Photo by Phoenix Moore

For the Sudden Death round of the Major League Fishing 2019 Summit Cup in Waterville, Maine, MLF has chosen Messalonskee Lake, an 8-mile long glacial gorge filled with about 3,700 acres of water.

Messalonskee is part of the Belgrade Chain of Lakes and is about half the size of Great Pond, but it’s deeper, with an average depth of 33 feet and a maximum depth of 113 feet. Due to its deeper waters, Messalonskee also runs a little bit cooler and clearer than other lakes in the chain.

Messalonskee served as the Elimination Round lake for two days back at the Summit Cup in 2015 but this time around it has been shifted to the Sudden Death venue.

Amazingly, only one of the nine pros fishing the first day of Sudden Death got to sample Messalonskee in 2014 and that pro is none other than Kevin VanDam.

As VanDam put the finishing touches on his preparations for the day, his first comment was about the strength of the Sudden Death field on day one, which included names such as Brent Ehrler, Aaron Martens, Jordan Lee, Jacob Wheeler, Ott Defoe and Brandon Palaniuk.  

“Pretty impressive group showed up for this one today, huh?” VanDam questioned with a healthy dose of respect in his voice. “I think I’ve seen all their names at the top of the list a time or two – pretty stout gang I’d say.”

It was apparent KVD was in all-business mode. Without being prompted, he jumped topics right to the layout of Messalonskee.

“I know I’ve been to this one before,” he said. “Some of these guys haven’t, but that doesn’t really mean anything. When I went to Alpena the second time, it didn’t work out near as well as the first time I went there (VanDam won the Alpena Summit Cup the first time around). So previous knowledge is not always an indicator of future performance. If I remember correctly, this lake had a little more largemouth habitat, with some bigger flats in the bottom end.”

When asked about the cut weight of 22 pounds, VanDam chuckled, glanced around and said, “With this group, that shouldn’t take long.”

Further down the line of boats, Jordan Lee was sizing up the competition in his first MLF Cup Sudden Death round. Lee qualified for the Summit Cup by winning the Summit Select in Ardmore, Okla., earlier in the year.

“Being a first-timer in this deal, you would think they would cut me some slack and put me in an easier group to fish against,” Lee laughed. “Instead I’ve been thrown in the lion’s den here with the super team.”

“I mean the cut weight is only 22 pounds,” he continued in jest. “It’ll take KVD like 15 minutes to catch that. Then you got Jason Christie over there, he can reach that in about 20 minutes. And there’s Ehrler – he’s good for at least a pound a minute, so he’ll hit it in like 22 minutes. Is there anyway I can get a rookie exemption in this deal and get a head start on these guys? One thing I’m pretty certain of: we’re not going to be here all three periods.”

In terms of a strategy, Lee, per usual, seemed pretty unconcerned with making any set plans before his ride through period.

“It looks like one of those lakes that probably has both species,” Lee said. “Knowing which one to focus one is always the trick question in these kinds of lakes. For that reason I want to start on something visible that gives me a chance at catching either kind. I’ll probably start on docks or maybe some visible grass if I can find it. Staying with some kind of cover both species would use in the first period might give me a better idea of which way to lean in the second period – if we even get to fish that long.”

Bobby Lane was back in Maine in hopes of exacting some revenge on the Belgrade chain of lakes. The last time he visited Maine he got cut in the Elimination Round.

“Well, I know for sure I haven’t fished this lake,” Lane said matter-of-factly. “I only got to fish one lake last time I was here and I fished it again the other day, so I’m positive I’ve never been to this one.”

Despite wanting to fish for largemouths, Lane says he is curtailing his largemouth appetite in favor of smallmouth.

“I don’t know if it’s because of low water or what, but the largemouth bite just doesn’t seem to be on,” Lane offered. “I say that only because I fished for them at Great Pond the other day and that bite was pretty tough. Also, the week before, I was at Champlain and the largemouth bite there seemed to be off. So I’m done fooling with them. If it’s a smallmouth deal, I don’t want to get behind and get all discombobulated right out of the gate; just once I want to get off to a strong start to the day in one of these Sudden Death Rounds and I think smallmouth is going to be the way to do that.”