With the Bassmaster Elite Series season winding down, every group’s got a number.
For the anglers near the top – the Gerald Swindles, the Keith Combses and the Jacob Powrozniks of the world – that number is one. First place. Angler of the Year. Big check, big trophy, big accolades.
Another group is doing everything within their powers to get inside or stay inside about the top 35, which will get them into the 2017 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Conroe. There they’ll all start over at zero, aiming for the sport’s most prestigious single event title.
A third group, some of them flirting with or into triple digits in the standings, need to do well enough over the final two regular season tournaments to make sure that they’ll be invited back to the Elites next year.
While those other pros may find some comfort in numbers, energized by the need to excel or just to survive, Seth Feider stands alone. The sophomore from Minnesota may be the only man in the field aiming to be – for lack of a better term – dead smack in the middle. Seriously, Seth, 50th place?
“That’s exactly what I’m aiming for,” he said
He’s in 61st right now, but if he can roll a couple of strikes, or even a couple of spares, at the Potomac and LaCrosse, 50th is well within range. Fifty may seem like fishing’s version of the Mendoza Line, but for Feider it has real significance: If he gets there, he’ll get a golden ticket to September’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs Lake, just a bit over an hour from his house and his favorite tournament venue on the planet. Ever since B.A.S.S. announced last year that Mille Lacs would be on the schedule, it’s been just about all he can think of.
“I never thought we were going to go anywhere that I know as well,” he said. “It’ll be at my absolute favorite time of year, too.” He’s spent hundreds of days there during the course of his three decades on earth, and while he’s always dreamed of fishing a major tournament there, he felt that too many factors conspired against that happening.
B.A.S.S. held a couple of successful tournaments on Lake Minnetonka in the 1990s, but the locals never really seemed to embrace having the tour visit. Then, in 2013, Day 2 tournament leader Brandon Palaniuk was disqualified from an Elite Series event on the Mississippi River (out of Wisconsin) when he culled without realizing that he’d crossed to the Minnesota side of the river. Whatever goodwill bass tournament fans had for the Land of 10,000 Lakes quickly dissipated in a vocal reaction against the state’s antiquated culling laws. But last year the state announced that it would allow culling in major tournaments, and the foundation was laid for this event.
By midyear, things did not look good for Feider’s chance to taste home cooking. After starting the season with a check in Florida, he missed the money at Winyah Bay, Bull Shoals/Norfork, Wheeler and Toledo Bend. A better performance at any of them might’ve cut the 15 point deficit between his current position and the 50th place line, but he pointed back to one lost fish at the third event as a dagger in his heart.
“Bull Shoals and Norfork hurt me really bad,” he recalled. “I lost a 2-pound smallmouth on Norfork and only weighed in four fish that day. It was heartbreaking because that fish would’ve put me in the cut. I was on some good fish at Bull Shoals and feel like I could’ve moved up.” Instead, he missed the money by less than a pound and a half.
He admitted that “everybody loses some” and that there’s no use playing “coulda, woulda, shoulda,” but if he’s left on the bank when Mille Lacs kicks off, it’ll be that 2-pound smallmouth that hurts him as much as the 5-, 6- and 7-pounders that the rest of the field will be corralling. He predicts that there will be multiple 25- to 30-pound limits weighed in, and if it was going to be a four-day event instead of three, he’s confident that someone would break the 100-pound mark.
While 50th is the goal to get to the Mille Lacs tournament, once he’s there, he wants to end the week on top, and despite the tough start to his year, things are starting to come back into focus. He was 37th at Texoma and most recently finished 17th at Cayuga to climb to his current position and get his confidence back.
“I knew in my head that I was going to catch them at Cayuga,” he said. “New York is just like Minnesota. I didn’t have a great practice, but I was never worried.”
He’s putting in the time to give himself a fighting chance to keep moving forward. He practiced at the Potomac before it went off limits, and while he admitted that he’s “no tidal expert,” he found the river to be chock full of green milfoil, his favorite grass to fish. Next week he’ll be in LaCrosse hoping to unlock a few secrets that will push him out of the scrum in that event. By the second week of September, he will know if he’s made it, and the response will be one of two extremes. If he fails to get to 50th or better, he’ll “be laid up in the fetal position crying and contemplating my decisions in life.” If he slides inside, though, he’ll be “running and screaming and pumping my fist like Iaconelli.”
Each tournament, each day, each hour seems like a game of sudden death for Feider, who knows that he has to "catch ‘em or go home.”
While right now Mille Lacs is the goal, and he hasn’t crunched the numbers, Feider hasn’t ruled out the possibility that three very good events could launch him inside the Classic cut.
“Once I get there, it’ll be 100 percent pressure-free,” he concluded about a spot in the Mille Lacs season-ender. “I don’t care if I make it in 50th. I just want to get there to make my family and all of my buddies proud. I’ve gotta get there.”