Bassmaster all-stars headed to Muskegon

Muskegon, Mich. — The Aug. 22–25 Plano Championship Chase on Lake St. Clair was the first time the Bassmaster Elite Series – arguably the highest level of competitive bass fishing in the world – visited Michigan. Now, only a month later, the Elites are back for another crack at Michigan’s great bass fishing, this time for the Toyota All-Star Week, Sept. 27–29 on Muskegon Lake.

There’s a reason this tournament is called the “all-star” week. These guys are good.

Only 14 pros get a chance to compete for the $50,000 first prize. Most are selected based on their performance during the 2013 Elite season. Eight of the 14 spots go to the points leaders in the 2013 Angler of the Year race, one to the 2013 Bassmaster Classic winner, and another to the 2013 Rookie of the Year. The remaining four competitors are selected by fans as part of an online voting campaign.

Only one of Michigan’s four Elite series pros – Kevin VanDam – qualified for the event. VanDam grew up in Kalamazoo, so he’s quite familiar with Muskegon Lake. During the recent Lake St. Clair tournament, VanDam shared his thoughts with Michigan Outdoor News about the Toyota All-Star Week.

“I’m pretty proud of Michigan as a whole this year,” said VanDam, a seven-time Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year winner and four time Bassmaster Classic champ. “I’m really excited about the Toyota All-Star event. I fished a lot of tournaments there growing up.”

Although he didn’t qualify for the event, fellow Elite series pro Nate Wellman probably knows this lake better than any of the competitors. Wellman lives in nearby Newaygo and offered his perspective on what this year’s all-stars can expect.

Unlike the Lake St. Clair tournament, Wellman thinks largemouth bass will dominate the catch on Muskegon Lake. 

“There’s some pretty nice smallmouths there too, but I expect the tournament to be won with largemouths,” he said.

Wellman also thinks that White Lake – a connected waterway that anglers are allowed to fish on the final day – will play a key role.  “White is the gem. It’s the best lake of the two.”

There’s another factor pros need to take into account for this tournament: king salmon.

“They’re going to have a bit of a curve thrown their way,” Wellman said, pointing out that 20- to 30-pound fish with sharp teeth don’t make good company for bass on a deep weedline. “Salmon will put those bass in freak-out mode.  They’ll avoid them,” he said.

Despite being in only its third year, Toyota All-Star Week is already a fan favorite because of the role fans get to play in the selection process.

And in case giving fans a direct say in who gets in wasn’t already enough incentive, Toyota has upped the ante by giving away a 2014 Toyota Tundra pickup truck to one lucky fan.

The way it works is 14 fans are randomly selected from the thousands of fans who participate in the online voting. These 14 are then paired with a pro and follow their progress as they advance through the three-day tournament. The fan whose pro wins the tournament is crowned champion and wins a new truck.

The city of Muskegon hopes to capitalize on the popularity of Toyota All-Star Week by providing many local activities, including B.A.S.S.-sponsored product demonstrations, boat test rides, kid’s activities, informational booths, and local food and refreshments featuring a variety of Michigan-made and imported products. This free, family-friendly event is called the Muskegon Fall Fishing Festival.

Toyota All-Star Week comes on the heels of the Aug. 22-25 Plano Championship Chase on Lake St. Clair, where Alabama’s Chris Lane and Arkansas’ Mark Davis swapped leads during the first three days of the tournament until Davis stumbled on day four, catching only four fish and allowing Lane to coast to victory with a four-day, 20-fish limit that weighed 82.4 pounds. Davis weighed 19 fish for 76.13 pounds. In addition to the $100,000 first-place prize, the win also clinched a spot in the 2014 classic for Lane.

Despite being considered “home waters” for the four Michigan Elite pros, only Wellman did well, finishing 5th overall with 75.11 pounds of fish. Jonathon VanDam, Kevin VanDam, and Chad Pipkens, the other Michigan Elite pros, finished 31st, 47th, and 74th respectively.

The focus now shifts to Michigan’s west coast, where hopes are running high for a great finish to a great year of professional bass fishing on the Great Lakes.

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