By Todd Ceisner
There were so many facets to the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series season, a jeweler would have a hard time picking out the one with the most refined shimmer.
It started in the frigid cold of northeastern Oklahoma at Grand Lake where Cliff Pace calmly claimed the Bassmaster Classic title and a $500,000 payday. From there, the regular season got going at the Sabine River, a little-known stretch of border water between Texas and Louisiana.
Five months later, on the big waters of Lake St. Clair, the eighth season of Elite Series competition came to an end with Aaron Martens capturing his second career Angler of the Year award after recovering from a miserable start with seven consecutive Top-25 finishes, including five Top-12s to close the year. In between, there was no shortage of drama some brought on by Mother Nature, some by the competitors that led to some dramatic finishes and some storybook comebacks.
As many in the bass fishing universe have already started their countdown clock to the 2014 Classic in February at Lake Guntersville, let's take a moment to rehash the highlights of the past season.
After you've looked through the events, check out the new BassFan Poll and vote for your favorite winning moment. To find the poll, visit the homepage, then scroll down the right-hand side of the page.
Bassmaster Classic Grand Lake, Okla. Feb. 22-24
When it was announced Grand Lake and Tulsa, Okla., would be hosting the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, a lot of attention was immediately placed on the weather. Never before had a Classic been held that far north on the map that early in the year. As it turned out, weather was indeed a factor, but more so in the days leading up the tournament. Snow and sleet greeted the anglers as they hit the water for their final practice day 2 days before competition started. Still, many had a feeling Oklahomans like Edwin Evers, Jason Christie and Tommy Biffle would be the ones to beat.
When the tournament started, air temperatures were in the 20s, but the fish were chomping and Cliff Pace set the early tone with 21-plus pound bags on each of the first 2 days, fooling pre-spawners setting up on channel swings with a jig and jerkbait. He was a fish short of a limit on the final day, but his 11 1/2 pounds was enough to fend off a late charge by the precocious Brandon Palaniuk.
Much was made of Pace's subdued reaction after clinching the win, but in the aftermath he explained that he was literally in shock that'd he just won the sport's grandest event.
Sabine River Elite Series Orange, Texas March 14-17
Most pros will tell you that it's inherently more difficult to win a tournament near home or on home waters than somewhere they haven't been to. Todd Faircloth would agree, especially considering he'd only fished for saltwater species at the Sabine River in the handful of times he'd been there. Less than two hours from his Jasper, Texas, home, Faircloth benefited from other contenders Dean Rojas and Alton Jones fishing the same water (literally) while he had a grassy bayou pond full of pre-spawn and spawning largemouth all to himself.
Cliff Pace was all business in winning the Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake.
He managed to make the Top 12 despite a four-fish effort on day 3, then sewed up his fourth Elite Series win with a 14-pound bag on the final day when Rojas (the day-3 leader) came in with just one fish.
Falcon Lake Elite Series Zapata, Texas March 21-March 25
The most anticipated event on the schedule was at Falcon Lake, site of the record-shattering slugfest in 2009 that saw Paul Elias win with a 4-day total of 132-08.
Falcon was a mere shadow of its former self this year, due to persistent drought conditions in south Texas. Still, when the Elites show up, they have a knack for finding where the big 'uns live.
Keith Combs is a Texan with a strong acumen for fishing offshore structure lakes, such as Falcon, where he guides on occasion in the offseason. He came out swinging with nearly 35 pounds on day 1 and carried a 1-pound cushion over Rick Clunn into the final day. A wicked wind storm forced B.A.S.S. to postpone day 4 until Monday and Combs salted away the win with a 28-pound bag that gave him a 111-05 total. Two other pros, Clunn and John Crews, also cracked the century mark at Falcon.
Bull Shoals Elite Series Bull Shoals, Ark. April 18-21
One week prior, Jason Christie found himself in 10th place at the Beaver Lake FLW Tour after day 2. He rocketed to the lead on day 3, then put away the victory on the final day.
