Challenge Cup Final Four
2012 Major League Fishing Challenge Cup, Lake Amistad, Nov. 6-11, 2011
SPOILER ALERT: If you have not watched Webisode Five, this story will reveal the two advancing anglers.
by Lynn Burkhead
DEL RIO, Texas – After a week of fierce angling competition, topsy-turvy weather conditions, and one of Texas' best bass lakes living up to its sterling reputation, it's finally down to this.
The "Final Four" of this competition, all vying for the first ever Jack Link's Major League Fishing Challenge Cup, presented by Busch Beer, on Lake Amistad.
|Championship Round Competitors |
In this corner, there's Kevin VanDam, the king of pro-angling with a resume that includes being currently ranked No. 1 in the world by BassFan.com, the winner of four Bassmaster Classic titles, owner of seven B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles, winner of 20 B.A.S.S. events, owner of one FLW Angler of the Year title, and a tournament pro with more than $5.6 million in combined career earnings
Then there's Kelly Jordon, the native Texan who excels in locating big bites that have put him in the winner's circle six times in his pro career with some $1.6 million in earnings.
Don't forget Mike McClelland, a six-time winner in B.A.S.S. events, who has pocketed $1.29 million over the course of his career.
And last, but certainly not least, is FLW Tour star Brent Ehrler with four wins, $1.8 million in career earnings, and the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup in his back pocket.
If you're keeping score at home, that's a combined 36 major professional tournament wins, more than $10 million in career earnings, four Bassmaster Classic titles, one Forrest Wood Cup championship, and seven B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles.
But not one of these accomplished pros has EVER won a Major League Fishing Challenge Cup.
Until now, that is.
"Oh absolutely I'm excited," said Jordon. "Everybody here is an unbelievable fisherman. There's four of us left and whoever takes the big prize on this has really accomplished something. And I'm going to do everything I can for it to be me."
|Scheduled Championship Round Fishing Zone - Approximately 6,300 Acres|
FLW pro Ehrler knows he is up against fierce competition, even if he's rarely competed against the other three B.A.S.S. anglers in the final round.
"I'm excited to get out there, but it's going to be a tough group and I'm going to have to fish my butt off to try and make it (to the top)," he said.
"It really wouldn't have mattered (who) out of this whole group of 24 Major League Fishing anglers (that) you fish against (in the championship round) because everybody is great from top to bottom," said the Arkansas pro.
"The group of guys I'm fishing against (in the final) have definitely been the ones that have caught 'em good all week long here."
To win the Challenge Cup, the four pros will have to quickly crack the code on one of the week's more challenging zones.
"It doesn't offer a lot of shoreline," said Jordon. "It's a lot of open water and I haven't caught them yet on the shoreline, so I think it will be all right."
VanDam hopes to be able to quickly fine tune his game plan when he hits the water.
Basic Rules and Format
Practice Start: 7:15am
Period 1 Start: 7:30am
Period 2 Start: 10:30am
Period 3 Start: 1:30pm
Score-able Fish: All black bass with a minimum length of 14 inches
Anglers must stay within the set boundaries of the zone during fishing periods
The angler with highest total weight will be crowned the Challenge Cup Champion
"The section of the lake that we've got has got a lot of water in it," said VanDam. "It's just a matter of being able to get out there and get on the fish pretty quick and be able to run the pattern.
"I've got a pretty good idea of what I'm looking for, but they're not everywhere and you've got to move around a lot (to find them). That's what I've been able to do the last two times and that's what I'm going to do again."
McClelland, who has found good success with his Spro McStick jerkbait, is highly optimistic about his chances on this previously unfished zone.
"I tell you what, I think this is probably the best zone I could have hoped to have fished, just looking at the way that this lake has been broken down," he said. "Doesn't look like there's going to be a lot of grass in this zone, so it could take Jordon and a couple of guys who have concentrated on grass out of the equation. This is more like the zone that I won the first round in.
"There's going to be a little bit more wind and there should be a good ripple on the water and I should be able to McStick the snot out of 'em," he added.
Unlike the other three anglers who have some previous experience on Amistad, Ehrler is once again fishing somewhat by the seat of his pants.
"The area that we're fishing, I don't really know much about it, I've never really fished much in there," said the California pro. "Pretty much like all of the other ones. I haven't been there, I haven't fished it.
"I've only been here one other time and I fished mostly in Mexico (then). So really all of the water I know is off limits to us, so everyday I've gone out there I've been fishing new water."
As they do about the zone they are fishing, the "Final Four" pros have mixed feelings about the prospect of sunny skies and strong winds.
"Unfortunately, I'm worried about those winds," said Ehrler. "It's supposed to blow pretty hard, I think 15 to 25 mph. I don't know if that's going to help or hurt. It's one of those things that without practice, you never really know."
Jordon brings mixed feelings to the table about the stiff breeze being forecasted.
"I fished with a lot of wind the first day and very little the second day," he said. "(Now) the wind is always going to help. (But) I kind of like it being real tough, I like to see it not (having) much wind because I think my pattern isn't wind driven.
"I think it will help, but I'd have a bigger advantage if it was slick."
How important is a fast start for the Championship round?
According to VanDam, not so much.
"I think it's important only in the fact that you can get in the other guy's heads in a hurry," said the Michigan pro. "If I don't get off to a fast start and somebody else does, I can promise you that it's not going to bother me because I know what I'm looking for and I know when I find it things can happen in a hurry. I'm not going to be too worried about it."
Neither is Jordon.
"All of those other guys, they're all going down," he laughed.
For Ehrler, his strategy is to try and figure things out quickly, then put the blinders on and run his game plan to the end.
"No different strategies really, I'm just going to go out there and fish as hard as I can and try to get on some little key that will get me going for the rest of the day," he said.
The bottom line is this: Whoever gets it going the best will have a little extra baggage to take home.
The first ever Major League Fishing Challenge Cup trophy.
Webisode Six, showing the Championship round will be available Monday, March 19.