As the second group of Elimination Day competitors got ready to head out for their round of competition at the 2017 Major League Fishing Challenge Cup on eastern Alabama’s Lake Eufaula, I just had to ask the obvious question.
To MLF co-founder Boyd Duckett, that is, a former Demopolis, Ala. resident who now lives in Guntersville.
And what was the obvious question?
Whether or not the Alabama native son has any home field advantage this week as he tries to earn a MLF Challenge Cup title to go with the other successes that the angler and business owner has so often found in his home state.
After all, he’s fished on Eufaula before, right?
“I have fished Eufaula in the past,” admitted Duckett with a wry smile. “I think the last time I was here, I fished a (B.A.S.S.) Open back in 2003. So, it’s been a while.”
With the general mood here this week being that another mid-autumn grind-it-out, tough fishing kind of MLF derby is at hand, I asked Duckett what he anticipated.
“It’s fall, it’s in the South, and these big reservoirs are hard in September and October and everybody knows that,” said Duckett, who founded Major League Fishing several years ago with his close friend Gary Klein.
“You (will have to) stay focused (on the facts in front of you) and the (SCORETRACKER LIVE!) leaderboard will tell you whether or not you’re on them.”
As Duckett pointed out, in a fishing derby like the MLF Challenge Cup this week, how fast the action is or isn’t doesn’t matter as much as the competition does.
“It (really) doesn’t matter if it’s a lot or a little, you just want to stay somewhere up there in that top four on the scoreboard today,” said Duckett, pointing out that the goal for his first round of action is just to advance, making it to the Sudden Death Round later this week.
Ok, fair enough. But given Eufaula’s reputation for spitting out some big lunker bass – not to mention being home to some monster alligators – I asked Duckett if he anticipated any sort of last second shootout to unfold on the SCORETRACKER LIVE! leaderboard.
You know, somebody catching a late in the day kind of giant bass, one similar to the many six, seven and eight-pounders that this lake has been known for in the past.
“Eufaula does have some great fish,” admitted Duckett while wearing his trademark red, yellow and black colored angling gear. “Eufaula down through the years has a lot of (big) bass and fishing history.”
That being said, Duckett pointed out that Eufaula suffered from the largemouth bass virus (LMBV), perhaps as much or more than any other reservoir in the South.
While that outbreak was a long time ago – back in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s – the lake certainly went through some changes.
Coupled with Duckett’s lack of fishing experience in recent years on Eufaula, and MLF’s rule that prohibits anglers from doing any research about potential tournament venues in an area being visited, and the Alabama pro says that he has no home field advantage this week.
“I’m looking forward to being back on Eufaula and seeing how the lake has recovered from having lost really the vast majority of its bass,” said Duckett. “Back around 2002, it was just crushed (by the virus).”
All of which means that Duckett will be pushing himself hard not to remember what was – and where it used to be – and instead, focusing on the fishery as he finds it on this particular day of competition.
“I’m just going to go fishing,” said the MLF co-founder and owner of the Duckett Fishing rod-and-reel manufacturing company. “You can’t really worry about where it (all) was.”
As another layer to that particular thought, Duckett pointed out that most of his experience years ago was in the spring of the year anyway, not something that is likely to help him now in the middle of the fall.
“I have a limited amount of experience on the bottom end (of Eufaula where my group) is fishing today, so I’m just going to go out and fish today,” he said.
How will Duckett go about figuring things out on the fly, in a literal hurry as the day’s 15-minute ride around period comes and goes and the boat officials call for lines in the water to begin the day’s first period?
“It’s just an elimination process,” said Duckett, the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champ on Alabama’s Lay Lake. “Every day we fish, it’s an elimination process. It’s accentuated in Major League Fishing because you have to eliminate (unproductive water) first, you have to (quickly) get all of that work done.
“Normally, we do that in practice in our other events (that we fish),” he added. “By the end of the first day of practice (in those other events), you have a pretty good idea of what’s going on at the lake that you’re at.
“But in our (MLF) format, of course, that first day is a competition day. So that’s what Major League Fishing is, it’s super practice, it’s what it is.”
Duckett noted that the MLF game is also catch and weigh as many legal fish as you can in a day of competition, not trying to bring to the scales the five biggest bass that an angler can catch in the other tournament formats.
Because of that, he’s noticed that MLF anglers often are getting dialed in early in the day, figuring out what’s going to work, then putting on a clinic of fish catching skills in the often climatic third period.
“I’ve noticed that watching the show,” said Duckett, as big a fan as anyone else of the MLF television programming on Outdoor Channel and World Fishing Network.
“(It’s almost like) the first two periods are practice, mostly that is,” he added. “It’s not really technique specific and you kind of get to see that whole process (unfold). That’s what makes Major League Fishing so different.”
Because of such rules and a different format, MLF anglers need to figure the day’s action out quickly in most cases.
“That really dictates our game, who can find them the quickest, not really who can catch them the best.,” said Duckett, a four-time B.A.S.S. winner, with two wins in Alabama, one in New York and the other in Arkansas.
“It’s who can find them the quickest in our sport,” he added.
With this week’s MLF Challenge Cup on Eufaula expected to be a grinding derby given the historical trends of such fall tournaments in the south, an added factor to the day is the season’s first big cool front passing through.
Meaning that Duckett and his group are going out on the dreaded “day after a front.”
“Yeah,” laughed Duckett, the winner of more than $1.68 million dollars on the B.A.S.S. circuits alone. “But everybody has got the same thing, so there again, it’s like a 7-3 kind of Super Bowl versus a 35-30 kind of game. In both games, somebody wins the (Lombardi Trophy).”
Duckett added that in the MLF game, it’s the same. Good fishing or slow fishing, somebody is going to outcompete the other anglers here this week and take the cherished Challenge Cup trophy home with them.
“How good the fishing is or is not really isn’t the main thing,” said Duckett. “It’s the competition that matters.”
As an Alabama native, this is certainly one competition that Duckett hopes to win by week’s end as Major League Fishing visits the bass fishing powerhouse state for the very first time.
But Duckett readily admits that desire or not, this will be a tough chore because the challenge is steep, the angling field is as good as it gets and the MLF playing field is about as level as it can possibly be in bass fishing.
All of which would make a Challenge Cup victory here this week particularly satisfying for Duckett.
Sweet home Alabama, indeed.
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