It was a little bit of déjà vu for the Oklahoman, who pulled off the biggest final-day comeback in Elite Series history to make it back-to-back victories in the Natural State. Christie won after rallying from 11th place behind a tournament-best 18-pound bag. More remarkable is that he caught all of his day-4 weight before 10 a.m. as he happened upon a school of bass feeding on shad in an area he'd fished all week.
The difference this time was the wind had slacked off and he was able to visually see the bass breaking the surface and capitalize on the ensuing 2-hour flurry to beat Fred Roumbanis by just over a pound.
West Point Lake Elite Series LaGrange, Ga. May 2-5
There were four different leaders at West Point Lake, where high water had fish spread out all over the place. The swimbait bite that carried Steve Kennedy to victory there in 2011 wasn't much of a factor.
What did play a huge role was a mix of finesse tactics and some topwater techniques, but winner Skeet Reese averaged a little more than 11 1/2 pounds a day alternating between soft plastic worms rigged wacky style and on a dropshot along with a lipless crankbait.
Alabama River Elite Series Montgomery, Ala. May 9-12
B.A.S.S. probably could've sold spectators on a whitewater rafting trip at the Alabama River in mid May as heavy rains the week prior had the river high, wide and raging.
Brandon Palaniuk endured the disappointment of being disqualification while in the lead at the Mississippi River, then recovered to win the next tournament at the St. Lawrence River to clinch a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
It made for some treacherous navigation across rocky shoals that previously would've been impassable. While some anglers braved the tricky conditions, Edwin Evers slowly made his way to the top of the leaderboard (he was 4th after day, 3rd after day 2, 2nd following day 3) by opting to mine a canal off the Coosa River
Mississippi River Elite Series La Crosse, Wis. June 20-23
The reason the Mississippi River event was the most talked about tournament of the season wasn't because of who won, but because of who didnt win.
After putting a hurting on some smallmouth over the first 2 days, Brandon Palaniuk was disqualified after it was determined he culled a fish in Minnesota waters, which is prohibited on border waters of the Mississippi between Minnesota and Wisconsin. His day-2 catch was nullified and, in turn, so was the 6-pound lead he had built.
The weekend turned into a duel between Tommy Biffle and Martens. That Biffle won on a river system was no surprise. How he won, though, was a bit out of character for the flipping legend. He targeted an island that held a bevy of smallmouth that wound up producing the winning bites by flipping and casting his trusty Biffle Bug. He averaged 16 pounds a day to beat Martens by a pound and push his career B.A.S.S. earnings past the $2 million mark.
St. Lawrence River Elite Series Waddington, N.Y. Aug. 8-11
Brandon Palaniuk had more than a month to stew about his DQ, but rather than pout about his misfortune, he channeled his energy into figuring out a way to win one of the final two events and get into the 2014 Classic since it appeared unlikely he'd qualify via the points standings.
At the scenic and smallmouth-infested St. Lawrence River, Palaniuk opted to make daring runs out to Lake Ontario where he averaged more than 22 pounds a day on spots he had to himself. He led start to finish and won by more than 7 pounds despite taking a 2-pound penalty on day 2 for having six fish in his livewell.
In another interesting twist, Palaniuk beat Jonathon VanDam, who'd edged Palaniuk for the win in another smallmouth-dominated derby at Lake Michigan in 2012.
Lake St. Clair Elite Series Detroit, Mich. August 22-25
With one derby left, so many anglers entered the Lake St. Clair season finale with a win-or-bust mentality. Among them was Chris Lane, who was down to his last chance to qualify for the Classic that will be held at the lake where he makes his home.
The talk of the tournament was the surprising lack of chunky smallmouths in St. Clair, which prompted portions of the field to make the journey south to the western end of Lake Erie or northward to Lake Huron. Lane opted for Huron and it paid off handsomely. Not known as much of a smallmouth specialist, he held the day-1 lead, then stayed in the mix through the weekend before claiming victory by more than 5 pounds behind a stout 19-11 bag on the final day.
Had Martens not had a mechanical mishap at the mouth of the Detroit River while running back from Erie, he may have challenged Lane for the win and potentially came away with the AOY crown and season-ending victory in one fell swoop.
Don't forget to vote for your favorite victory in the BassFan Poll on the homepage.