September 29, 2015
When the 24 professional bass anglers that make up Jack Link's Major League Fishing were first introduced to the new format and rules several years ago in Texas at Lake Amistad, it was love at first sight.
This, the anglers said, was a new professional fishing game in town that was fun, intense, dramatic,
It was the future of bass fishing, they all said.
Even if some of the pros did feel a bit like a fish out of water trying to learn and adapt to all of the new rules, concepts and format.
Oklahoma MLF angler Tommy Biffle is one of those pros learning to adapt to the new twist on the old angling game.
"One thing that I've learned is that it's a numbers game instead of a weight game," said Biffle of Wagoner, Okla. "Weight is what wins it, but numbers is what makes the weight."
That means that Biffle has had to unlearn a few things in recent months.
"My whole career has been about catching five big ones," he said. "And as a result, I've gotten to where I'd rather catch five big ones than 50 little ones. Well, in this deal, 50 little ones is pretty good.
"That's one thing I've got to get used to, to be more numbers oriented."
Another thing that Biffle and the rest of the MLF pros are having to get used to, at the Alpena, Mich., General Tire Summit Cup, is to fish without knowing where they are going to compete.
Until the truck pulls into the boat launch parking lot each morning, that is.
As this interview was being conducted, Biffle was sitting in his MLF competition boat looking at the Lowrance sonar images of Hubbard Lake for the first time.
"I'm just really looking at what (this) lake looks like," said Biffle. "Really, it looks just like a big pond. So I'm really going to have to wait until daylight to see what the cover looks like, what the bank and shoreline looks like, and what everything else looks like."
With that new wrinkle introduced during this event in Michigan - the anglers not knowing where they were fishing until the morning of competition - Biffle said he was chomping at the bit to get out on the water and try and figure things out.
"I'm pretty even keel until we get out there and get ready to get started," said Biffle. "But then I get pretty amped up."
Texas MLF pro Kelly Jordon is another pro still learning to adapt to the new rules, concepts and format.
He did pretty well at Amistad, making the final day's Championship Round.
That's a feat that Jordon would like to duplicate in Michigan, but he admitted that the new wrinkle would make that more difficult to accomplish.
"I didn't even know where we were going until we got about 100 yards from the ramp and there was a big sign that said Hubbard Lake," laughed the Palestine, Texas, pro.
"Of course, that means nothing because we know nothing about the area. So it's great. It's fresh for everybody and there's a new challenge in front of everybody today."
Jordon said that the little bit he saw of Hubbard after arriving at the boat ramp left him with the uncomfortable feeling that maybe he hadn't packed the right tackle for the day's competition.
"We've had a lot of experience up north with finger lakes (on the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament trail) and usually those are just full of grass and have both largemouth and smallmouth," said Jordon.
But when Jordon walked to the dock with Ish Monroe after they had arrived at Hubbard Lake, he admitted that he didn't find what he had hoped to find.
Call it the "Uh oh" moment that competitive anglers dread.
"It looks like a crystal clear, rocky lake," said Jordon. "And Ish, nor I, don't think that either one of us brought a spinning rod. I know I didn't.
"If that's the case (Hubbard being rocky, clear water) and it's a smallmouth fishery, then I'm going to have to catch them on topwater and by burning a spinnerbait and cranking," said Jordon.
Monroe also admitted that what he had hoped to find at the water's edge didn't happen.
"This is a different ballgame," said Monroe. "I walked down to the ramp and didn't see a blade of grass in the water, which is not good. I like grass."
Unlike Jordon, however, Monroe laughed and did say that he packed a spinning rod.
And he also indicated that being a West Coast angler, he would not be uncomfortable fishing Hubbard's clear water.
If that's indeed how the lake turned out to be, once he actually got onto it.
"You use your confidence knowing that you can catch them just about anywhere, including going out there today to a place that you've never been before," said Monroe.
"I'm looking forward to it. I've been catching them (in previous tournaments this year) and I know what I'm looking for.
"(And) I can pick up on a pattern now a lot faster than I could five years ago."
Standing on the boat ramp parking lot, Monroe did indicate that he liked the way the conditions were setting up for the day's competition.
"The first period is going to be huge for me I think," said the Hughson, Calif., angler. "We've got a little overcast, we've got some rain, the water is crystal clear, and I love to throw topwater.
"It looks like I'll have an opportunity to throw some topwater and that could be amazing."
Meaning that new wrinkle or not, Monroe expects to go out there and catch them.
Because this is Major League Fishing and these are the best competitive bass anglers on the planet.
New wrinkles or not.
Editor’s Note: Elimination Day One of the Alpena, Mich. General Tire Summit Cup will premiere Monday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. ET on World Fishing Network. Please check the TV schedule and the MLF show page for additional information.