August 21, 2015
DETROIT, Mich. — With the Bassmaster Elite Series regular-season schedule drawing to a close, many anglers are still fighting for crucial points in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
With the AOY title and Bassmaster Classic berths on the line, it should make the upcoming Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair one of the more exciting tournaments in what has already been a record-breaking year for the Elite Series.
The event is scheduled for Aug. 27-30 with daily takeoffs at 6:20 a.m. ET from Lake St. Clair Metropark. Weigh-ins will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m. each day, with pros competing for a first-place prize of $100,000.
Many will have one eye on the tournament standings and one on the season points total, including current AOY leader Aaron Martens.
“It’s something I started thinking about as soon as the last tournament was over,” said Martens, winner of two Elite Series events this season and current leader of the AOY race. “Do I play it safe at Lake St. Clair just to protect the (AOY) lead, or do I just try to go for another win?”
For Martens, who claimed AOY titles in 2005 and 2013, “playing it safe” will likely mean staying closer to the launch site. If he decides to gamble, he’ll make the long and often treacherous boat ride to Lake Erie, just as he did during the most recent Elite Series event on Lake St. Clair.
During that event in 2013, pros who were willing to risk it all by running to Erie and Huron — at least the ones who actually made it back for the weigh-in — produced the winning weights. Alabama angler Chris Lane caught 82 pounds, 4 ounces from Huron and won the event, partly because Martens hit a giant wave on Erie and was unable to make it back to the final weigh-in with a bag he estimated at 20-plus pounds.
Capt. Ross Robertson, a renowned Lake Erie guide and owner of Big Water Guide Service, also believes the big lakes could be a major factor in the standings.
“The north shore of Erie contains ample rocky contours located relatively close to shore that are typically loaded with big smallies,” Robertson said. “Plus, the area is fairly accessible if a northerly wind is a factor. On Lake Erie, you’re fishing for fewer bites, but the fish will be larger on average.”
Robertson said drop shotting will be a popular technique if the weather is conducive, but deep-diving crankbaits on shallow rock reefs could also be big.
“The anglers prepared with several primary locations — supported by numerous backups — based on the weather will do the best,” he said. “But, if Erie and Huron are accessible during all four days of competition, expect to see some impressive weights brought to the scales.”
One reason why many may choose to stay on St. Clair — besides the specter of treacherous water on the big lakes — is the improved health of the lake’s smallmouth population.
“From recent surveys, the smallmouth age structure is very impressive,” said Mike Thomas, a fisheries research biologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lake St. Clair Fisheries Research Station. “Our sampling data indicates the fish are regularly reaching 10 to 15 years of age and exceeding 7 pounds in this environment. This is a result of growing awareness and common catch-and-release techniques that many of today’s anglers are embracing.”
Big crowds are expected for the daily takeoffs and weigh-ins, and those who attend will become part of B.A.S.S. history. With a year-to-date total of more than 142,000 visitors at seven events, the Elite Series has already established a new attendance record with two tournaments remaining — the St. Clair event and the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship scheduled for Sept. 17-20 at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
The AOY Championship will feature a total purse of $1 million, one of the richest in bass fishing history.