Just when it looked like the 2018 Summit Cup was going to be a repeat of the 2014 Summit Cup in terms of lake selection, the Sudden Death round dawned and the MLF curveball was thrown.
Before the pros could get in the trucks to leave the hotel for Sudden Death, MLF officials suddenly called an expedient meeting in the hotel parking lot. Pros were asked to gather around in the darkness to receive their lake maps and were then informed that the cut weight would be 22 pounds and that all pre-competition staging would be done in the hotel parking lot since the Sudden Death lake was so close.
The parking lot audible caught most of the pros off guard as they had figured Long Lake and/or Grand Lake would be in the cards for the rest of the week.
Jacob Wheeler, however, instantly recognized what was happening; he had been through this same exact procedure when he fished the Challenge Select in Alpena last year. He knew exactly what the curveball was going to be: a short drive to nearby Lake Winyah, a tiny lowland pond full of largemouths.
Of the nine pros fishing the first day of Sudden Death, Wheeler was now the only one who had fished Winyah previously. In fact, Wheeler won his Select day on Winyah last summer with a catch of 23 bass weighing 47 pounds 2 ounces.
Oddly, this turn of events put Wheeler in an awkward position as he assumed the enviable position of being the only angler on the day who had fished Lake Winyah previously.
“I’m sure some guys aren’t too happy about this but hey, let’s back up to the Elimination Round,” Wheeler pointed out. “I had never fished Hubbard before and six of the guys in my group had fished Hubbard before – I was the one on the outside looking in. But I didn’t complain about it. The shoe is on the other foot now; that’s how this deal rolls.”
“The TV show from that Select has aired so everyone knows Winyah is a largemouth deal,” Wheeler continued. “It’s no secret anymore. And the way I caught them was certainly not the only way to catch them. Weights were tight and guys caught them other ways, too.”
“Also, look at these conditions today: it’s going to pour down rain all day, which is totally different than when I fished it. So they can say whatever they want; it’s Sudden Death and four guys are going to advance and there are plenty of ways to catch them here.”
Kevin VanDam was familiar with Winyah from watching the Select show, but was less than enthused about its prospects for the day.
“Yep, I know which one it is,” VanDam said. “I’ve never fished it but it’s a largemouth deal; I remember that from the show. I’m a little disappointed simply because I was hoping for more of a smallmouth lake. And at 1200 acres, Winyah is really small, especially for nine guys. The cut weight seems low to me, too, it’s going to happen quick.”
“But hey, it’s the same for everybody here,” he added. “This is when you have to make the best of it.”
Andy Montgomery was also tapping his memory banks for Winyah information.
“I saw the show,” he said “This one has both largemouth and smallmouth – but mostly largemouth if I remember right. That last lake we were on (Hubbard) was definitely a smallmouth dominated lake. This is going to be a nice change of pace so I’m good with it.”
The Lowrance electronics on the competition boats were all loaded with a satellite image of Lake Winyah, which Jason Christie was studying intently.
“Looks like a lot of shallow vegetation to me,” Christie said. “Doesn’t look like it has much contour to it; looks awfully largemouthish. It’s pretty small, too, that’s a bit of a concern. It could be one of those commitment deals where you spend the time to get back in somewhere and then commit to it, which is risky with that cut weight being low.”
A couple of boats away, MLF rookie Wesley Strader was sniffing out largemouths, too.
“Yep, this one looks like the largemouth lake,” Strader said. “I didn’t fish this lake when I was here with the Selects, but I remember one of them was more of a largemouth lake, which is fine with me on a day like this when it’s going to rain all day. This kind of weather is not good for smallmouth, so at least we can swing for greenfish instead. But with only 1200 acres of water, I think we’re going be a little tight with nine hammers swinging.”