The first of our sportís two World Championships begins this week, with REDCREST kicking off at Lake Norman, near Charlotte, N.C.. Norman is known as the Ocean of the Carolinas, or the inland sea of the South, or some other moniker depicting its massive layout. Nooks and crannies run for miles across some of the most beautiful shoreline in the nation.
Lake Norman has always been a tournament trail hotspot. The place is custom-made for bass fishing contests; the adjacent city a perfect place for a premier event. Heck, even Hank Parker lives on Norman, I think. Itís hallowed ground.
Most of the competitors have a history here. But, like many fisheries in the area, Lake Norman has changed recently. Itís now on the list of ďblueback lakesĒ, dominated by a prolific herring that often causes bass to do strange things.
The spotted bass population of Lake Norman has exploded. Today, itís a regular occurrence to catch 50 fish a day here, especially with the advancement of nowhere-to-hide sonar. The problem is, most of the those 50 will weigh in around 2 pounds apiece. There are exceptions, and some magnum spots have been coming to the scales lately at Norman. But theyíre not everywhere.
Two-pound fish will not win this bass tournament. And, in my professional opinion, forward-facing sonar wonít either.
So whatís itís going to take, and who will have the best chances to win REDCREST? Consider these bullet-points:
1. Just bet on Dakota Ebare and move on.
This guy is unstoppable right now. Sure, heís yet to win at the highest level, but itís likely just a matter of time. Ebare himself admits the monkey is finally off his back, and now he can really get down to business. Evidently, constant high finishes and five-figure checks werenít cutting it and now Ebare is performing at the level he feels most comfortable: first place. But has Ebare been groomed enough to win at the top?
2. Power-fishing shallow will ultimately prevail.
Perhaps no other event sets up better for this train of thought. First, itís spring, and fish are moving up. Second, Lake Norman is host to a million mediocre spotted bass and a handful of stud largemouth. Third, we have an event with only 40 anglers to start, tons of room to move around, and a lake full of boat docks. Finally, this is not an all-you-can-catch format, but a five-fish limit.
3. Forward-facing sonar will be the downfall of many.
Since itís inception, Iíve continued to be baffled by how many professional anglers are wasting their days watching fish on forward sonar. While the technology has been responsible for a plethora of high finishes, many top-level events continue to be won by an individual bucking this trend. Note, I said top-level. Not AAA or college or others. I believe we will see this again at REDCREST; a competitor so advanced, so dialed in, that he simply performs better than all others through ability and efficiency on the water.
4. Be like me and root for Kevin.
Weíve talked about this in the past. KVD all the way. The last hurrah. From what I can tell, and judging by the diversified direction of our sport, Kevin VanDam will be the last chance we have to crown an undisputed king. If KVD can pull off one more win of Classic/REDCREST caliber, he will remain forever at the top of professional bass fishing; our undisputed greatest player of all time. No more Clunn vs. KVD, and what about Roland. Even more urgent, KVDís recent retirement announcement means thereís just one more chance. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; youíre my only hope.
5. Thrift vs. Montgomery.
This event is being touted as the most extreme example of a two-man shootout that Iíve ever witnessed in a championship. Nearly every REDCREST report has hyped the battle. Both Bryan Thrift and Andy Montgomery have massive history here; in fact, theyíve even competed together in numerous events on Lake Norman. Either could easily win, or be defeated by the hometown jinx.
6. Wheeler, Connell, Neal.
Itís impossible to write any BPT news and not use these three names.
7. My dark horse may surprise you.
Andy Morgan is a very good shallow-water fisherman. Andy Morgan performs well in five-fish limit tournaments. Andy Morgan likes largemouth bass. Andy Morgan is fishing REDCREST. Andy Morgan is the best angler in history to never win a major championship, period.
Iím excited; Iím sure it shows. REDCREST will again find me front-and-center, bothering all the other journalists in the media room, competing for free food, reporting on the action. Bringing you back the feel that only this level of competition offers.
This year, my parent company, Millennium Promotions, will also be on-hand as a vendor, showcasing our media efforts that bring that same feel to some of fishingís biggest brands. Stop by if you make it to the expo.
If not, youíll still have a front row seat with MLFís great online broadcasts. Itís a big month for pro bass fishing, and it starts now.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)