VanDam, Ehrler Championship Bound
2012 Major League Fishing Challenge Cup, Lake Amistad, Nov. 6-11, 2011
by Dan O'Sullivan
For complete event standings, click here.
DEL RIO, Texas – The Sudden Death rounds of the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing Challenge Cup presented by Busch Beer began with a whole new set of rules in place that would ramp up the intensity level on the anglers. All of the regular scoring rules of major League Fishing are still in effect from the Elimination rounds.
However, instead of a three-period total score deciding who moves on and who doesn't, the semifinal Sudden Death rounds feature a cutline weight. The first two anglers to reach the cutline weight move onto the finals and the remaining four anglers pack it up and go home.
The Sudden Death cutline weight for the Challenge Cup was figured by averaging the three second place weights from the Elimination rounds and adding 3 pounds to the final average weight. In the case of the Challenge Cup at Amistad Lake, the average weight for the three second place finishers was 37.17 pounds, making the cutline 40 pounds by rounding to the nearest pound.
Unlike the Elimination rounds, which featured eight anglers, each Sudden Death semifinal round had six competitors battling it out to become the first and second anglers to reach the 40-pound mark. Those six anglers were: Brent Ehrler, the lone FLW Tour pro in the competition, who narrowly squeaked in to Sudden Death with 35.25 pounds in Elimination Day 1. Mike Iaconelli, Elimination Day 2 winner with 34.5 pounds. Gary Klein, finished third on Elimination Day 1 with 41 pounds. Jeff Kriet, finished second on Elimination Day 3 with 37.5 pounds. Jason Quinn, the highest ranking qualifier with 58.25 pounds from Elimination Day 1. Kevin VanDam, finished second to Quinn on Elimination Day 1 with 42 pounds.
These six anglers were to be competing in a race against each other for a spot in the Championship round.
|Due to strong North winds, the area scheduled for Sudden Death Round Day 2 - Zone 5, 3,700 acres - was used for Sudden Death Round Day 1 fishing.|
Like the first day of qualifying, it didn’t take long for someone to record the first catch in Sudden Death semifinal. It only took six minutes of fishing before Brent Ehrler made his mark with a jerkbait, posting a 1.25-pounder to the standings. He was followed almost immediately by Jason Quinn, who picked up where he left off with the Alabama Rig and boated a 2.75-pounder at 7:37 a.m. Ehrler followed with a 2-pounder at 7:40 a.m. to take an early lead, but was quickly overtaken by Kriet, who posted two fish on a jerkbait of his own at 7:42 and 7:45 a.m.
It would take Kevin VanDam 16 minutes to make his mark on the leader board. His 1.25-pounder was merely a shot across the bow of the rest of the field, an ominous warning sign of what was to come. From that point, VanDam would completely overshadow his competitors in the first period.
That initial small keeper opened up the flood gates for the Michigan pro. He proceeded to put 16 keepers in the boat for a total of 29.75 pounds during the first period of competition. VanDam would use a combination of primarily jerkbaits, mixed with spinnerbaits and crankbaits to put on a bass fishing clinic.
Other anglers fared well before the first break, but the gap between the haves and the have-nots was wide.
While most of the competitors, officials and staff expected VanDam to make fairly quick work of clinching the first spot in the finals by reaching the 40-pound mark. He quickly sent notice to the rest of the field that he meant business when his first bite of the second period turned out to be two bass, a 2- and a 2.5-pounder that struck his lure at 10:42 a.m. VanDam had decided not to immediately return to the hotspot that he had done so well in the first session as a strategic move to keep other anglers from seeing where he was fishing.
While it took him 12 minutes to post his first keepers, two more fish would enter the boat on the next two casts. Then at 11:00 a.m., VanDam boated a 2-pounder on a jerkbait that would put him over the 40-pound cutline with 40.25 pounds and earn him the distinction of being the first angler into the finals.
While VanDam was busy heading back to the ramp for interviews and a leisurely afternoon, the rest of the field continued to battle to be the second angler to reach the cutline. Ehrler became the favorite to push into the finals when he improved upon his first period total; however, it took him a while to get moving as well. Ehrler’s first fish of the second period did not come until 11:12 a.m., but once he figured out where they were positioned, he proceeded to post 19.5 pounds in the second period. His strong second period brought his total to 36.5 pounds.
Kriet began to figure out the puzzle as well and boated 17.50 pounds in the period, which brought his total to 27.25 pounds. Despite his significant improvement, lost fish and missed opportunities kept him from being neck and neck with Ehrler. Quinn stumbled in the second period, managing only four keepers, slipping to fourth with 23.75 pounds. Iaconelli began to make a charge, but he still had a lot of weight to make up with 18.75 pounds. Klein followed and was still looking to break into double digits.
|Angler||Period 1||Period 2||Total|
|Cutline 40 pounds - First two anglers advance|
With Ehrler only needing 3.5 pounds to finish the day, the competitors began churning the water to a froth trying to locate the kind of bass that could make up ground in a hurry. Ehrler seemed to know that his 9.25-pound lead over Kriet could be greatly reduced with a single jerk on Amistad.
The California pro quickly resumed his scoring as he posted a 1.25 pounder to the leader board only four minutes into the afternoon session. However, as the tension of the moment began to build, Ehrler began to work faster and the rhythmic twitches of his rod tip became more hurried. He pulled his jerkbait away from several fish and the rest of the field began to see a door that was cracked open.
Quinn, Kriet and Iaconelli all began catching bass again in the lull provided by Ehrler’s seeming inability to close the door. To make matters worse for Ehrler, even Klein, who was not able to break double digits in the first two periods, began to register catches. The leader board was ringing and as those catches were recorded, the tighter Ehrler fished. He managed to coax a couple of non-keepers into striking, but that just seemed to make matters worse.
Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, Ehrler posted a 1-pound keeper to his total at 2:16 p.m., but his agony would continue as it would take him another 26 minutes to catch another keeper. His final keeper came at 2:42 p.m. and it was exactly the 1.25-pound fish he needed to reach 40 pounds.
In the end, Kriet, Iaconelli and Quinn all tied for third with 30.50 pounds. Klein was last with 19 pounds.
Moving on the finals were VanDam and Ehrler. Both anglers moved on in decidedly different fashions, but they would get the chance to compete for the title of Champion of the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing Challenge Cup presented by Busch Beer.
|Angler||Period 1||Period 2||Period 3||Total|
|Cutline 40 pounds - First two anglers advance|