2017 Elite Series
Angler of the Year Championship
Mille Lacs Lake
34th Place | 15 fish, 52-05
I entered the Angler of the Year Championship without a lot to fish for except pride. No matter where I finished, I couldn’t rise higher than 4th in the AOY race or drop below 9th. That freed me up to fish however I wanted to but it also meant that I didn’t have to go out from daylight to dark during practice. That might’ve bitten me a little because I didn’t get out early and I ended up missing a key morning bite. Nevertheless, I’d finished 14th there last year so I felt like I had a decent handle on a very good fishery.
Dock talk told me that fishing was a little bit off and that 15 to 17 pounds a day would put you in good shape. That steered me in the wrong direction and led me to waste some of my practice time chasing largemouths. Of course I also fished for some of the lake’s famous monster smallmouths but in practice I couldn’t catch any bigger than three pounds.
I started the first day of the tournament up the lake in an area I hadn’t practiced, but where I knew a decent population of fish lived. I caught three keepers very quickly, two between 2 and 2 ½ pounds and one around 3, all on a Ned Rig, all around boulders in 16 to 17 feet of water.
At 9am I went to the docks looking for largemouths where I’d caught a 4 and a 3 in practice. It was post-frontal and a little slow but finally I landed two 3 pounders and a 3 ¼ on a wacky rigged Stik-O. I eventually caught a fourth largemouth and left with a limit of 3 pounders, four of them green.
Leaving my largemouth area I went to a spot that had been good last year but didn’t produce this time in practice. Ten minutes later I landed a 4 ¾ pound smallmouth, then a 3 ½ and another over 3. That enabled me to cull down to two remaining largemouths and three smallmouths, but after those three I never got another bite and I weighed in 18-01. That had me in 41st place for the day.
I’d only caught six smallmouths all day. That would prove to be a recurring theme.
I started the second day of competition shallow near the take off, throwing a BPS Speed Shad on a ½ ounce VMC Boxer jig. After a few walleye I caught a 4 pound smallmouth. The wind was blowing reasonably hard, but it was mostly just annoying, not uncomfortable, so I went across the lake while I still had time. On another shallow point I quickly caught another 4 pounder. I wasn’t getting a lot of bites, but they were the right bites. I managed a couple more on the swimbait, then hit another point and caught one on a swimbait and one on a dropshot.
At the end of the day I went back to my best spot from the first day where I pinpointed a big boulder with my Humminbird 350. I made a long cast and caught my best fish of the tournament so far, a 4.80 pound smallmouth. That gave me one almost 5, two over 4 and two under 3 pounds, for another 18 pound plus bag, which moved me up a few places.
After Day Two, we all had Saturday off to work with the fans. I like that break because it gives me a chance to regroup and reorganize after two tough days on the water. It also gave me time to strategize for Sunday’s final day of competition. I knew that I was too far out to make a push at the top 10, but I’m a competitor and I always want to maximize my results.
The forecast showed that it was going to be really windy so I resolved to stay on the leeward side of the lake. I started on an isolated rock in 8 to 10 feet of water, quickly catching short fish on a jerkbait, then my first keeper on a dropshot. At that point I told my Marshal, “At least I have one to take across the stage.”
Moving shallower, I started throwing a Rapala DT6 and at the end of a long cast a big fish slammed it and there must’ve been a nick in my line because it broke close to the rod. I rushed to grab my line and hand line the fish to the boat but the bait just floated back up. Two casts later I caught a 2 ½ pounder and there was a 4 pounder with it so I fired back in and hooked one that felt solid, but it came off as well. I went back through with a dropshot and added a 4 ½ pounder and another about 4, which gave me four fish. Two or three casts later I added a 2 ½ to finish out my limit, but that was it. The place dried up. I tried it an hour later and again two hours later and never caught another keeper there.
Later in the day the wind was really humming and I moved offshore. Jesse Wiggins was nearby, just drifting along as if his trolling motor batteries were dead. Eventually, I saw him bow up on a good one and then two or three more. Finally I landed another smallmouth. It was my sixth win and I told my Marshal that was it, I was unlikely to catch any more. That proved to be correct.
With a relatively small bag by Mille Lacs standards, just a bit over 15 pounds, I moved up a couple of places. The wind had messed people up. While it wasn’t the finish to my season that I wanted, it wasn’t terrible, either.
Overall, I’m really, really happy with the way that my season went. Obviously, having led the AOY race, you always want to win the title, but I never hit my stride the way that Brandon Palaniuk or Jason Christie did, with a run of top twelves or top five finishes. Nevertheless, any time you can make the Classic and finish in the top 10 in the AOY race, you can be sure that the vast majority of the field is envious.
While I used a variety of techniques at Mille Lacs, the swimbait and the dropshot did most of the damage. I threw the swimbait, a 3.8” BPS Speed Shad (Ayu) rigged on a ½ ounce VMC Boxer head, on a 7’6” heavy action Johnny Morris Platinum rod. I paired it with a 6.8:1 Platinum reel spooled with 14 lb. XPS Fluorocarbon.
For the dropshot I used a 7’2” medium-action Johnny Morris CarbonLite rod with a matching spinning reel spooled with 10 lb. BPS Hyper Braid and a leader consisting of 8 lb. XPS Fluorocarbon. My best bait was a green pumpkin BPS Split Tail Stik-O and I fished in on a #6 VMC Neko hook and used a 3/16 ounce Swagger Tungsten weight.
The other key piece of equipment in this event – and really throughout the whole year – was my Humminbird 360. It’s a tool that I’ve been using for several years and each season it becomes more and more important. I don’t understand why more pros don’t use it. Brandon Palaniuk is a big fan, and recent convert Seth Feider said it has benefitted him immensely. What scares me the most is that Aaron Martens recently added it to his boat – if he figures out how to utilize it to its full potential he’s going to be hard to beat.
Now that the season is over, I’ve got a full list of projects around the house to complete before the season starts at Lake Martin next year. To tell you the truth, next year is the last thing on my mind. I don’t hunt, so I’m going to fish for fun around the house, spend a lot of time with my family, and generally recharge my batteries after a satisfying year at work.