VanDam off the grid, Elite list and Lee’s luck

BRANSON, Mo. — James Elam’s greatest fan this week is literally off the grid.

Elam is currently in contention to triple qualify for the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro. The Oklahoma pro started that process by two weeks ago winning the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate.

By competing in all three Central Opens he is assured a Classic berth. Calculate the math into the Classic equation and Elam is Classic bound anyway. That’s because he ranks high enough in the Bassmaster Elite Series points to qualify.

Enter Jonathon VanDam. Currently he is on the Classic bubble and can only get in through the back door. Elam holds the key and winning this week’s Open now underway at Table Rock means another Classic invitation.

He can’t take both. That invite goes to the first man on the bubble from the Elite Series.

VanDam is the first angler on that list. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful. Word is the Michigan pro is elk hunting somewhere in the West. Calls go directly to voice mail.

In the Elite Series era only two anglers have triple qualified for the Classic. They are Brent Chapman and Chris Lane and for both it happened in 2012. Chapman won Elite Series and Open titles and Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. Lane won an Open, the Classic and qualified through points.

Winning is a long shot for Elam. He’s currently in ninth place with 24 pounds, 2 ounces. Yet anything is possible this time of year on Table Rock. Today’s scoreboard turnover proves it.

Elite watch

This Central Open is the 2016 finale. At stake are five invitations to the 2016 Elite Series. These anglers are most likely to receive the invitations. Leading the list is Jay Brainerd. Other likely invitees are Matt Delaney, Luke Clausen, Sam Canoe and Brad Whatley.

Clausen won the 2006 Classic and is eager to return to the B.A.S.S. tour. After spending time on the East Coast he moved back home to Spokane, Wash. He plans to commute next season, leaving his boat at friends’ homes between Elite events.

“I value the down time back home,” he said. “When I lived out here I fished constantly, and it became habitual to the point it interfered with my fishing.”

Lee’s Luck

First it was a broken prop and then a partner with an impaled hook in his finger. That sums up the Day 1 of Matt Lee at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate.

The bad luck was short lived, although it came with a chain reaction of encounters that could have made the day much worse. First, the Bassmaster Elite Series rookie caught his five-bass limit by 10 a.m. The catch eventually weighed 10 pounds, 13 ounces and put the Alabamian in a respectable 23rd place.

Then the luck shifted. A full throttle boat run across Table Rock got interrupted by a shuddering vibration and loud noise from the outboard.

“I thought I’d slung a prop or hit something,” he said.

Lee was partially correct. Closer inspection revealed a severed blade shot through the cowling, shaking it loose. The breakdown required a prop change, although Lee’s trusty 2x4 was missing. Using the board prevents the prop from moving while wrenching tight the lug nut.

Instead, he idled to the shoreline, stripped to his underwear and found a sturdy piece of driftwood. After changing the prop it was back to business, sort of.

Moments later his partner boated a four-pound smallmouth. That was the good news. The bad came after the treble hook got deeply impaled in his index finger. Lee went searching for his wire cutters to snip the barb and back it out of the tissue. No such luck, as the pliers were missing.

“We drove around the lake for 35 minutes looking for someone with pliers,” he said.

Finding no one, he resorted to the standard practice of using a section of fishing line secured to the lure. With a quick yank the hook was freed and the fishing resumed.

Lucky for Lee the day soon ended at the weigh-in without further bad luck.