From Major League Fishing
The first group of anglers of the Jack Link's Major League Fishing Challenge Cup presented by Busch Beer experienced the intensity of the format for the first time on Lake Amistad. Those anglers who were able to overcome the pressure to perform in a new format earned the right to move onto the Sudden Death semifinal round.
Each angler had a unique story; they all had a unique perspective on what they thought the Major League Fishing format was going to be like before the day, and after it. Each of them figured out a program that would help them qualify, and we caught up with them immediately after the fishing day to gather their thoughts before they had a chance to debrief.
Here are the words of the top four, with a bonus section from fifth place finisher Aaron Martens who was bumped from the final qualifying spot at the last minute.
I started out the morning fishing little flats and ditches with a topwater bait to see if the fish were acclimated to them yet. I caught one on the topwater, but there wasn't a lot of activity in those shallow flats and ditches for me. I found out that the fish were really relating to the bait; so they were suspended around them, so I ended up having to refine my pattern to catch them.
I turned to an Alabama Rig set up with five-inch Berkley Hollow Belly swimbaits on 1/2-ounce heads because I had to get my rig down to the depth they were at to make them strike. I threw it on a 7-6 extra heavy Duckett Micro Magic rod and a Garcia Revo Toro wide spool with 80-pound-test Spiderwire Fluoro Braid.
I really figured it out in the second period, but really put on a tear in the final period. I caught a six-pounder and a five and three quarter pounder and a bunch of three pounders - all on the Alabama Rig. The key was that I had to get the rig around the fish that were suspended, and I fished them deep; mainly around the points where they broke off from 30 feet dropping off into the deep water.
I caught them in the middle section of a small creek that came off of the main body. The creek is one of the deeper ones in that area and the bait pulled the bass in there, and they suspended off of the points; the creek channel ledges and the trees that lined those features. But, the key was really the bait; I couldn't tell what kind of bait it was, I could just see the big balls of bait on the meters.
The format is awesome, the live leaderboard is a little nerve-wracking because you're always hearing what everybody else is doing and that can change the way you're thinking about what you're doing. It kind of messes with you a little bit. You have to stick to what you do and try to figure them out the best you can.
I started the third period feeling a little bit nervous because I had it figured out, and when I started going on that tear, I really started to get excited because I knew the effect that it was having in the standings.
The biggest thing is that every time you have a change in format, you have to change your strategy a little bit, and until you experience it, you don't fully know how you've got to do that. I learned a lot today about the way I'm going to have to do things in this format.
The neatest thing about this format is the live leader board; it really lets you know where you stand. It's great when you're in the lead, but it can also be a real issue when you're trailing because I can see where it can get in your head. Because you get to know where you are; you know that you have to make something happen, which can add a lot of pressure. Having the real-time scoreboard has been one of the biggest things we've been missing in competition
I had an idea, based on the type of lake, and what pattern I thought the fish would be in, what they would be doing. Luckily, I made a good decision on where to start and I caught a good bass on my third cast, and was able to catch quite a few fish in that area in the first period.
I was looking for a combination of elements of structure and cover. I was looking for a drain off of the main lake that had a combination of mesquite bushes with grass on the edge of the drain. I was looking for a spot that had the potential to hold a good concentration of fish.
I primarily used a Strike King 6XD crankbait in the wind during the early part of the day, catching them pretty deep in the drains with the fish suspending over the center of the ditches. I had my boat sitting in 25 to 35 feet of water and a lot of them struck right under the boat. I threw the crankbait on my 7-11 Quantum Tour KVD medium-heavy cranking rod and Classic Cranking reel with 12-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon line.
As the sun came up in the afternoon, the fish got tighter to the grass, and I had to turn to a jerkbait and a Texas-Rigged Strike King Ocho and a Caffeine Shad, but most of my damage was done with the deep crankbait.
I've spent a lot of time dreaming and planning this format, but I hadn't been able to live it until today. You don't really get to have a sense of the format until you live the moment; and today I lived the moment.
I had to work my rear off today, making some decisions fairly quickly because I totally missed the bite in the first period. I started out deep, which is how I like to fish here at Amistad. But when I saw on the leader board that VanDam was catching them and I wasn't, I knew I had to make an adjustment.
I only had two fish until the last 25 minutes of the first period. Then I caught two more keepers and lost another one so I left the first period knowing that I had made the right adjustments and felt pretty good about what I was doing. The beginning of the second period I picked up where I left off and was able to move up from seventh to fourth place.
When Jason (Quinn) went blowing by everyone in the third period, I knew I couldn't catch him so I set my sights on catching VanDam. My official started telling me the weights behind me, and when I knew I had about a 14-pound cushion on the fifth place person, I started settling down and fishing more comfortably.
My main technique was speed reeling a crankbait, and I would catch one fish and see the others following it. I wouldn't sit there and beat on the spot. I would move on and come back to it later. I also caught a few fish on a dropshot rig that I would mix in at times around the crankbait.
It was an intense last 30 minutes for me there at the end of the day. I got on a spot and I caught them pretty good. I caught a 3.75, a 1.5 and then a five-pounder. It was a kind of spot that when I found it, I said I was going to catch a big one. I left them biting, and if I would have a few more minutes I would have really caught a bunch of fish. I missed a good one that I set the hook on and it pulled off after a couple of seconds, and then it was time to go in.
My late morning and midday did not go well. I lost fish and then I broke off a four-pounder and had to sit through a penalty at the end of the second period that was really frustrating.
I really planned on "junking around." I fished a jerkbait, I threw a swim jig, and used a dropshot and a jig, and I really didn't fish very smart. Now that I've gotten through to the next round, I really think I know what I need to focus on to do a lot better now.
My best producers were a football jig and a dropshot rig. I threw the 3/4-ounce Phoenix football jig on 7-foot heavy action rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier and Sunline FC Sniper Fluorocarbon, and I used an Aaron's Magic Roboworm on 8-pound-test Sunline FC Sniper Fluorocarbon on a shaky head rod.
I thought I was going to be able to throw a crankbait through the tops of the trees here and be able to do really well, but the weather slicked off and I had to turn to a dropshot in some of the same areas that I tried the crankbait early. This was super intense. I thought I was able to do enough to get in. Brent (Ehrler) caught a few good ones at the end that beat me by a quarter pound.
I'm disappointed I didn't make it through to the semi-finals, but I caught a lot of fish and did everything I could right until the end. I was using my dropshot rig on my 6-10 signature Megabass rod, 7-pound-test Sunline FC sniper and I was using a combination of Roboworms and a Yamamoto Shad Shaped worm.