Preview: Generational Lines on Display at the 2017 Summit Select

Qualifying Day 4 anglers ready their tackle before hitting the water at Lake of the Ozarks for the 2017 Summit Select.
Qualifying Day 4 anglers ready their tackle before hitting the water at Lake of the Ozarks for the 2017 Summit Select.

By Rob Newell - January 18, 2017

As MLF Select pro Gary Clouse surveyed the emerging silhouette of Lake of the Ozarks at first light from the Coffman Beach boat ramp in the Gravois Creek arm, a flood of memories washed over him.

“If it wasn’t for this lake right here, I might have never ended up in the boat building business,” said Clouse, who is President of Phoenix Boats and now resides in Tennessee. “It all kind of started right here for me. I grew up 2 hours south of here and fished it quite a bit years ago. I fished my very first B.A.S.S. tournament here in 1981; it’s where I fell in love with the tournament bass fishing industry.”

Clouse took a minute from tackle prep to continue his short history lesson and offer some perspective on the sport’s many changes over the years.

“Back then we used 5-1/2-foot pistol grip rods with those big red Abu 5500 round reels spooled with 25-pound test monofilament,” he laughed. “The biggest outboard on a boat in bass tournaments was 150 HP. Those were good times.

“Guido Hibdon won every tournament on this lake; I think he still lives somewhere here in the back of the Gravois,” Clouse said, pointing off into the distance.

“Heck, it’s been so long since I’ve been here I’m not real sure how far back we are in this creek,” he said as he picked up his official paper map to double check his location.

“Yes, I know I have fished in this creek before, I just don’t know exactly where,” he added. “I can tell you this, it’s a good lake – full of rocks, docks and wood. It’s June and it’s hot, but I don’t think we’re too far along in summer to have all the fish out deep – there should be plenty of fish up shallow.”

Clouse’s fellow competitors on day four of the MLF Summit Select will include young Jacob Wheeler, the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup winner from Indianapolis, Ind. Incidentally, Wheeler had not even been born when Clouse was entering his first bass tournaments on Lake of the Ozarks. Wheeler’s modern-day fishing reality is 250 HP outboards, a pile featherweight flipping sticks on the deck and a 36-volt trolling motor that rips down the bank.

“I’ve never been here before, but that really does not matter to me,” Wheeler said. “This MLF format is so different than a regular tournament; you don’t want to fish an MLF event in the same way you fish a traditional tournament.”

“Normally, this time of year, you want to get off the bank and find post-spawn schools,” Wheeler explained. “In a normal tournament, that would be a great strategy. But that playbook doesn’t really carry over to this format because it takes too long the find that stuff. You’ve got to come out guns blazing here and for me that means getting on the bank and covering water, maybe running way back into the of the creeks to find some current and cooler water.”

Ott Defoe of Knoxville, Tenn., is another young MLF Select pro who feels running the bank is better than fishing out deep in MLF competition.

“Fishing the bank is the only way to go for me,” Defoe noted. “It’s easier for me to generate a bite on the bank right off the getty-up than fishing any other way. I’ve learned in these deals, first things first: get a bite as fast as you possibly can – don’t experiment or explore – there will be time for that later if the Scoretracker isn’t jumping. But it sure is easy to get behind in this format by trying off-the-wall stuff when you know how to get a bite or two quickly.”

Another boat over, tournament fishing veteran Pete Ponds of Madison, Miss., was simultaneously scrolling through his GPS mapping while digging through the stored history banks in the back of his brain for some past knowledge on Lake of the Ozarks.

“I fished here several times back in the day with B.A.S.S.,” Ponds said. “I’ve never been here this time of year; we usually fished here in the fall. But historically it’s a great fishery.” “I’m looking for roadbeds,” Ponds revealed. “Roadbeds are always a good thing on these Ozark-type lakes and I’m sure there are some somewhere in this zone. If I can find a couple that look right, that will be my plan to start the day.”

The MLF Selects were designed to bring new competition into the MLF fold and Qualifying Round 4’s group will also include MLF newbie Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C. Ashley is the 2015 Bassmaster Classic winner looking to get his feet wet in MLF’s unique style of fishing competition.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Ashley said with his signature smile. “I’ve never fished here before. I’ve fished highlands impoundments during the summer back home in the Carolinas, but they’re a lot different. They have a lot more flats and long, sloping points. These Ozarks Lakes seem to break off the bank into deep water quicker.”

The zone size and water color of the Gravois Arm were top of the priority list to Ashley as he embarked on his first day of MLF.

“I like the size of this zone,” he noted. “Looks plenty big enough for six boats, that’s for sure. I’ve seen that sometimes these Selects will go to little lakes and small zones. But I’m good with this one. In my ride through I’ll be looking for water that has the most color to it and I’ll go from there.”

And with that, the official call to launch the boats is made.

“Good, I’m ready to get out there and get after it,” Ashley grinned. “I want to see if this is as fun as it looks on TV.”

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