ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. – It’s been almost four months since Brandon Palaniuk raised the trophy at the final Bassmaster Elite Series event of 2017, but the long countdown to a new season is nearly done.
The 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series will make its first-ever visit next week to Lake Martin, a 44,000-acre impoundment on the Tallapoosa River, for the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Martin. Competition will take place Feb. 8-11, with daily takeoffs at 6:15 a.m. CT from Wind Creek State Park and weigh-ins back at the park each day at 2:30 p.m.
A 110-angler field will be battling for a $100,000 first-place prize.
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Chad Miller, an Eclectic, Ala., angler who won the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Martin in November, said a number of styles could lead to success in the event.
“You can catch them right now in 1 foot of water all the way out to 40 feet of water,” Miller said. “I think it’s anybody’s ball game because of that. I think it could be won with 12 pounds a day – and if somebody can find a couple of 5-pounders, they can blow it away for sure.”
Miller said he recently caught a 5-pound spotted bass at Martin in less than 2 feet of water. But the bigger fish on the lake are usually largemouth, and the winning angler will likely need a good mixed bag each day.
That combination of species – coupled with the mystery surrounding the venue – will make for an interesting tournament dynamic.
During the offseason, B.A.S.S. officials enacted a rule that prohibits Elite Series competitors from accepting information from outside sources about fishing locations in lakes on the tournament schedule from outside sources. Since the 13-year-old Elite Series has never visited Lake Martin – and none of the B.A.S.S. Opens circuits have been there in more than a decade – less than half the anglers in this year’s Elite field have had significant experience on the lake.
“There are certainly some veterans in the field who have fished down there, but it’s been a long time for them,” said B.A.S.S. Tournament Director Trip Weldon. “You also have some local guys like Matt Herren, Greg Vinson and Kelley Jaye who have done a lot of fishing there.”
For those who fished competitively on Martin, whatever knowledge they bring to Thursday’s first round will have to have been compiled during the pre-practice period before the lake went off-limits on Jan. 8 or during the three official practice days Feb. 5-7.
“It’s definitely one of the more unknown commodities on the schedule this year,” Weldon said.
Ironically, Weldon knows the lake about as well as anyone, having won numerous major events there as a tournament angler. He also finished second in the 1999 Bassmaster Eastern Invitational on Martin, a year before he took over as regular tournament director for B.A.S.S.
“This is kind of a unique event for me as a tournament director, but also as a seasoned tournament angler on Lake Martin,” Weldon said. “I’ve fished there for 40 years now. I’ve fished literally hundreds of tournaments on that lake.”
Martin would normally be about 10 to 12 feet below full pool this time of year, but as of Wednesday, it was down less than 8 feet. Weldon said he believes it will take about 55 pounds to win the four-day event.
“It’s not going to be a Toledo Bend or Sam Rayburn-type tournament where you see a lot of 20-pound bags,” Weldon said. “A 20-pound bag could certainly happen, but I’m going to say it probably won’t. I think we could see a lot of 17- and 18-pound bags.”
With more than 700 miles of shoreline and a higher-than-normal lake level, Weldon said there will be plenty of room for the field to spread out – and like his friend Miller, he believes the tournament could be won with a variety of techniques.
“I fished a tournament on Jan. 6 when it was 19 degrees at takeoff,” Weldon said. “Our first fish came out of 2 feet of water, and we also caught fish 30-feet deep that day.”
With plenty of smaller spotted bass likely to come to the scales, the separating factor, he agreed, will be finding a big fish or two each day.
“You need that 3- to 5-pound kicker,” Weldon said. “If you can have one of those in your bag every day with a good limit of spots, you’ll be in the running.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the lake can do.”