Late last fall, I took my daughter down to the shoreline of Lake Erie in Hamburg, N.Y. The weather man here in Buffalo said the winds were going to kick up to 40 mph with gusts to 50 from the west that day and the waves on the big pond were expected to be 12 to 14 feet.
"Cool, let's go," she said.
As we pulled into the parking lot along Route 5, it was whitecaps for as far as the eye could see. Waves that would engulf a pickup truck in one swoop battered the rocks one after the other. We felt small.
We saw a man in a wetsuit belly down on a surfboard trying to fight his way through the swells out to deeper water, hoping to capitalize on the conditions to find that perfect wave. He must've tried a dozen or 15 times, but never got more than 50 feet off shore. He finally gave up and let the waves wash him ashore, after which he angrily ripped off his ankle strap and fired it across the beach out of frustration. Sorry, bud. It wasn't meant to be, I guess.
I'm reminded of that scene this week as B.A.S.S. attempts to stage its Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Championship on the upper end of Lake Michigan. Living where I do, I'm always thrilled when one of the big tournament circuits decides to come north, usually in the latter part of summer or in this case very early fall. The fishing rarely disappoints, the communities get behind the events and the weather is usually pleasant. It's typically a win-win for all involved.
I applaud B.A.S.S. for trying to showcase new areas with largely untapped or under appreciated bass fisheries – the Delaware River and Cayuga Lake come to mind – but it was a gamble at best to think Mother Nature would lay low for 3 out of 4 days in mid-September on upper Lake Michigan. Folks up there are already gassing up their augers and snowmobiles.
Was this event doomed from get-go? It's hard to say, but the risks were well known in advance, as they are any time a bass tournament comes to the Great Lakes where wind can ruin the best-laid plans. Some of the competitors relish the big water and big-fish opportunities the Great Lakes present. Others proceed with extreme caution when easing away from the dock. It's a region that shouldn't be excluded from tournament circuit's rotations because it makes some uneasy, though.
Now, after canceling day 2 of the season-ending event for a second straight day due to windy conditions and safety concerns, B.A.S.S. has a nightmare scenario on its hands. It brought the top 50 anglers in the AOY points to Escanaba, Mich., for the inaugural AOY championship tournament (Toyota got behind the idea in a big way) and it's essentially been grounded by big swells.
If conditions don't improve for Sunday (winds are supposed to calm later today but pick back up overnight out of the north), competitors could be parked for a third straight day, setting up a possible manic Monday shootout to decide the AOY and a good number of berths to the Bassmaster Classic.
Extending the event to Monday is a last resort as it jumbles up logistics and adds expense, but B.A.S.S. went there with the intention of getting three days of fishing in and crowning its AOY. Shortening the event to two days isn't the most desirable outcome, but it would salvage a portion of what's supposed to be a showcase event.
There's some chatter already that next year's AOY event will be on a different part of Lake Michigan in early October, which means anglers could find themselves back in the same situation a year from now – stuck on shore.
– Todd Ceisner, BassFan Editor