ALPENA, MI – Although Major League Fishing executive producer Randy White is notoriously unpredictable in his selection of the fisheries that MLF anglers fish in a given week of competition, MLF Cup Veteran Skeet Reese was matter-of-fact about what he expected when competition commenced at the 2018 Summit Cup in Alpena, Michigan.
“Smallmouth,” Reese said simply, shrugging his shoulders. “We’re in northern Michigan, surrounded by smallmouth fisheries. No question about it, we knew that smallmouth would be the deal here.”
So far, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic Champion’s hunch is 97 percent correct: through the three Elimination Rounds contested on Hubbard Lake, only seven of the 205 fish recorded on SCORETRACKER were largemouth (3 percent). Fortunately for Reese, 13 of the 198 smallies caught were his, and their 31 pounds of combined weight was enough to overtake Kevin VanDam for a victory in Elimination Round 3.
“You have to get a little bit lucky anytime you beat Kevin on a smallmouth fishery in Michigan, and especially this lake,” Reese joked afterward, referring to VanDam’s 40-plus-pound margin of victory and a then-record 66-15 in his Elimination Round win on Hubbard in the 2014 Summit Cup.
Winning Pattern Comes Late in the Day
Reese’s winning pattern – drop-shotting a 3-inch green pumpkin shad-shaped worm – had actually been percolating in the back of his mind since the morning drive-around, when his Lowrance showed a series of submerged grass clumps on a 10- to 12-foot-deep flat. Reese didn’t get back around to those clumps until late in the day, though, instead spending the first two periods alternating between a deep drop-shot and a shallow swimbait before finally returning in Period 3.
When he did, the rewards came quickly: Reese caught a 3-12, a 3-3 and a 3-2 in a 39-minute stretch midway through the period.
“I finally rolled back up on that flat, missed a fish right away on the swimbait, and threw right back in there with a drop-shot: 3-pounder,” he said. “I went to the next clump, threw the drop-shot there, and another 3-pounder. That’s when the light bulb went off in my head ‘Ding ding ding ding ding’ that the drop-shot on those grass clumps was the pattern.”
Reese added three more smallies for 6-7 with 45 minutes left in the day’s competition to take his first lead of the day, but VanDam responded just 13 minutes later with the biggest smallmouth of the afternoon, a 4-8 brute that gave the Michigan native a 12-ounce lead over Reese.
“When I heard my boat official say ‘Kevin VanDam, 4 pounds, 8 ounces’, I thought to myself ‘Are you kidding me? How are we supposed to beat this guy?’,” Reese admitted.
Reese did exactly that, though, recording a 2-13 smallmouth with 25 minutes left in the round to squeeze past VanDam for first place in the round.
Moving ahead: Also advancing to the Sudden Death Round with Reese (30-0) and VanDam (28-15) are Mark Davis (24-8), Wesley Strader (18-0), Takahiro Omori (15-13) and Tommy Biffle (11-8). They’ll join Aaron Martens, Jacob Wheeler, Bobby Lane, Shaw Grigsby, Jason Christie, Andy Montgomery, Mike Iaconelli, Jeff Kriet, Brent Chapman, Brent Ehrler, Tim Horton and Keith Poche from Elimination Rounds 1 and 2.