New schedule will be a true test of the best

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Shane Durrance

No one could have predicted that the world’s bass pros would be at home for most of the springtime. Had we gone to Eufaula and Santee Cooper and Chickamauga as scheduled, we certainly would have jacked them, but strange circumstances called for a change of plans. Now it looks like for the first time in recent memory we’ll have a schedule without a single tournament focused on the spawn.

That’s fine with me. Our sport can benefit from the occasional reboot. By moving three tournaments to the fall for the first time in recent memory we’ll open some eyes to new techniques.

We’ll start at Eufaula, which is an excellent fishery, and I’m not looking past it by any means, but it’s hard not to be excited by back-to-back-to-back tournaments in New York. I know that we’ve been to all three venues before, but they’re really dynamic waterways and each time we go things are a little bit different. For example, on Cayuga the tournament could be won super-deep, frogging, flipping grass or even on boat docks. The grass changes every year, so it’s never the same lake twice. On Champlain, sometimes the smallmouth bite is the key deal and other times it pays to make the long run south to fish for largemouth. The St. Lawrence River speaks for itself – you don’t have a pulse if you don’t get excited about that place. In August, we’ll go to St. Clair, which is another incredible northern fishery.

After that is when things change from our normal game plan, as we’ll fish Santee and Chickamauga on back-to-back weeks in October before finishing out the year the first week of November at Lake Fork. 

All three of those lakes have held lots of major tournaments, but I can’t think of a major national tour visit in the fall in recent years. That means that there won’t be a lot of history on them. Competitors won’t be able to go back and look at Bassmaster LIVE to see what to do. That not only levels the playing field, but it also means that we may see some non-mainstream techniques emerge.

I’m anxious to fish some fall tournaments. In my teens and 20s, before I fished for a living, I fished a lot of Texas-based circuits like Anglers Choice that worked toward fall championships. Typically the top prize would be a boat or two, so that was like our Bassmaster Classic, and we’d spend lots of time preparing. I have a lot of good memories of that period, but I rarely have an opportunity to showcase those skills. When I do, it has often worked out in my favor – two of my Texas Toyota Bass Classic wins and my Elite win at Mille Lacs were fall tournaments.

For me, fall fishing is all about using your electronics and finding populations of fish off the banks. That’s where I’m most comfortable, and that’s why I believe this schedule will work in my favor. Historically, if you were a good sight fisherman you could make a pretty good living on the Elite Series, but I think that whoever wins Angler of the Year in 2020 will have shown himself to be incredibly versatile by doing well throughout three seasons. 

Of course, ending the campaign at Lake Fork doesn’t hurt my feelings one bit either. It reminds me a lot of Toledo Bend and Rayburn, where I’ve built my home. Unlike some of the summertime tournaments we’ve fished at Fork, there won’t be massive schools of a hundred fish that’ll bite anything. You’re going to have to work even harder to find the winning bag. But whoever unlocks it is going to have an event worthy of a Century Club Belt. I fully expect it to take more than 100 pounds to win. Somebody is going to have two banner days and back it up with two pretty good days to fend off all of the competitors who get on a similarly good bite. I’m looking forward to the challenge. 

I know that this year’s strange circumstances led to the change in the schedule, but I truly hope that B.A.S.S. considers some fall tournaments – or perhaps even some winter events – in future seasons. It’ll keep us on our toes, allow the best all-around fishermen to come out on top and engage the fans like never before.