By Rob Newell - April 10, 2017
The 2017 Major League Fishing Challenge Select is about to crank up in Alpena, Mich. If you’re an MLF fan and the words Alpena, Michigan don’t ring a bell to you, they should: Alpena is where the 2014 MLF Cup took place several years ago, creating one of the best MLF shows of all time.
The Alpena area sets up perfectly for the MLF format because there are so many small, bass-filled lakes in the region. In addition, there is also Great Lake Huron, which is always a possible wild card for MLF administrators who call the shots on lake selection from day to day.
Now MLF is back in Alpena, but this time it’s the Select anglers who get to take a shot at some of the fine fishing in the eastern part of Michigan.
The lake on tap for day one of the Qualifying Rounds is Grand Lake (not to be confused with its popular Oklahoma counterpart). This is the lake where KVD set the single-day weight record of 82 pounds, 7 ounces several years ago. Since then, that record was broken by Aaron Martens on Pokegama Lake in Grand Rapids, Minn., but for several years KVD’s throttling held the top mark.
KVD’s heroics bring about an interesting question for the Select anglers seeing the Alpena area for the first time: Since MLF is so strict about their no information policies, is watching the previous MLF Cup show documenting KVD’s areas and tactics on Grand Lake a form of information?
What if some Select Anglers had immediate access to the previous shows and others didn’t? Would watching how the MLF Cup pros attacked the Alpena lakes on the night before competition be considered “inside information” for the Select pros?
These are some of the questions MLF officials wrestled with before arriving in Alpena for the Challenge Select.
In the end it was deemed legal for Select pros to view the previous MLF Cup shows from Alpena. In fact, links to all the former shows shot in Alpena were emailed to all the Select contestants, leaving the decision up them if they wanted to view them or not, therefore eliminating any claims of disparity among the pros as to who watched them and who had not.
Just before launch of the MLF Challenge Select at the Grand Lake boat ramp, talk was already in the air about which anglers watched the shows and which ones decided against it.
Some, like Dave LeFebre of Erie, Penn., who never misses a beat when it comes to bass fishing media, knew exactly which lake he getting ready to fish.
“I think this is the lake,” Lefebre whispered excitedly. “I think this is where VanDam set the record a few years ago.
“Heck yeah I watched that show and now I’m wishing I paid a little closer attention to it,” Lefebre laughed. “I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’m pretty sure this is the lake he crushed them on. This could be pretty interesting.”
With that realization, Lefebre said he would be leaning towards the smallmouth camp for starters.
“The important thing here is if the smallmouth don’t bite right off the bat, not to panic,” he said. “Smallmouth in these type of lakes are notorious for biting a little later in the day after the sun gets up a bit. So it’s important not to write places off too quick. You have to be able to recognize places that will have potential a little later in the day.”
On the other side of the coin, Brandon Palaniuk of Hayden, Idaho, had no idea where he was.
“Yeah this is Grand Lake, I have fished two Bassmaster Classics here,” he joked. “Wait this isn’t Oklahoma? Grand Lake, Michigan? Oh, in that case I have no idea where I am.”
Palaniuk confirmed that he did not watch any of the previous MLF Cup shows and therefore was seeing the lake for the first time.
“From the map, it looks like a glacial lake to me,” Palaniuk said. “It’s got deep cuts and island deposits and that usually means a glacier had a hand in carving it out. With that in mind, I’m hoping it’s full of smallmouths.”
Mark Rose of Arkansas said he remembered watching the KVD show when it first aired, but he didn’t pay close enough attention to it to know if Grand Lake was the lake where it down.
“I’m hoping it’s all smallmouth,” Rose said. “I’m loaded for smallmouth – drop shots, jerkbaits and spinnerbaits – I didn’t bring a single largemouth tool with me today.
“These Select events are quite a treat for me and that’s how I approach them,” he added. “I grew up jumping beaver dams in small rivers to catch largemouth. If I come to Michigan, I’m going to treat it like a special trip and catching smallmouths is special to me so that’s what I’m after today. If nothing else, I’m going to have fun.”
Momentum means a lot in the sport and two pros carrying a lot of momentum into Alpena are Chris Lane and Keith Poche, both from Alabama. These two pros doled out dominating performances at the Summit Select on Lake of the Ozarks and both seemed to have cracked the code on how to play the MLF game.
“I didn’t see the previous shows, but I’m glad I didn’t,” Lane said. “The whole premise of these MLF deals is to fish your instincts minute-by-minute. I love fishing new water like that because of the challenge. If I had seen the show, I would already have all kind of ideas running in my head. I like going in with a totally clean slate in these events.”
Keith Poche owned up to having watch the KVD show and seemed pretty certain that Grand Lake is where the fireworks happened. From that, Poche knew smallmouth played a heavy hand in KVD’s success, yet Poche seemed tempted to play the other hand.
“I’m a largemouth guy,” Poche hinted. “I’m not used to these kinds of smallmouth fisheries up here. So who knows, I might go out on a limb and start running some shallow water for largemouths just to mix things up a little bit.”