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Summit Cup Day 1: The Unknown

by Lynn Burkhead

The unknown.

Elimination Round Day 1 Competitors

Greg Hackney

Gary Klein

Michael Iaconelli

Denny Brauer

Shaw Grigsby

Mike McClelland

Tommy Biffle

Tim Horton

On the eve of Major League Fishing's second ever event, the 2013 General Tire Summit Cup at New York's Chautauqua Lake, the unknown is once again a common theme of conversation at the boat dock.

But unlike last fall's event at Lake Amistad in Texas, where it was the new Major League Fishing format that brought uncertainty to the anglers, this showdown brings the unfamiliarity of literally uncharted waters.

As in most of the 24 Major League Fishing pros have never fished this water before.

Heck, few of these anglers have ever even heard of the 13,000-acre water body that lies virtually in the shadow of Lake Erie, which is an hour drive to the north.

In the first round of the 2013 General Tire Summit Cup, the eight Major League Fishing pros on the water will quite literally be fishing by the seat of their pants.

But that doesn't mean that they are clueless in Seattle, Chautauqua or wherever else they happen to be wetting a line.

Because after finding out that they would be fishing in Zone 6, the thought among the anglers who got a brief look at the Navionic's maps at the angler meeting was, been there, done that, seen it before.

Even if they've never seen it before at this particular lake.


Zone 6

Anglers that draw Zone 6 will have their opportunity to fish the Outlet, which is truly a step back in time. This zone offers a great mixture of shallow water structure, including lily pads, weed edges and the deeper water holds several of the sunken steam ships that ran Chautauqua Lake in the early 1900s.

Zone 6: 5.2 miles shoreline, 2438 acres

Because when the map revealed ample shallow water, a river channel emptying the zone, some rock piles and stick-ups, boat docks, and even a sunken steamship offshore, most anglers were smiling, already on point with a game plan in their minds of what to do.

But, Elimination Day 1 will prove to be bit more complicated than dealing simply with the unknown of a new zone on a new lake.

Because at the angler meeting, a brief glance at the lake from the tournament headquarters also brought hushed conversations among anglers about water clarity.

In short, the normally pristine, clear, and grass filled waters of Chautauqua Lake have been clouded by a late summer/early fall algae bloom that has the water green and a bit off-color.

"Water clarity is important,” said New Jersey's Michael Iaconelli. “The basics on water clarity is the clearer the water, the more they will use their visual senses, the more they will use their sight. The dirtier the water, the more they will use other things like vibration and scent and all of those things."

Ike indicated that such water clarity issues would potentially alter the selection of baits that he plans to throw in the first round.

"I can tell you that in the north, when the water is clear, they feed off of sight heavily, more than anything else," said the New Jersey pro. "That's why you see soft-stick fishing, fluke style fishing, and other baits like that that can be so good because they are always looking at that stuff.

"But when the water is dirty or green, you've got to have something other than sight fishing," he added. "Sound and vibration are important (then), you've got to have something else to add to your game besides sight fishing."

Like most first-round anglers, Ike plans to put his blinders on and go out looking for numbers of fish up shallow rather than gambling and venturing offshore looking for the mother lode of smallmouth bass the lake has.

The temptation is strong because these are big smallmouths, Lake Erie size big that can go five, six, seven, and even occasionally eight pounds.

But Ike says that he'll play the numbers game in round one.

"In a traditional event, we'll go out fishing for five big bites," said Ike, the 2003 Bassmasters Classic champion. "(But) in the MLF events, it is different because they count every keeper so you are definitely thinking numbers."

That's not to say that Ike will not be thinking about getting a big bite or two.

"(Even) in this tournament, where numbers are so important, big fish go a long way," he said. "It's hard to win an event, and I can tell you this from experience, it's hard to EVER win an event if you don't catch at least one big fish."

"Big bites go a long way (here)."

For Alabama's Timmy Horton, it's not just an occasional big bite that will go a long way towards advancing to the Sudden Death Round.

It's also paying attention and keying in on the story that every fish is telling.

"Every bite tells you something," said Horton, the 2000 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year."Every bite has got (something) to tell you, whether it is a little or a lot."

While volumes have been written about how to analyze patterns and patterns within a pattern, Horton says that for him, it's simpler than all of that.

"It's just a gut feeling of what to do," said Horton. "Believe it or not, we don't think about that. I guarantee you can ask all 23 of the other guys and it's just a gut feeling. You don't even think, 'Am I doing this right' or 'Am I doing this wrong?' (Instead), you think, 'I need to be doing this,' and that's what you do."

While Horton admits that the Major League Fishing format does change the game up somewhat for him thanks to the unknown, the zones being fished, and the live leader board, he still insists that it's very important to keep things simple.

"You'll hear some people talk about fishing the Classic or fishing a MLF event, but once you get out there, it's just fishing," said Horton.

"You make adjustments based on those bites that you get, the past history of what you've had happen in the past with water color, time of year, (etc.).

"And all of that determines the decisions that you make (on the water)."

And those decisions - on a brand new lake with dingy water, no less - will be paramount to all eight of the Day 1 anglers.

Because the four anglers that make the best use of the information that they glean out on the water will be the ones that move on to this event's second round – Sudden Death.

And eventually on to the 2013 General Tire Summit Cup Championship, Chautauqua style.