When the MLF Challenge Cup pros were summoned to the small town of Eufaula, Ala., October 10-15, 2016, it came as no surprise to learn that Lake Eufaula, on the border of Alabama and Georgia, would be the site of the Challenge Cup.
Lake Eufaula is a historic a lake in the annals of tournament fishing. Whether it’s the lore of Tom Mann developing the famous “Jelly Worm” at Eufaula or the lake’s well-known contribution to structure fishing in the early 70s, Eufaula has been a hotbed for tournament fishing innovation. So it only seems fitting that MLF should bring it’s unique tournament format to the legendary lake.
While Eufaula is best known for its big bass in the springtime, mid-October will pose a bit of a challenge for the aptly named Challenge Cup. During the fall months on southeastern impoundments, bass become far more spread out and harder to locate with any consistency. Which is exactly why bringing the nation’s best bass pros to Eufaula, with no prior information or practice, will prove to be a valuable learning experience for MLF viewers.
Eufaula is a typical lowland impoundment, famous for its underwater structure like river ledges, creek channels, roadbeds, ditches and standing timber. Over the years, MLF pros have had prior experience on Eufaula, mostly in other national tournaments during the spring or summer. From these past events they are familiar with how the lake lays out and how bass relate to the offshore cover. But what most of the pros do not know is how much hydrilla growth has occurred in Eufaula over the last couple of years, especially in the lake’s lower end.
Since most of the competitors have not fished Eufaula within the last year or two, the amount of grass which has sprung up is certainly going to catch them off guard and viewers will be able to see firsthand how top pros react to this surprise element.
For the Elimination rounds, pros will put in at White Oak Creek ramp and be given a huge zone – from the 82 causeway all the way to the dam, encompassing some 22 miles of lake.
As pros arrived at White Oak the first day, it was business as usual as they began to digest the zone and fishing conditions.
Defending MLF Challenge Cup champion Bobby Lane was one of the first to survey Eufaula at first light.
“Well, the first thing I see is the water looks a little low,” Lane observed. “I know it’s been pretty dry around here this summer, so I’m betting the water is not only low, but probably pretty clear. I have only fished here in the spring when it’s been higher and muddier – I’ve never been here in the fall so this will be a new Eufaula to me.”
Lane also summarized the weather conditions.
“It may be October, but this is still like the end of summer here,” Lane reported. “It’s a little chilly this morning, but it’s still getting up into the high 80’s and low 90’s during the day and that’s still pretty warm. I’m betting this thing is going to be a junk fishing kind of deal – put a lot of rods on the deck and throw everything at them.”
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., agreed with Lane’s assessment. Hackney has fished Eufaula on a couple of occasions, including a fall BASS Open many years ago, where he finished third.
“Yeah, we are in that kind of dull time of the year for this part of the country,” Hackney offered. “In the spring and summer so many of the fish are doing the same things at the same time so it makes them easier to pattern. But this time of year, they can be doing anything, anywhere, spread out all over the place so narrowing it down can be difficult. Because of that, I’m going to say it’s going to be pretty junky – just go fish what looks good at that moment and don’t try to really force or lock in to anything. Junky is not a bad thing, it just is what it is.”
If anyone has a “local advantage” at Eufaula it would likely be Keith Poche of Pike Road, Ala., which is only an hour and a half from Eufaula. Poche used to fish club events on Eufaula before turning pro.
“I’m a shallow water fisherman, so I’m more familiar with the upper end of the lake – up in the river,” Poche said. “Where we’re fishing today is more offshore oriented – so I’d say guys like Mark Rose and Kelly Jordon are going to be the ones to watch – they’re both good at that offshore game. I do have a place or two in mind from history here that I’m going to start on. But if those don’t pan out, I’ll just go fishing like everyone else out here today.”
So what does offshore expert and Select qualifier Mark Rose of Arkansas have to say about Eufaula?
“Well, after a couple of bad experiences trying the offshore thing in the Selects, I swore I’d never do it again,” Rose laughed. “But, I’m going to retract that today – never say never I guess.
“This is an offshore kind of lake,” he added. “And I have some offshore history in this part of the lake. Obviously I don’t have exact waypoints, but I think I can go off memory enough to get in the right neighborhood of some decent places, so I’ve got to try to put that knowledge to work for me. I know I said I’d never do it again, but this is one place where I’ve got to make an exception – I’m going deep to start.”