ALPENA, MI – It was clear before lunchtime at the 2018 Summit Cup Elimination Round 1 in Alpena, Michigan, that first place for the day would belong to Aaron Martens. The nine-time BASS winner dominated the day from the first hour of competition with 54 pounds and a 30-plus-pound cushion over second-place finisher Jeff Kriet.
But the race for the other four spots in Sudden Death came down to a matter of a small handful of smallmouth caught in the last 30 minutes of Period 3.
Most notable of those: the 4-pound, 7-ouncer that briefly touched the carpet of Mike McClelland’s Basscat as he swung it in in the waning moments of the competition day.
That fish – caught on a SPRO RkCrawler 55 crankbait with just over 4 minutes to go in Period 3 – brought the eight-time BASS winner to within 1-5 of Keith Poche and 1-8 of Jason Christie for the sixth and final spot in Sudden Death. Just moments before, McClelland had put down his slower-moving Ned Rig in favor of the crankbait, and it became crystal clear to the 30-year veteran that he had made a crucial change to a bait that Lake Hubbard’s smallies favored.
But in landing the fish, McClelland let its tail brush against the Barbasol carpet graphics before he could get it under control, incurring an automatic two-minute fish-handling penalty that effectively ended his day.
Under official MLF rules, an angler incurring a fish-handling violation must immediately cease all fishing and boating activities once he’s released his fish. So not only could McClelland not make a cast or work on tackle during those critical two minutes, but he also couldn’t put his Power Poles down to keep him in his spot.
All he could do was fume in frustration as the northern Michigan wind blew him half the length of a football field away from the exact spot he needed to be on a 6- to 8-foot sandy point loaded with 3- to 5-pounders.
“All I needed was three or four more casts and I’m positive I could’ve made it out of that round,” McClelland says. “That’s why everything seemed so frantic in those final few minutes. I only had a couple of minutes left to fish by the time my penalty was done, and the wind had blown me 50 yards off my spot. I was just hustling to try to get back that exact spot on that sandy point. I never made another cast on that spot. I’ve had plenty of penalties in Major League Fishing, but that one was probably the most disheartening I’ve ever had.”
Christie and Poche, meanwhile, gritted their teeth and waited for the official time to expire.
Christie had landed back-to-back smallies weighing 2-10 and 2-11 just 15 minutes earlier, pushing him from 11-9 to 16-4; Poche had watched helplessly as his 16-11 fell from second place to sixth as 30 fish found their way onto SCORETRACKER after he landed his final scorable fish of the day.
“I know what it’s like on both side of that deal,” Poche admitted. “I’ve been that guy who caught a fish in the final minute to put somebody out, I didn’t feel comfortable that I’d advanced until we got back to the ramp.”