Have you ever heard of Pokegama Lake?
It’s okay if you haven’t–neither have the 10 MLF pros who are about to tackle its waters on the first day of the 2017 Summit Cup being held out of Grand Rapids, Minn., in August 2016.
As pros were handed their maps of Pokegama Lake for Elimination Round 1, many chuckled at the name, making their first attempts at the pronunciation in the form of “Pokeman,” in light of the Pokeman Go rage that has swept the country.
The proper pronunciation of the lake is actually pa-keg-e-ma. In addition to its pronunciation, there are a few other things about the Summit Cup venue that should be cleared up.
First, the event is taking place in in Grand Rapids, Minnesota – not Grand Rapids, Michigan. This initially caused a bit of confusion when pros were first given the location of the event – some automatically assumed they were headed to Michigan.
Since Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” it’s not surprising to find out there are actually two Pokegama Lakes in Minnesota.
The Pokegama Lake the pros find themselves on is the one formed by the Upper Mississippi River located just a few miles southeast of Grand Rapids. Pokegama is actually connected to another body of water: Jay Gould Lake. Together, the two lakes offer about 7,000 fishable acres to the Elimination Round 1 Summit Cup anglers.
As the pros were digesting this information, the most immediate question quickly surfaced: smallmouths or largemouths? MLF pro Dean Rojas was one of the first to receive a map and start processing the playing field.
“Wow, it’s a pretty big lake,” Rojas said. “There is plenty of water, that’s for sure. I see some islands, some deep water, some flats – I’m guessing it’s got some vegetation, too – there are a lot of options and a lot of unknowns. Just from the initial looks of it, I’m betting it’s full of fish and that’s going to make things extremely fast-paced.”
Along with the ubiquitous smallmouth versus largemouth question, Rojas finds zero knowledge of fishing history on Pokegama a real challenge, as well.
“Usually we at least have some idea of what good or bad is on a lake,” Rojas said. “If I catch three bass in the first hour, I might think that’s good, but on a lake like this, that could be terrible – maybe six or seven bass per hour is more the norm. We have absolutely no idea what to expect and that makes it difficult to gauge right out of the gate.”
“I’m going to start with lures that I can use to cover water fast and unhook fish fast,” he added. “This is all about time management and keeping pace with the SCORETRACKER. Don’t get behind – that’s the goal.”
Further down the line, Select Pro Jacob Wheeler was anxious to receive his map. The 2012 Forrest Wood Cup winner has proven he knows how to the play the up-tempo MLF game successfully. Not only did Wheeler earn a ticket to the Summit Cup by winning a day at the Summit Select on Lake of the Ozarks, he also is a double-qualifier for this event since he finished high enough in the Select points to earn a regular slot in the Cups as well.
“This format is just so much fun; I love it,” Wheeler said. “I want to fish as many of these things as I can, so I’m glad to be in this Cup, as well.”
As Wheeler received his map, he also was immediately taken with all the options Pokegama offered.
“Looks like we got a lot of deep water, some flats and creeks,” he said, intently scouring the map. “We’ve got some bays, I’m guessing those probably have some kind of vegetation in them. Wow, it’s a pretty diverse place. I was hoping to see something that would point me more towards largemouths or more towards smallmouths but given all this deep, dark water in the middle here, smallmouth will probably play.
And given these shallower bays, there has got to be some largemouths as well.
“Man, this one will be a puzzler,” he added. “And if you pick the wrong species to start on, you could get smoked in a hurry.”
MLF Select standout Keith Poche, who also qualified to the Summit Cup by winning a day at the Summit Select on Lake of the Ozarks, was busy reminding himself that the Selects’ Qualifying Rounds are a different animal than the Cups’ Elimination rounds.
“Those Selects are a winner-only deal each day,” Poche said. “In these Cup deals, you’ve got to be in the top four at the end of the day; I try to remind myself of that because you can be a little more conservative in these to advance. I fish the Selects with more of a go-for-broke approach and that’s not always the best deal in these Elimination rounds of the Cups.”
With that in mind, Poche was analyzing the risk-reward quotient of Pokegama’s long idle zones.
“I like idle zones,” Poche said. “They are risky to try in the first period: if the SCORETRACKER starts lighting up and you’re trapped back there on dead water, you can get behind in a hurry. But if you find a good spot in an idle zone, you can usually have it to yourself early because others will not go through them right off the bat.”
“If this was a Select, I’d probably go through one of these big idle zones first thing,” he added. “But being it’s a Cup, I think I might stay out in the lake where a I can jump and move around if the SCORETRACKER starts lighting up.”
Aaron Martens’ reaction to Pokegama Lake involved him making one of his unique, comical sounds that evokes some sort of pain or displeasure.
“It’s too big, bro,” Martens groaned. “One wrong turn at the beginning of the day can ruin you. I like the smaller lakes where you can see what all is available to fish in the ride through.
“But that’s okay,” he said, shaking jerkbaits from his tacklebox. “We got a little breeze this morning, which should be good. I’m going to use my ride thru period to graph some of these places looking for baits pods. If I see bait out there, that’s where I’m going to start fishing.” Suddenly, the official call to “splash the boats” is made – the Summit Cup is underway.