Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2017 B.A.S.S. Elite Series Preview

Soon, another season of the Bassmaster Elite Series will begin, and with it will come plenty of excitement and anticipation for the 108 pros who will be participating. Each has his strengths and weaknesses, and this schedule is sure to test them both.

With that in mind, here is a preview of each upcoming event.

Lake Cherokee

Added to the Elite Series schedule for the first time, this East Tennessee impoundment promises to be one of the more challenging events. It’s slated for early February, so all eyes will be on the weather.

Listening to all the pretournament hype, it would suggest this could be a smallmouth shootout. Perhaps that’s true but I’m not discounting the largemouth or Kentucky spots that help make up the lake’s overall black bass population.

Cherokee is deep, clear and covered with rock, and you can bet it will play a factor in where the winning fish are found. Whether along bluff walls or over pea gravel points, it’s certain many of the lake’s pre-spawn bass with be grouped up. To catch them could require a mix of patterns and techniques.

Look for jigs, jerkbaits and crankbaits to be among the most productive lures used.

Lake Okeechobee

Anytime there is a springtime event on Lake Okeechobee, you can bet big bass will cross the stage. And this year will be no exception.

The lake has been high for several years, so its vegetation has changed. There is less hydrilla and peppergrass than before, and that could negatively affect water clarity if the wind blows.

Throughout January, it’s taken 25-pounds or more to win most tournaments. Should the weather remain stable, it could take this daily average to walk away with the prize.

Topwaters, soft-plastics, spinnerbaits and bladed jigs could all work in the more popular areas, but it’s the man that finds a pattern and area to himself that is likely to win this event.

Toledo Bend

Scheduling this tournament for the first week of April almost guarantees big weight. Many of the lake’s largest bass will still be shallow, and those that aren’t could be gathered on ledges just outside their spawning flats.

Like Florida, I expect the lure selection to range from topwaters to soft-plastics with spinnerbaits and bladed jigs mixed in. But don’t discount a deep-diving crankbait either.

Water level could play a big factor in determining the outcome. Last year, the lake flooded and it took months for the water to recede. So far this year, things look good. But we’ll have to see what the spring rains bring.

Ross Barnett

Much smaller by comparison, this Mississippi reservoir is littered with stumps and lily pads. In fact, it’s considered by many to be the home of frog and rat fishing.

By the time we get there, the spawn should be complete and the fish scattered throughout the reservoir. There are plenty of stumpy flats and backwater ponds, as well as the old river channel in which to probe. Plus there is plenty of open water on the main lake to search in.

I look for small crankbaits, swim jigs, frogs, toads and buzzbaits to provide most of the action. And wherever they can find matted vegetation, you can bet the pros will dissect that as well.

Rayburn Reservoir

It’s been years since B.A.S.S. has held a major event on Rayburn, so how it fishes currently may surprise many of the Elites. The bass are likely be holding at various depths, on a range of cover types.

Rayburn has always provided a good shallow bite in pads and flooded brush, and I don’t look for that to change. What is in question is the amount of hydrilla and milfoil we can find when we get there. If offshore grass is lush and widespread, I look for it to produce the winning stringer. If not, it could be deeper stumps and brush or a simple bankfest. Only time will tell.

Lake Dardanelle

Considered one of the best pools on the entire Arkansas River, Dardanelle features plenty of rock, wood and shoreline grass. So long as the water is up, all three could factor into the outcome of this event.

Topwaters (hard and soft), crankbaits, bladed jigs and spinnerbaits could all be required to stay abreast of a changing bite, but jigs and soft-plastics could also play.

The angler that can make quick adjustments in the right areas is likely to walk away with the title. It’s just knowing when to make those adjustments.

St. Lawrence River

The last time the Elite Series visited these international waters, several Canadian tournaments were underway at the same time. That made for crowded conditions, even on such a large river.

Hopefully this year’s schedules won’t overlap and our 108-man Elite field can spread out. If so, the weights could be huge.

Drop shots, tubes and other various finesse rigs should produce the most consistent catches, but don’t discount topwater frogs and buzzbaits. It will come down to which species is most active under the prevailing conditions and who figures that out.  And don’t be surprised if a mixed bag wins.

Lake Champlain

One of the most scenic bodies of water in this country, Lake Champlain divides the Adirondacks from the Green Mountains. It’s diverse, full of targets, and easily overwhelming.

Based in Plattsburg, the Elite anglers will have the option of traveling 60 miles south to Ticonderoga for largemouth, or remain relatively close and probe the lake’s many shoals for smallmouth. Either could win.

To master the largemouth, everything from topwaters to flipping could work. For the smallmouth, expect an array of soft-plastics and jerkbaits fished relatively deep.

No matter what an angler’s strengths are, he should be able to apply them on this incredible fishery.

Lake Saint Clair

Another Canadian border lake, St. Clair serves as gateway to lakes Erie and Huron.

I’ve had good success here by fishing relatively shallow, but that won’t win in August. To hoist the trophy, the winner will have to figure out a deeper bite and which lake to apply it in.

Wind is a huge factor here. While it usually makes the fish more active, it can also kill your chances of getting to them … or worse, getting back! Some pros will venture more than two hours from take-off, and with each mile they travel their odds of returning safely are diminished.

Instead, I’ll concentrate on St. Clair and the rivers connecting to it. That in itself will require more than the allotted practice time.

In all, it’s a great schedule. One that is sure to provide plenty of challenge for even the most talented anglers on tour.