Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship: Big smallies, and lots of them, again expected on Mille Lacs

Last year, pros were gushing about the smallmouth bass fishing on Lake Mille Lacs in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship. They're expecting more of the same in this year's tournament, scheduled Sept. 14-17 on the central Minnesota lake.

And the bass fishing world thought expectations were high for last year’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Lake Mille Lacs.

Granted, they were. But the 2016 tournament more than lived up to those lofty expectations. And then, in July of this year, Bassmaster Magazine ranked Mille Lacs as the No. 1 bass fishery in the nation.

Throw in the fact that fishing reports have been stellar on the lake this summer, including in a handful of smaller bass tournaments held on Mille Lacs in recent months, and the hype surrounding this year’s tournament might be unparalleled. (It’s also the first time the championship will be held at the same location in consecutive years.)

So can the 2017 $1 million Angler of the Year Championship, Sept. 14-17 on Mille Lacs, seriously live up to all of this?

When it comes to bass – primarily smallmouths – just about anything is possible on the central Minnesota fishery, it would seem.

“I’m hoping to catch 23 pounds a day. If I can catch that much, I think I’ll have a chance to win the tournament,” AOY points leader Brandon Palaniuk said in a recent bassmaster.com story.

That’s actually not an overly lofty goal, particularly for Mille Lacs. In fact, that average would have been good for just second place last year, more than six pounds behind runaway winner Seth Feider of Bloomington, Minn. Feider weighed the allotted five fish per day in the three-day competition, with daily bags of 25 pounds, 8 ounces; 24-11; and 26-2 for a whopping 76-5 total. Feider is 15th in the AOY rankings and will be on Mille Lacs to defend his title.

“If it had been a four-day event, I think Seth Feider would have broken 100 pounds last year,” said Palaniuk, who finished 11th last year at 63-14. “That’s the kind of lake it is.”

The event does run for four days, but again this year, all 50 anglers will take a break from tournament competition Saturday, Sept. 16 to participate in a special expo and conduct seminars for Bassmaster University at Grand Casino Mille Lacs in Onamia, again the tournament host.

Takeoffs will be at 6:50 a.m. each day of competition from nearby Eddy’s Resort, and weigh-ins will at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Sunday at Grand Casino Mille Lacs.

The AOY Championship is the culmination of the Bassmaster Elite Series season. A new Angler of the Year will be crowned and berths will be earned and solidified for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Palaniuk leads Jason Christie by just 15 AOY points (811-796) — the tightest race in AOY Championship history, according to the bassmaster.com story. And what better place to decide the title than Mille Lacs?

“I went out and caught 21 pounds a day last year and finished in 18th place,” Christie said. “It’s just one of those places where you never know how much weight you’re going to need.”

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