VIDALIA, LA – It seemed like an odd way for a professional bass angler to choose his rods, but MLF veteran Skeet Reese saw no better way to begin his tackle prep for this week’s Lucas Oil Challenge Cup in Vidalia, Louisiana/Natchez, Mississippi, than to go straight “playground.”
“Eeeny, meeny, miney, moe,” Reese sighed as he reached into the pile of 30-odd Eagle Claw rods stacked in his boat and started to peel off line and snip off the smallmouth baits that had carried him to a third-place finish at his last tournament (the Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota). “This is going to be a bitch.”
And so it begins.
Reese was the first angler to arrive at this historical stretch of the lower Mississippi River, but by the time the noon sun had helped form a sweat ring around Reese’s t-shirt collar and he had worked his way through a quarter of the bright yellow rods stuffed in his rig, fellow Cup pro Brent Ehrler had also backed his boat into the boat yard and began the meticulous process of preparing for a week of MLF competition.
“Everything I have tied on right now is for smallmouth,” Ehrler admitted. “By the time I’m done here, I won’t have a single smallmouth bait on. I don’t know where we’re fishing this week, but I know that there’s not a smallmouth swimming within 200 miles of here. And if there is, he’s 12 inches long, and I don’t want to catch him.”
Even in the top-secret world of MLF – where the fishing locations are guarded as though they were nuclear pass codes – one can guess that Ehrler is probably right.
Straddling the lower Mississippi equidistant between I-55 to the east and I-49 to the west, the towns of Vidalia and Natchez, Mississippi, are within casting distance of virtually unlimited acres of the Big Muddy, her backwaters, and several dozen small, shallow lakes that are undoubtedly infested with largemouth.
And for a majority of the 27 anglers fishing this week, that will mean extra time in the boat yard swapping out drop-shot rods and finesse worms for flippin’ jigs, spinnerbaits and frogs.
“To be totally honest, I’m kinda excited that we’re probably fishing for largemouth this week,” said Brent Chapman. “We’ve had several tournaments in a row where we were fishing for smallmouth, it’ll be good to catch some green fish for a change. But knowing the way these MLF deals work, I’ll probably have a rod ready for everything.”
NOTES: A quick, informal survey of the Cup field revealed that none of the anglers have any previous fishing experience in the Vidalia/Natchez area … the 27-man field has 12 Bassmaster Classic victories, three Forrest Wood Cup championships and 21 Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles among them.