anglers at no charge.

The takeoff began at 8 a.m. with a check-in time of 1 p.m. That gave the anglers only 5 hours to venture out to Lake Erie, sack a heavy smallmouth and return to the bay in search of a good largemouth.

A brisk northeast wind kicked up 2- to 4-foot waves. Most of the teams started on Erie. Despite the less than ideal conditions, a number of teams where back in the bay a few hours later with a fat smallmouth in their live-well.

The biggest challenge proved to be catching a sizeable largemouth. Pennsylvania anglers Danny Jones and Jeremy Limerick seized the day with two bass that totaled 8 pounds.

“We stared on a community hole just outside the bay that was 10 to 12 feet deep,” Limerick said. “It took about an hour and a half to catch a 4 1/2-pound smallie drop shotting a little homemade finesse worm.”

They spent the rest of their time fishing grass beds 6-to-10 feet deep for largemouth bass in Presque Isle Bay. By flipping homemade jigs and cranking a shallow running Bay Rat Lures square-bill, they boated about 30 largemouths. The biggest weighed just under 3 1/2 pounds. It was enough to earn them $2,000.

“I thought the format was really cool,” Limerick said.

Deron Eck and Jim Tipler, another Pennsylvania team, claimed second place and $1,000 with two bass that weighed 7.44 pounds. They started fishing a weed line in the bay and boxed a 3-pound smallmouth and a 2-pound largemouth in 90 minutes. 

From there they trekked to rock piles in Lake Erie that topped out at 19 feet and dropped into 25 feet. They caught two smallmouths by drop shotting a Gulp Minnow. The biggest weighed 4.71 pounds.

Then it was back to Presque Isle Bay where they caught a bigger largemouth by cranking shallow grass beds.

“I had a really fine time,” Eck said. “It was exciting and definitely different. “Presque Isle is one of the few places where you could have a two-species rule.”

Ohioans Dave Neumore and Steve Klein finished in third place with 7.21 pounds and earned a $500 payday. The rough seas on Lake Erie prevented them from making the 7-mile run to their best smallmouth spot.

They stopped short of it and dragged 1/2-ounce green pumpkin blue flake Crooked Creek Tubes over drops in 23 feet of water. They used a drift sock to slow their presentation.

“Our goal was to catch a 4 1/2-pound smallmouth and come back to the Bay for largemouth at 10:30,” Klein said.

They returned to the bay on schedule, but their smallmouth weighed only about 3 1/2 pounds. Their best largemouth spot was in sight of the launch ramp. Klein made eight casts to a grass line there with a Strike King spinnerbait and sacked a largemouth that weighed 3.95 pounds.

They were never able to catch a bigger smallmouth bass and were the only team whose largemouth was bigger than their smallmouth.

“We had a ball,” Klein said. “The format was so much fun. I want to thank Old Milwaukee and B.A.S.S. for putting it on.”

Klein also thanked his sponsor NUthreadz. The company makes custom apparel, including tournament shirts.

Stacks of free pizzas awaited the anglers at the weigh-in. The pies were assaulted with gusto. The pepperoni proved to be the most popular.

See 108 photos from the event here.