January 23, 2013
Beautiful, serene Chautauqua Lake is about to become an explosive aquatic pressure cooker.
That's because this fourth day of the event marks the beginning of the Sudden Death rounds at the Jack Link's Major League Fishing 2013 General Tire Summit Cup competition on the picturesque 13,000-acre Western New York lake.
With countless docks offering shots at largemouth bass resting in the shade, not to mention the temptation of schools of smallmouth bass swimming just off-shore, this could be a lightning fast sprint to the finish line.
"The cut-weight being 24 pounds, I think that's very achievable," said Mike Iaconelli, the 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion. "You really have no time for error. You really have no time to figure it out. You don't have time to catch a big one. You've really got to do it in one shot. You've got to fish hard and you've got to fish fast."
Hence, the pressure cooker atmosphere when you put Ike and five other competitors in the same zone, give them a highly achievable cut-weight to reach, and drop the checkered flag as boats and motors roar off.
Oklahoma's Jeff Kriet agrees, "The (cut) weight is a little lower than I expected them to set it at," said the angler affectionately known as "Squirrel" to his other competitors. "If you were to get on the right deal, I think you could max out in the first period."
With that thought in the back of his mind, Kriet is focused on surging out of the gate this morning.
"You need to get off to a quick start," he said. "The way (this round) is, you might not have the luxury of being able to go into the last period and be able to make a quick comeback."
But just adding the Sudden Death format to the mix, the top three anglers of the day or the first three to reach the 24-pound cut-weight first advance to the Championship Round, is only one part of the pressure-filled atmosphere.
Zone 4 (Sudden Death Day 4)
In Zone 4, anglers will find 9.7 miles of bass infested shoreline. The diverse habitat more noticeable between the Chautauqua Lake Veterans Memorial Bridge and rocky bar at Cheney's Point.
There's also a noticeable weather change as the first real chill of late summer, early autumn grips Western New York.
"This is the coldest morning of the week," said New Jersey's Iaconelli. "I woke up and I'm shivering and my hands are cold."
Why such a big deal? It’s because Chautauqua is loaded with shallow water docks that are housing potentially temperature sensitive largemouths.
"It's going to affect the early bite," Iaconelli said. "As much as I want to think that we can get this done pretty quick, it might be a later bite today."
Interestingly enough, Iaconelli's fellow competitor Denny Brauer doesn't think that the chilly morning will do much to turn off the fishing. "The further North you go, these fish don't seem to be affected by the fronts as much," said the 1998 Bassmaster Classic champ. "They are a little more used to it."
In fact, the Missouri pro suggests that just the opposite effect could happen with the morning's cool temperatures.
"It could be a positive," said Brauer. "A lot of times I've seen these fall fronts, especially the early ones, make the bite even better."
Brauer said whatever conditions the fish might like, he's really liking the mix of shallow docks and offshore features, including a big bridge, that the zone offers the Major League Fishing pros.
"This particular area that we'll be fishing has really got some of the best structure on the whole lake as far as good drop-offs, points, and things like that (are concerned)," said Brauer, the 1988 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year.
And like his fellow pros, Brauer is convinced that the action could be fast and furious. "You've really got to make a decision fairly early in the game as to which direction you're going to go," he said. "I'm going to start out shallow, but if that's not happening, at least you've got an option in this zone."
Iaconelli isn't so sure that the smallmouth option is really all that viable however. "I think the smallmouth that swim in this lake can win the event outright," Iaconelli said. "But the problem is the limited amount of time (we have) that keeps us from finding those places that they live at this time of the year. It takes a lot of time to get offshore, use your electronics, and study the graphs."
And since the Major League Fishing pros aren't allowed any practice time or pre-tournament research - they don't even know which zone they are fishing until the night before - it's virtually impossible to find those aquatic veins rich with bronzeback gold, Ike said.
"With 15 minutes ahead of time (to look at the zone before the day's round begins) and 2.5-hour periods, you just don't have time to find those magic little sweet spots," he said.
Editors Note: The following quotes are from an angler that competed on Elimination Day 3. For people that are only watching the EXTENDED CAST episodes, the angler's name has been removed, "Day 3 Angler" inserted, so that a spoiler isn't created.
Even so, the knowledge that big schools of smallmouths could be out there on deeper structure is highly tempting, especially for Day 3 Angler, who plans to spend a good portion of his 15-minute run around the zone - the "Hot Round" - trying to find a few of those spots.
In his mind, when you've seen one dock, you've seen them all. So he will spend his 15-minute search time looking for something else that could help him advance to the Championship round.
"Specifically, I'm looking for offshore milfoil beds with good hard edges on them," said Day 3 Angler.
"You don't want those beds that (gradually) end in clumps. You want a good, hard edge. If the water was clear, you could see those with your eyes. But right now, you've got to really rely on your electronics.
"For the smallmouth, they'll really key in on that transition where it goes from heavy grass to no grass. They'll just swim up and down those weed lines although you have to get a little bit lucky and come through that zone right as a school comes through."
When they do come through, an angler in the right place at the right time could cause all heck to break loose on the real-time iPad scoreboards aboard every boat.
And with a field full of talented, fiercely competitive Major League Fishing pros eager to advance to the championship round where Summit Cup glory awaits, that could be just enough.
Just enough to cause the Chautauqua Lake pressure cooker to begin to shake, rattle, roll, whistle and overheat. And maybe even explode.
So be sure that you tune in to watch all of the fun Thursday at 9 p.m.