(Editor's note: Former B.A.S.S. emcee Keith Alan lived and breathed the tour for a half-decade. Again this year, his Alan Report will break down each B.A.S.S. tour-level stop to help BassFans get the inside scoop.)
Whether you think B.A.S.S. got creative or just nostalgic by introducing a “Mystery Lake” to the Elite Series schedule this year, there are a few things you should know.
When Ray Scott started B.A.S.S. in the late 1960’s, he pioneered the Mystery Lake concept in the earliest Bassmaster Classics. Scott took it to the extreme in those days by keeping Classic competitors in the dark until their private charter flight was en route to the destination. Back then, a secret like that REALLY leveled the playing field. Unless you happened to know that lake, you had nothing more than your instincts, and if you were lucky, a paper chart that had a fraction of the detail of what’s available today – same as everyone else.
After a few years, Scott had generated enough hype around the Classic that it became difficult to keep the secret. The legacy of the Mystery Lake is that he created such a spectacle that it was impossible for the secret to be kept under wraps.
Fast-forward four decades and factor in local communities’ desire to begin investing in the events and to have the ability to promote them. Today, the above holds true for a top-level tournament, just as it does for the Bassmaster Classic. Hence, B.A.S.S. can’t really plan a mystery tournament.
The only time a true mystery lake tournament has existed in recent years is when weather or water conditions on a scheduled tournament are deemed too dangerous for the field to compete on. Case in point, in 2010, tournament officials moved the Sooner Run from a raging Arkansas River to Ft. Gibson Lake, which happened to be right in Tommy Biffle’s back yard. Biffle turned the mystery into a nightmare for the rest of the field as he seized the opportunity to school them on his home lake.
Perhaps the best example of a true Mystery Lake tournament existed in 2008 when flooding on the Mississippi River forced tournament officials to relocate a tournament from Fort Madison, Iowa, to Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee. Since it wasn’t anybody’s home lake, it truly was the most level the playing field has ever been since Scott’s early Classics. Kevin Wirth earned the victory, and punctuated his career with his only Elite Series win.
While calling this week’s tournament in Green Bay a “Mystery Lake” may be a stretch, I’m all for anything that levels the playing field, and eliminating time to gather information and pre-fish is something I would like to see more of.
Consider the tools available to modern day anglers, in comparison to those fishing Scott’s Mystery Lake tournaments. I assure you those guys had no GPS units, no side-imaging technology, no 70-mph bass boat to zip around the lake searching for spots, no Power-Poles to hold them in place when you get there, no HydroWave, no braided line, and about 10 percent of the tackle available today. With modern day mapping and imaging tools, an angler can learn a lot about a body of water in a hurry. Utilizing those tools is going to be key on Lake Michigan.
I’m expecting a smallmouth smash fest of epic proportions on Lake Michigan. There is certainly a largemouth bite available, but the population of smallies is much greater, and will be much easier to target. Like we’ve seen in other Great Lakes events, anglers will be relying on their electronics to locate schools of fish and visually present baits to them using their side imaging and down scan units as video displays of what is happening beneath the surface. It’s the closest thing we have to true video-game fishing.
To be clear, even with the best tools known to man, finding quality fish can be a challenge. After all, Lake Michigan is among the largest lakes in North America. It navigates and fishes more like the North Atlantic than a lake, and wind and weather can make it a real challenge. To make it tougher, the Wisconsin DNR has put some boundary restrictions on the field, which many think will keep them out of the most productive areas of the lake.
Kevin VanDam is particularly disappointed in that decision, but it is another element that helps level the playing field. Of course he’s bummed – he lives on the other side of the lake.
Despite the restrictions, I expect VanDam will catch them, as will Elite Series rookie Travis Manson. Manson grew up fishing the area, and is likely the guy with the most waypoints in his GPS. Whether his best spots are inside or outside tournament boundaries remains to be seen. I also expect the drop-shotters to do well. Just 18 points off the lead in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year standings, Todd Faircloth has the most to gain.
With the season winding down, the sharks are circling, waiting for an opportunity to put themselves in position for the AOY title. A late season win would put VanDam and Edwin Evers in the hunt, in an instant. VanDam is overdue this season, and Evers loves this type of tournament. They are both capable of winning it all, but they are not alone.
Aaron Martens is riding some late-season momentum, and Lake Michigan and the “Mystery Lake” format suit Aaron’s strengths better than any event on the schedule this year. A master at locating fish with electronics, few would argue that there is a better drop-shot fisherman on the planet.
Just 50 points out of the top 12, a win this week would put Martens in position to take a run at the postseason and perhaps even AOY at the regular-season finale scheduled for Oneida Lake in late August.
Keith Alan spent 5 years traveling, working and fishing with the pros. His company, Ultimate Fishing Experience offers on-the-water fishing clinics and trip-of-a-lifetime experiences with the biggest names in fishing.