In most Major League Fishing events, there’s little past experience for an angler like Texas MLF pro Alton Jones to fall back on in terms of either past experience or angling comfort.
Because in many cases, MLF Commissioner Don Rucks, executive producer Randy White and other MLF staff members involved in the hit tournament and TV show’s production seem to almost go out of their way to do that same thing to the anglers.
And that’s to try and put the MLF field on out of the way, smaller sized water bodies across the country that few – if any – of the MLF pros have ever heard of, let alone fished.
But that’s not the case this week in Eufaula, Alabama as the 2017 MLF Challenge Cup is contested on Lake Eufaula, a famed big bass tournament venue that has held many professional tournaments over the years.
But before any of the MLF pros get excited about finally having some notes and history to refer to, they might want to remember the calendar page that the current year is sitting upon.
“I’ve fished two or three B.A.S.S. events here,” said Jones, the 2008 Bassmaster Classic champ and winner of six B.A.S.S. titles over the course of his career.
“But it’s been close to a decade since we’ve been here and they were spring events, maybe one even (happening) in June.”
So Jones feels – like several other anglers interviewed this week – that any previous experience he might have on Eufaula will be of little or no value to him this week.
And even though he does admit to having some past angling experience in this part of the southeastern U.S. during the early fall time period, it doesn’t help buoy his confidence too much.
“My brain tells me that this is the toughest time of year to fish down here,” smiled Jones, who has 18 Classic appearances on his resume to go along with five FLW Tour Forrest Wood Cup championship berths.
“So I’m gearing up mentally for a tough kind of (MLF) event (here on Eufaula).”
And that includes the lures that Jones tied on during his tackle prep last night as he prepared for this round of MLF competition.
“I’m rigged up for a tough event,” said the Lorena, Texas pro who has amassed nearly $3 million in career winnings. “I’m not a big spinning rod guy, but of the five rods I’ve got on my front deck (this morning), three of them are spinning rods.
“I’m expecting a tough bite and that’s the way that I’m going to approach it, expecting a typical tough early fall (situation) with the fish scattered out,” he added.
“It’s going to be a tough kind of event and every bite is going to be huge.”
With that idea in mind – a tough bite and a grind it out kind of day coming up – does the central Texas pro think that Major League Fishing’s game changing SCORETRACKER LIVE! leaderboard is going to be more or less important to his cause?
“That’s hard to say,” said Jones, who has qualified for one Championship Day berth in his previous eight MLF Cup appearances. “I think it could go either way (for me). I won’t know until the day starts to play out.
“Usually, it goes something like this,” he continued with a wry grin. “If you’re on top (of the leaderboard), you love to hear those SCORETRACKER LIVE! updates because you know it’s playing on everybody else’s mind.
“But if you’re down there in seventh, eighth, or ninth place, the last thing you want to hear is a SCORETRACKER update.”
When a veteran MLF pro like Jones predicts a tough, grind it out kind of event – and an individually tough day to boot – how is such a time of tough fishing best approached?
“I think there are a (few) things that you do,” said Jones. “You immediately want to gear up for a tough bite and that means that there is the potential for a lot of finesse lures and techniques to come into play.”
And that includes Shaky Head worms, Drop Shot rigs, smaller crankbaits and even small swimbaits according to Jones.
“You can (also) still get an aggressive bite from a topwater bait early in the morning, but once the sun comes up, and if it’s going to be a bright bluebird kind of day, if there’s a topwater bite, it’s going to be over pretty quickly,” said Jones.
If tackle prep is one way to combat grind it out fishing in the early fall, then adjusting one’s expectations is another.
“Even though you may not be fishing just for small fish – there can still be some big ones to bite – you’ve got to know that these fish are really going to be scattered,” said Jones.
“You’re not going to find a mother lode of fish where you’re going to catch 100 bass off of one spot at this time of the year.”
A third consideration here is to put the blinders on, focus and stay mentally tough as the day goes along.
Because eventually, a bass or two or three is going to bite. As long as an angler is focused and ready to capitalize on that bite, that is.
“You’ve just got to be mentally prepared for a tough bite,” said Jones. “And hopefully, you get out there and you’re pleasantly surprised.”
Why is that?
“Because (even at this time of the year), you (can occasionally) find places where it is not tough,” said Jones. “It’s not always tough in the fall. And there’s some places on this lake where it is not tough (today).
“Wherever we fish, there are always a few places where it is not tough,” he added. “But those places are (probably) going to be few and far between.
“Somebody might find that today, but most of (us) guys fighting for the top four spots, we’re going to be grinding it out.”
Finally, Jones says not to get mentally spun out if the day doesn’t go as planned, especially early on.
“It’s probably more important than ever to stay mentally focused (on a tough, grind it out kind of day),” said Jones, one of the sport’s most successful pros over the past 15 years or so.
“Whether you’ve just missed a four-pounder or not, you’ve got to realize that what just happened on the last cast does not have to have an effect on what happens with the next cast,” he added.
“You learn from your mistakes and you move forward.”
Even on a tough day of early fall fishing in eastern Alabama as a big, shiny Major League Fishing Challenge Cup waits in the wings.
Because someone is going to win here on Lake Eufaula this week, tough fishing or not, and in Alton Jones mind, it might as well be him.