Permitted use provided by: MajorLeagueFishing.com
ALPENA, Mich. – When Jack Link's Major League Fishing officials brought the 2014 General Tire Summit Cup to the Thunder Bay region of northeastern Michigan, they did so planning on fishing not one, not two, but three lakes.
In the Elimination Round on 8,850-acre Hubbard Lake - a deeper water body whose bottom literally crawls with gazillions of crawfish - anglers like Kevin VanDam, Greg Hackney, and Brent Ehrler showed the nation just how good the trophy smallmouth bass fishing can be in the area.
During the Sudden Death Round of competition on the shallower and more varied Long Lake, anglers like Aaron Martens, Shaw Grigsby and Timmy Horton showed the world that the fishing could be just as good - if not better - for numbers of fish and the occasional trophy bronzeback.
But as the Summit Cup grand finale takes place, MLF Commissioner Don Rucks and company may have saved the event's very best for last as the Championship Round heads to 5,660-acre Grand Lake.
What will the MLF pros find on Grand?
Well, in an event full of superlative fishing performances, the quantity and quality of fish being caught before Outdoor Channel's television cameras should cause this final day in Alpena, Mich., to end in grand fashion.
"Grand Lake is a good fishery," said Jere Johnston, a 51-year old angler who grew up fishing the various waters of northeastern Michigan. "But so is Hubbard and so is Long. Really, there aren't any bad fisheries up here. They're why I come back (home) to go fishing every chance I get."
Long Lake: 5,625 acres, 7.5 miles long, 1.5 miles wide, 23 miles of shoreline
Johnston, who now lives in the southern half of the state, loves to come home because there are many different options in his old stomping grounds including Grand, Hubbard, and Long.
As previously mentioned, the fishing is good on all of them.
And this is to say nothing of the epic bronzeback bass action that can be found on Lake Huron, a water body that the MLF pros haven't even touched at this event.
For Commissioner Rucks, all of this is part and parcel to why MLF came north to Pure Michigan for this Summit Cup competition.
"We really like the set-up here in Alpena," said Rucks when discussing how MLF came to the area that features multiple world-class smallmouth fisheries.
He then added, "I think people are really going to enjoy watching these shows. And I think they are probably going to want to come to Alpena."
Part of the excitement has been due to the fact that anglers have faced the challenge of figuring out a new lake each round with no previous intelligence, scouting or practice time on the water.
With those parameters in place, one might have expected a bit of tough fishing for the MLF pros.
But then again, these guys are the best in the business and the angling action in Alpena has been anything but tough.
In fact, it has been nothing short of world-class.
“There's a lot more backwaters, a lot more pockets, there could be some largemouths in here.”
For the bronzeback smallmouth bass, that is. But this day of championship competition, finalist Timmy Horton wonders if the green fish might come into play.
"This place looks a little different from where we've been," said Horton after getting his first look at a map of Grand Lake before the morning launch.
"There's a lot more backwaters, a lot more pockets, there could be some largemouths in here. They have not played a factor (this week), yet (anyway)."
Horton is correct on his assessment about Grand Lake; it is a bit different from the other two waters fished in the other rounds.
Like Long, the lakebed is littered with rock piles, boulders, wood, grass and other forms of vegetation on the lake's shallow flats.
But like Hubbard, there also are a few deeper spots - relatively speaking, at least - that could come into play. Those places include the passes and guts around a number of islands along with points and underwater humps that give the lake ample structural features to attract smallmouth bass.
With plenty of forage fish including yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, fingerling walleye, and shiners, the six finalists in the Championship Round should find no shortage of baits that Grand Lake's bass are willing to take.
As with his tackle choices for Long and Hubbard, local angler Johnston has several go-to baits on Grand. Specifically, he likes to throw a crawdad imitating plastic, a spinnerbait in several colors, a jerkbait or crankbait, a tube, a wacky rig and topwaters ranging from a spitting style to a walk-the-dog style bait.
"Because of the forage base (up here), I tend to stay with the natural green and brown shades that match the crawdads and yellow perch," said Johnston. "But I also like to throw a white or a white/chartreuse spinnerbait with colored blades that mimic some of the other baitfish in the lake."
Johnston, a Shelbyville resident these days, thinks that spinnerbaits will again be a pretty important lure for the MLF pros to throw during the action at Grand.
"Spinnerbaits can be very important baits up here, especially when there is some wind," he said. "But you've got to figure out what retrieve speed they want. Some days, they want it fished slowly. On other days, you've got to burn it back to the boat.
As with the other two lakes, expect the "wolf-pack" phenomenon to play a role. Given the smallmouth's propensity to group up, once an angler finds a single brown bass on Grand, odds are that he also will have found several more lurking nearby.
"As with the other lakes, where there is one, there will often be several more," said Johnston. "If you hook a fish, it pays to fish that same area some more."
Johnston calls the technique "vacuuming" an area.
"If I've caught a smallmouth on a reaction bait, I'll most often go to a tube and work the area well," he said. "Then I'll work the area over again with a faster bait and then go back over it again with a slower bait."
Does this vacuuming technique work?
“ ... you can pull 10 to 15 fish sometimes from a stretch of water that is only 50 feet long. ”
–Jere Johnston, Michigan local
It did on Hubbard. And it also worked on Long. Just ask Michigan man VanDam, who put on a virtual fish-catching clinic on both water bodies.
Given the results of the previous two rounds, Johnston has no reason to believe that "vacuuming" an area will not work on Grand.
"Yeah, you can pull 10 to 15 fish sometimes from a stretch of water that is only 50 feet long," said Johnston. "And sometimes you can find a honey hole where you can catch even more because they are just stacked up on a structural feature like a trough."
The good news for the Championship Round finalists is that there are plenty of troughs on Grand. And islands. And rocks. And humps. And flats.
With a big population of smallmouths, that sounds like a recipe for a total smash fest for anglers like KVD, Hackney, Ehrler, Martens, Horton and Grigsby, some of the best competitors that the sport of bass fishing has ever seen.
In short, the final should bring good - if not great - fishing action to these six pros.
On a day that has the potential to end Major League Fishing's week in Alpena - perhaps the organization's best week of competition ever - in totally grand fashion.
Be sure to tune in for all of the televised angling action and see for yourself!
PLEASE NOTE: The Championship Round, that will air on Saturday, February 8, is a two-hour show and will start at 2 p.m. ET. One hour earlier than normal.
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