The pro anglers were gushing.
And why not? Heck, even Mr. Walleye might consider a name change with this “new-look” fishery.
Mr. Bass? Has a nice ring to it. But that title — much like the ongoing Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship — would not go uncontested.
One of the last times I fished Mille Lacs Lake with Gary Roach, the legendary walleye-slayer instead had smallmouth bass on his mind. Forget walleyes — like many others, the longtime Mille Lacs walleye-chaser already was coming to grips with the fact that smallmouths, not Minnesota’s state fish and his namesake, would be the big draw here.
Several years later, that’s spot-on.
After weigh-ins following the first day of the elite Bassmaster tournament on Thursday at the central Minnesota lake, here’s what several “players” of note were saying of the now world-class bass fishery:
“I have been to great smallmouth bass lakes in Michigan … to Lake Champlain … to Lake St. Clair. No place has as many big ones as Mille Lacs,” said Kevin VanDam, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society’s all-time money-winner and No. 9 after the first day of this tournament. “The bass are crazy-big in this lake.”
“There have never been this many big smallmouth bass caught in Bassmaster tournament history,” Dave Mercer, tournament emcee, said after the weigh-ins. “Nothing holds a candle to this.”
“Typically, the angler who brings in five largemouth weighing 19 pounds on the first day of the tournament has his head held high,” said Louie Stout, senior writer for Bassmaster. “Today (Thursday), there were a lot of low heads when the scale read 19 pounds.”
According to a release from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources following the first day of the tournament, a 19-pound, 1-ounce bag was good for 31st place after Day 1; the first 23 places went to anglers whose five-fish limit averaged at least four pounds a fish. Takahiro Omori of Emory, Texas, led the way at 26 pounds, 7 ounces.
“This is my best smallmouth bass fishing ever,” Omori said at the Thursday weigh-in.
Minnesotan Seth Feider of Bloomington was tied for second with Jason Williamson of South Carolina at 25-8; Brent Ehrler also topped the 25-pound mark and was fourth at 25-5.
The tournament continued Friday, with an “off day” Saturday that will find anglers participating in a special Bassmaster University session and First Responders Appreciation Day. Then it’s back on the water Sunday for the final day. The tournament champion will receive $100,000, and the rest of the field will battle for the remainder of the $1 million purse.
The public is welcome to watch weigh-ins starting at 3:45 p.m. in the front parking lot at nearby Grand Casino Mille Lacs — also host to Saturday’s activities as well as arts and crafts and food and beverage vendors, kids activities, interactive displays and more. For more information on the tournament, including a schedule of public events, go to www.bassmaster.com.
Although the tournament’s focus is on bass, there are other much bigger fish lurking here: Mercer reportedly caught a 52-inch musky while fishing with a local guide prior to the tournament. And some of the biggest muskies in the state annually come out of Mille Lacs.
Still, this week, it’s about the bass. And, ultimately, who will be Mr. Bass.
Or Mr. Bassmaster.