By Dan O'Sullivan - February 9, 2014
ALPENA, Mich. – After five days of elimination-style fishing on two different lakes, it came down to six finalists on another new lake for the Championship of the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing 2014 General Tire Summit Cup near Alpena, Mich.
The final day was held on Grand Lake, a 5,660-acre impoundment north of Alpena. While the anglers didn’t know until they started getting bites, Grand is full of smallmouth bass and has a variety of cover and structure choices to target.
Once again, the elephant in the room would have to be the presence of Kalamazoo, Mich., pro Kevin VanDam on the roster of anglers who had qualified for the finals. While everyone had earned their place in the Championship Round, VanDam had done so in bigger and faster fashion than his competitors. Even more interesting is the fact that KVD had only been on one of the lakes before. He had competed in a Federation event on Long Lake as a teenager.
But the Michigan man hadn’t ever been on Grand Lake, so the competitors were all on equal footing when their boats hit the water. Like any other MLF event competition day, the angler that finds a good productive pattern the quickest and can adjust with good decisions through the day would be in the driver’s seat to take home the Summit Cup title.
While fog had been a factor during Elimination Rounds, and rain and thunderstorms had affected the second day of Sudden Death, it appeared that conditions – cloud cover – could once again play a role.
The cloud cover was somewhat a hindrance to the field early. Bites came slowly during the first period, and while some anglers were beginning to put things together, two began to stand out from the rest.
VanDam was producing steadily, as was Grigsby, who was the final angler to earn his way into the Championship Round. The pair held steady, trading posts to the leaderboard throughout the morning. By the end of the first period, Grigsby was in the lead.
Grigsby got VanDam’s attention with a series of catches, including a four-pounder at noon. At one point, you could sense that VanDam was maybe starting to wonder if he made a wrong decision to focus his efforts on the northwestern end of the lake. When VanDam made a run to the opposite end of the lake to try a different area, he found it to be unproductive and returned to another area to finish out the day.
While VanDam was running, Grigsby started seeing his fortunes change. He was still able to produce bites, but instead of posting them to the leaderboard, he watched them jump and throw his lure. Lost fish had certainly begun to play a factor for Grigsby, but he ended the second period within three pounds of VanDam.
Then the cloud layer burned off completely and VanDam began his assault. The increased sun light allowed him to see targets he needed to cast towards. So impressive was his display that he managed to catch 20 keepers in the final period. He caught bass after bass by quickly retrieving his bait over the top of grass patches and contour edges of small humps in the middle of the lake.
While VanDam was busy putting the final touches on his eventual victory, Hackney was able to overtake Grigsby, who had been affected by the wave of lost fish. But, even with Hackney coming on at the end, the show belonged to VanDam.
Close to the end of the third period, VanDam had managed to build a commanding lead. At one point, he was more than 30 pounds ahead of Hackney when a fish fell off of his spinnerbait and hit the boat floor, giving him a two minutes in the penalty box. His penalty ended with six minutes remaining in the day. In that time, VanDam fished as he does – fast and hard – and put three more bronzebacks on the leaderboard. His total for the final day was a record-setting 82 pounds, 7 ounces. KVD’s winning weight was the second time he broke the single-day record at this event.
Just over 39 pounds behind