January 24, 2014
Permitted use provided by: MajorLeagueFishing.com
ALPENA, Mich. – Greg Hackney can appreciate the irony of it all.
The Gonzalez, Louisiana, angler knows that one of the big lures of Jack Link's Major League Fishing - and yes, the pun is intended - is that the brand new format is full of the unexpected.
The unexpected like a sweeping curveball in baseball.
You know, the pitch that floats in tantalizingly to the plate, tempting a big league batter to wind up and make a big swing.
Just before the ball suddenly disappears from view and drops off the table.
Strike one, as the umpire would say.
As Hackney stood outside his Alpena hotel before the first day of competition in the Sudden Death Semifinal Round of the 2014 General Tire Summit Cup, he and the other anglers already felt like they had an 0-1 count going on the day.
And they hadn't even left the parking lot yet.
For starters, Hackney didn't know yet where he was going to fish for this round. And he wouldn't know the day's venue until a short while later.
Then and only then would he discover the day's aquatic field of competition as the boat official's truck pulled up into the parking lot of Long Lake, a 5,625-acre water body just northwest of town.
Long Lake: 5,625 acres, 7.5 miles long, 1.5 miles wide, 23 miles of shoreline
With a new water body and the added pressure of being one of the first three anglers to reach the preset 40-pound cutline, I wanted to find out if there would be a new strategy for Hack Attack.
"No, not really," he laughed. "Since we're going to a brand new place today, you've just really got to start practice all over again. You practice and (fish) the tournament all at the same time."
Once again, Major League Fishing is angling by the seat of your pants.
Especially with another new lake being tossed at the 24 MLF pros who are fishing in the shadow of Lake Huron's Thunder Bay.
"Hopefully, on a day like today, you just make adjustments a lot quicker," said Hackney of his game plan.
"And you'd think that there's something from the first round that would carry over to today."
What does Hackney and the other five pros in Sudden Death Day One have to do, battle the fish or battle each other?
"Until you figure it out, it's still you against the fish," said Hackney. "I have no idea what the fish population is here (on this new lake), so I've got to get that figured out (first).
"You can't really fish against everybody else until you get dialed (in). Then you're just trying to beat them and you've just got to get dialed in before everybody else in this group."
Hackney is one of the MLF circuit's most likable and laid back pros. For proof, look no further than the boy-like glee he showed last year at Florida's Lake Istokpoga when he battled a big alligator at the end of his line for upwards of 10-plus minutes.
"I really ought to break it off and move on to find some fish," he grinned and told me as I watched and photographed the battle. "But I've fought it long enough now that I just want to see it."
Even so, Hack Attack isn't immune to the intensity and pressure that each of these rounds at a MLF event can bring to these veteran pros.
So does Hackney feel an extra sense of urgency in getting through this semifinal round and into the Championship Day of the event?
"Yeah, probably so," he smiled. "You're at the halfway point and you definitely want to make it to the end (of this thing)."
Just like the other five pros Hack Attack is competing against.
And he knows that with that stellar group in place, he had better bring his "A" game.
"The first group (I was in) was strong," said Hackney. "But this group is even stronger because they are the ones that figured them out in the first round. It will be harder to beat these guys today."
The Louisiana pro believes that even with the new venue, this group learned a thing or two in the Elimination Round at Hubbard that they can carry into the Sudden Death effort.
"Even though the first day we were all equal (with no scouting or intelligence), (by now), they've all got a clue (what's going on up here in this part of the state) and what they need to be doing out there today," said Hackney.
Ok, if the venues continue to shift on into the final, does Hackney feel any comfort in at least becoming more familiar with the MLF format?
"I'd like to think that the more times I fish this format, the better I'd get at it," said Hackney. "(I) learn from a lot of the mistakes that I made (before) from the way I packed my equipment to how I utilize my time - like how not to waste my time - things like that.
“... the deal in this game more than anything is numbers, catching keepers as quick as possible.”
"It's like anything else, the more that you do it, you'd like to feel that you get better at it. I feel that I don't have as much wasted motion now like I had when we started back at the beginning."
Even so, the new wrinkle at this event - or curveball, if you will - of not knowing which lake they will be fishing changes things up a bit.
So does the fact of not knowing which species to go after, the brown smallmouth bass, that Michigan is well known for, or the green largemouth bass, that are fewer in numbers but easier to find in shallower water.
Hackney admitted that he didn't know if largemouth would come into play for the first time at this event.
But, he did say that he was rigged for both. And that it wouldn't take him long to figure out which species to chase - the bronzebacks or the green bass.
"I've got a feeling that up here in this country, the smallmouth are the biggest," said Hackney. "But regardless, weight is weight. And the deal in this game more than anything is numbers, catching keepers as quick as possible.
"Get them in, get them weighed, get them back (in the water)."
As Hackney got ready to get in his boat official's truck and pull away from the hotel, the irony of it all hit him again.
"Who knows what to expect until we put in," he laughed. "I'm prepared for both ways of fishing.
"I hope I'm ready for any curve that we see today."
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