This week marks the conclusion of the Bass Pro Tour regular season as the league’s 80 anglers duke it out on Michigan’s Lake St. Clair. At stake are numerous accolades, including the six-figure top prize, as well as the AOY title and post-season qualifications. The fate of many anglers will be on the line. Literally.
Like most fans, I’ll key on the outcome of the individual event more than anything. There, the biggest story could be one of incredible coincidence.
Ever hear of Scott Dobson? Regular fans of the Pro Circuit recognize the name, as Dobson had a good campaign there last year. Great Lakes regulars more easily recall Dobson as a hammer in the North Country. In fact, considering myself qualified to make such a statement, I’d wager that Scott Dobson is the greatest big-money tournament angler ever to fish the Lake St. Clair system. His track record proves it.
So it came almost as a laugh-out-loud moment when Dobson qualified for the final BPT event – being held on Lake St. Clair – after performing well at the Pro Circuit event on the St. Lawrence River. My goodness, I thought. Write the guy the check.
Really, it might not be that easy. Dobson will be competing against the best anglers in the world. But I’m not the only guy who’s anxious to watch the race. Publicity for the event mentions Dobson everywhere we look. I wondered, what’s his take on all of this?
“I’m competing against 80 anglers for a $135,000 prize. So, in that sense, it’s the biggest tournament of my life.” Dobson stated. “And I couldn’t ask for a better place.”
Understandably, Dobson’s initial thoughts revolve around the endless possibilities.
“In this format, we get a free hour of run time and we don’t have to worry about running back to weigh-in, so it’s a lot more fishing time,” he said. Initially, that may seem like a small issue. But consider the Great Lakes systems, where most of the fishing must be done by noon to allow for long boat rides returning to weigh-in, and we have a different scenario. Also, it should be noted that Dobson is renowned for his prowess in long runs and pushing his equipment to the max. Last time, he got off schedule.
Dobson’s only previous exposure to the BPT format was at the 2020 Pro Circuit Championship on Sturgeon Bay, where he abandoned the run-and-gun. “I didn’t cover enough water in practice. I didn’t get around fast enough,” he mentioned. On St. Clair, he’s hoping things will be different.
Such will still require an adjustment of strategy. All of Dobson’s trophies were awarded based on a five-fish limit. And those five fish were big. Really big.
This time, however, the event winner will likely take advantage of mid-sized fish, with a 2-pound minimum for scorble bass . “I don’t think I have that much of an advantage” Dobson noted. “I don’t fish for 2-pounders.” True, I've watched Dobson endlessly make the same cast, finally tricking a trophy after 20 minutes of fishing. That strategy won’t win a BPT.
“So I’ll have to practice that way and look for the biggest concentrations of bass. I’ll have to use moving baits and consider handling fish. There might even be room for largemouth.”
Dobson recognized the factor that I haven’t heard many others talk about: familiarity with the format. Understandably, guys like Jacob Wheeler and Ott DeFoe are stronger at the game, because the game has changed.
“Those guys are used to it,” Dobson noted. “Things like landing fish by hand. I’ve been using a net the whole time. Efficiency is key. And the competition knows it. You have to optimize every second.”
Dobson makes a good point. In five-fish smallmouth events, the entire tournament is often decided by one flurry of action, where a competitor lands a few jumbos. Here, the key will be consistency all day, every day of the event. I pointed this out when Kevin VanDam won earlier this year. He did so, most decidedly, by a combination of knowledge, efficiency and athleticism. That will again be the best recipe for conquering St. Clair.
Regardless of the outcome, Dobson cherishes the opportunity to fish a BPT event. He mentioned much higher fan recognition and television exposure as a primary reason. Also noted was a lackluster performance on the Pro Circuit this season, eliminating his goal of full-time BPT qualification.
This week, Dobson will take it all out on his pet St. Clair bass. I’ll be glued to the action, admittedly rooting for the hometown hero. He’ll have his work cut out for him.
In the end, another BPT season will be in the books, and the most defining titles will be decided.
Truly, the best has been saved for last.
(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.)