The moment almost seemed surreal: standing around in dark woods in middle of the nowhere in the Chippewa National Forest with six of the most accomplished professional bass fishermen on the planet. The only thing missing was a campfire.
One by one the pros emerged from the predawn darkness: Kevin VanDam, Edwin Evers, Greg Hackney, Mike Iaconelli, Andy Montgomery and Aaron Martens.
Montgomery was the first to break the silence of the odd scenario with a great question.
“Hey, what are you guys doing here?” he asked with a chuckle.
And with that, the Summit Cup Championship Round was underway on a very remote body of water near Grand Rapids, Minn.: Turtle Lake.
Hackney was the first to assess the situation he was about to face.
“Hey, uh, what do think the combined winnings of this Championship Field is?” Hackney questioned with a laugh. “I mean, really? This is who I have to fish against today?”
To answer Hackney’s question: the total winnings for the six pros fishing in the Championship Round of the Summit Cup is just over $20 million in combined career earnings.
As for MLF Cup wins, VanDam and Evers each have two, but the rest were looking for their first Championship win on this day.
“It’s been a long time since I drove this far down a dirt road to fish,” Hackney said of the hour-long trip to Turtle Lake. “But I will say this, some of my most memorable fishing trips were down dirt roads like this – I just hope today becomes one of those special memories.”
Hackney didn’t spend much time looking at his map. Instead, he was retying a few baits.
“There is no way any of us can look out there and tell you if this is a smallmouth lake or a largemouth lake,” Hackney said. “If there is one thing I have learned about fishing in Minnesota this week, it’s that I’m better off to just quit guessing on which species I’m going to catch because no matter which lake we go to, I’ve been surprised. I think I’m going to catch one species and I catch the other and vice-versa. It’s crazy.”
In order to keep himself from getting into trouble by trying to target a specific species, Hackney has just decided to fish whatever cover looks good and take whatever bites.
“As long as it’s a keeper, I’m good,” he said. “I really don’t care what flavor it is.”
After giving his map a once over, KVD was much happier with the looks of Turtle Lake than his previous experience with Trout Lake.
“Yes, this is a neat little lake,” KVD said. “At 2,000 acres it’s a little on the small side, but it’s got a lot more flats, bays, coves, pockets and points. I’m pretty happy with what I’m seeing here. It’s got a lot more fishable water for its size. Plus it’s out here in the middle of nowhere so I’m betting it doesn’t get a whole lot of pressure. I’ll start with what I like – moving baits – and see where I end up.”
Evers, too, was pleased with the looks of the lake from the map.
“We are way out here in the woods,” Evers said. “Are we bass fishing or bear hunting?
“This lake has a lot more character than that last lake we fished (Trout). I see at least one big shallow bay that probably holds some largemouth. It’s got some islands with deep water running in close. I see some good-looking saddles that connect the islands.
“I just went down to look at the water and it looks a little darker to me than some of the other lakes we’ve been to this week and I like that. It gives me a chance to throw moving baits a little more. Plus we have some low clouds this morning.
“So far it all looks really good,” Evers confirmed. “It’s just about the right size; it’s got a lot of options. Let’s go have some fun!”
Ike also was pretty excited after looking at the map.
“Well, I usually like to start on a bridge, but we’re so far out here in the middle of nowhere, I don’t think we’re going to see many bridges,” he said. “Maybe not many docks either.
“So the next thing catching my eye on this map are some of these big flat shoals – those kinds of places usually hold a lot of fish. I may go look at some of these right off the bat.”
“It’s Championship day, this lake looks awesome and I’m stoked,” Ike said with a sudden spike in enthusiasm. “I’m ready to go get after it.”