If pro Aaron Hastings posts a high finish in next week's Bassmaster Northern Open tournament on Lake Erie, he has a good chance of going home with an invitation to the 2010 Bassmaster Classic.
"That's my goal, to make the Classic. I really would like to fish a Classic," Hastings said the day before he planned to leave his Boonesboro, Md., home for a week-long practice for the Sept. 24-26 Northern Open event.
"I've fished there (Lake Erie) half a dozen times," he said. "I've done really well out of Buffalo, and out of Cleveland. I've never even seen Sandusky Bay, but my comfort level's high. I think, given the correct conditions, I can do well."
The three-day competition out of Sandusky, Ohio, will be the Northern Open's season finale. That's when each anglers' points from all three of the circuit's 2009 tournaments will be tallied. Only the top two pros will win Classic berths.
Besides the Classic qualifications, other big prizes are at stake. The Lake Erie event's first prize on the pro side is $45,000. The top co-angler prize is a Triton/Mercury boat rig valued at $32,000.
To end up with one of the two Classic qualifications, Hastings has some ground to make up. He has 481 points going in, and the Nos. 1 and 2 pros are holding 590 and 540 points. Those top positions are held by, respectively, Frank Scalish of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and Elite pro Michael Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J. The full points standings can be found below.
Because Hastings will enter the Lake Erie contest ranked fifth in the points race, the odds are in his favor that he will end up with another of the Northern Open's big prizes: Eligibility to join the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series. Elite invitations will be awarded Sept. 26 to the top seven Northern pros.
This could be Hastings' time to move up into the top tier of competitive bass fishing. Now 37 and the owner of a commercial cleaning business, he has been competing since he was 16, when, he said, he won his first tournament. It was a Bassmaster Federation Nation event in Maryland, and he was invited by a neighbor to participate. Ever since, he has competed in BASS tournaments and in those of other circuits.
Hastings isn't underestimating Lake Erie. He knows much depends on the lake's wind and waves during practice and competition. Even a 10-knot wind can kick up the Erie rollers.
A sustained wind can hamper a practice, he said, because wind can limit an angler's ability to scout a lot of water. One flat-water practice day can make a big difference, he added. That would mean a pro can build a large list of waypoints, go-to areas that are known to hold schools of Erie smallmouth, he said.
Most pros will work deeper structure (about 25 feet, average) for smallies with tubes, Carolina rigs and other deep-water tactics, Hastings said. He predicted that 20 pounds a day will be needed to win the event.
Another Northern Open competitor, Steven Clapper of Lima, Ohio, guessed that as little as 8 pounds a day could put a pro in contention for the win. A retired construction superintendent, the 61-year-old Clapper fishes Erie frequently.
"It's looking supertough right now, for me, anyway, and for several friends also in the competition," Clapper said from his boat as he was scouting the water Sept. 14. "I don't know what's going on here. We had a big algae bloom that practically covers the whole western basin. It's breaking up now, but it seems to have put the fish into a kind of funk."
By "funk," he said, he meant the bite was slow, and fish are not where he expected them to be. But the wind has not been too bad, he said.
"I'd say it is favorable — I'm in a 2-foot chop right now," he said.
The usual fall pattern hasn't kicked in yet, he said. "There have been some fish moving up shallow, but typically, conditions are what I like best: fishing deep structure. I would expect this to be won on deep structure."
Out of Sandusky, Ohio, the tournament's launches and weigh-ins will be at Shelby Street Boat Launch, 101 Shelby St. Takeoff is set for 7 a.m. ET. Weigh-ins will begin at 3:05 p.m. ET.