Since its inception in 2012, Major League Fishing has helped define the modern era of professional fishing. MLF’s founding principles of no practice and no information before competition has been a strong pillar of their success.
In addition, MLF has also strived to take competitors to venues where the participants have no prior knowledge of the fisheries, which greatly enhances the pureness of the fish-finding contest.
However, consistently finding virgin water for 27 of the world’s best professional anglers who fish all over the country is a monumental challenge. Even MLF has been sort of running from itself over the last few years in an effort to not to retrace their steps. So it was only a matter of time before the very league that advocates the ideal of “no prior experience” would have to give in and return to a former MLF location.
Enter Alpena, Michigan.
Alpena and its multitude of surrounding lakes was a smashing success for MLF’s first visit to the region in 2014. For the most part, pros were unfamiliar with these waters and it created some of the most intense competition MLF had ever captured on film. A few years later, MLF returned to Alpena and treated the MLF Select Division anglers to the pristine waters of Eastern Michigan with the same kind of results.
Which is why MLF’s return for a third go around in Alpena for the 2018 Summit Cup has raised some eyebrows among the anglers, especially since there is now a tangled a web of Cup and Select anglers who have been to Alpena before, but did not necessarily all fish the same lakes. As a result, this Summit Cup will be particularly compelling because each day there will be anglers who have fished the day’s lake previously competing against anglers who have never seen the lake before, bringing the concept of “previous knowledge” on a body of water into focus. Of course all previous MLF shows taped in Alpena have all aired and are fair game for the pros to watch, creating another division of those who are intense students of the game, carefully watching every episode and those who never saw the shows and could care less what happened previously.
So when the MLF caravan pulled into Lake Hubbard for day one of the Elimination Round, venue déjà vu began to set in for some – and not so much for others.
The blank stare on Brent Ehrler’s face said it all as he exited the truck.
“Really?” he questioned flatly. “We’re fishing Hubbard for Elimination Round? This is the same exact lake we fished the Elimination Round on the last time we were here for a Cup.”
“I don’t really understand that,” he added. “It seems to go against the initial intent of Major League Fishing, which is to fish something new. I know that’s a difficult thing to do every time, but there are a lot of fishing options around here and we’re starting Elimination Round right here on Hubbard again – that just seems weird to me.”
The last time Ehrler visited Hubbard for the MLF Summit Cup in 2014, he absolutely dominated his Elimination Round with 62 pounds of smallmouth. It would seem that he would be stoked about getting back to his hot spot that produced so many 4 to 5 pound smallmouth.
“I smashed them here last time and that’s the good news,” he continued. “I know I don’t need any of my largemouth stuff – this a smallmouth deal. But you have to consider that where I caught them and what I caught them on has been aired on TV. And that spot has probably been frothed with every lure imaginable.”
Ehrler admits that his own fishing history on a lake is something he struggles with and Alpena provides a poignant example of that.
“My head is now telling me I should go try that spot where I smashed them before,” he explained. “How could I not? In fact, the weather right now is overcast and flat, just like it was that day. The conditions are identical. But my gut is saying: don’t bother with it; it’s been pummeled to death, just totally forget about it and move on to new water. When we go somewhere totally new there is no internal conflict like this – it’s all just fishing on the fly, from the gut, and I love fishing that way.”
While Ehrler’s logic and intuition battled it out, Jason Christie was a bit unnerved for a totally different reason. Christie fished the Select event that came to Alpena, but Hubbard was not in the Select mix of lakes, making him an odd man out.
“Seven of the nine guys have fished here before,” Christie said. “I kind of feel like I’m in an ambush right now. I can see docks, which makes me think largemouth; but on the map it looks like a sand lake, which makes me think smallmouth. I have no idea which species to target and there are seven guys here who already know the answer that question before their boats get wet.”
Christie does remember watching the MLF Cup from Alpena on TV several years ago but has no recollection of which lakes were what.
“I watch MLF for patterns and techniques, not to see what lakes they’re fishing,” he said. “Plus that was so long ago; I know MLF’s intention is to limit advantage, but this morning I feel like I’m at a total disadvantage against this group.”
While Ehrler has been on Hubbard and Christie has not, it’s the plight of Bobby Lane that is the real puzzler on the first morning. As MLF Producer Randy White handed Lane his map, White told Lane he had fished Hubbard during the initial Summit Cup four years ago.
Lane, however, refuted White’s claim.
“I’ve never fished this lake before,” Lane said emphatically as he looked over the map.
What ensued was a humorous disagreement between White, who produced a TV showing Lane fishing on Hubbard previously and Lane totally denying he had ever fished there.
“Nope, the lake I fished on the first day the last time I was here had more creeks running into,” Lane countered. “This is the first time I’ve ever been here. You’ve got me confused with somebody else.”
If this odd conversation proves anything at all, it’s that professional anglers have fished so many places across so many years that even when they return to a lake they have actually fished before, sometimes even they have no venue déjà vu.