Innovative Format, New Strategies
Photo by Dan O'Sullivan
Story by Lynn Burkhead
At the first-ever Jack Link's Major League Fishing Challenge Cup on Lake Amistad, presented by Busch Beer, just about every single pro mentioned how they had to rethink tried-and-true tournament strategies.
Many for the first time, in a long time.
Some of that strategy reboot is due to the presence of the ground-breaking real-time leader board brought aboard each boat via a satellite link and an iPad.
"There's a lot of strategy and none of us knows how it is going to play off (on a given day of competition)," said Major League Fishing co-founder Gary Klein. "But one thing that we do know for sure is we all know each other, we all know our strengths, we all know the techniques that each guy is noted for."
That knowledge - combined with the real-time data that each boat's tournament official announces on a regularly scheduled basis - can certainly cause a strategy change during the course of a day's three periods.
"When I watch the leader board and I know that KVD is catching them, I know that he's not fishing a spinning rod, light line, or fishing deep off structure," said Klein. "He's probably throwing a spinnerbait, a crankbait, he's grinding. Or maybe a jerkbait, which is a great bait on Amistad."
Another key strategy many pros were faced with is whether to fish for Amistad's big bites - the lake record is over 16-pounds - or to focus on catching bigger numbers of 2- to 3-pound fish.
Denny Brauer admits that's something he hasn't done much of in his career, to fish for quantity over quality.
"In a traditional tournament, we're fishing for five big bites and that's how I've built my career is fishing for big fish," said the part-time Lake Amistad resident. "Now can I do that in this format and get by? Probably not and the Amistad Challenge Cup proved it.
"It's a different strategy (for sure). It was even a different strategy when I was rigging up. I looked at a bait and thought, 'Man, I bet if I downsized that bait, I'd get twice the bites.'"
Did all the Challenge Cup competitors look for quantity over quality?
Byron Velvick, the California swimbait specialist who fell in love with Lake Amistad so much that he bought a resort there (www.amistadlakeresort.com; 800-775-8591), was swinging for the fences to land big fish.
Depending on the day's weather conditions, that is.
"I'm more prone (to believe) that those big fish (are) being sun related with a breezy day and sun," said Velvick.
"I play the numbers game more on overcast, rainy, windy days than I do on sunny days when I can go out and throw a seven or eight-inch swimbait or a giant topwater and get those bigger fish to eat," he added.
Brauer, the 1998 Bassmaster Classic champ, admits that even after 30 years of tournament fishing, he had to learn a few new things at the Challenge Cup to play the new game.
"This new format is going to be a learning deal for me, to really see what I have to do to survive in this type of tournament," he said. "That's what makes it so exciting. It's totally new and there's never really been anything like this.
"I really think the viewer is going to learn so much from it because they are going to see us totally under the gun, making it happen in a short period of time."
Bobby Lane agrees, noting that being a "junk fisherman," he had to bring his A-game from Florida to compete with power-fishermen like VanDam and clear-water specialists like Brent Ehrler and Aaron Martens.
"Sometimes it takes a little bit, but man, once you get it dialed in, you build your confidence up and you feel like you've become a versatile fisherman in just a matter of minutes," said Lane. "And that's what it takes, it's trial and error.
"But when you're in this kind of league, you can't have too many errors anymore."
Not if you want to take home a Major League Fishing championship trophy, that's for sure.