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A Toast to the Champions

By: Dan O'Sullivan

Permitted use provided by: MajorLeagueFishing.com

One thing that has been a constant in the first three Jack Link’s Major League Fishing events is that there is going to be a winner, and that the eventual champion may not be who we might expect. Each of the three Major League Fishing events have taken on a life of their own, and they have been won by anglers who experienced a variety of circumstances and the up-and-down nature of competition in earning their championships.

The competition bodies of water have played a large part in that. Major League Fishing has ventured to three distinct lakes and put the competitors through their paces.

Amistad brought the anglers clear water, deep grass and high winds, Chautauqua brought pad fields and shoreline docks to the equation, while Istokpoga presented a typical Florida Lake with reeds and mixtures of vegetation to contend with.

The three anglers who overcame the conditions of the lakes started from scratch and figured out how to put together a pattern each day that would take them through the early rounds to the finals, and they all earned victory in impressive manners.

Brent Ehrler at Amistad

With Amistad being the inaugural event, there were a lot of unknowns for the majority of the field. Of course they had all been briefed on the rules and given a breakdown of how the event should flow. However, knowing, and experiencing Major League Fishing formats are two very different things.

Ehrler experienced the pressure of being the last man in on the first competition day of Major League Fishing when he mounted last period flurry to move on to the Sudden Death round. In that Sudden Death, the whole field was treated to a Kevin VanDam shellacking that saw the man from Michigan off the water 20 minutes into the second period. Ehrler found himself as the pacesetter, and while it took him into the final period, he managed to reach the cutline weight and become the second angler to qualify for the Challenge Cup Championship.

While most would have pointed their finger at one of his competitors as the eventual winner, Ehrler quickly dispelled any doubt when he put an impressive tally on the board in the first period, then continued to outpace everyone until the official clock hit zero in the final period.

Ehrler used the Navionics mapping to pinpoint flats that bordered creek channels in pockets on the southern shore of the zone and a Lucky Craft Slender Pointer jerkbait to completely run away with the Challenge Cup Championship.

Denny Brauer at Chautauqua

If any one angler should have been labeled a favorite for a championship, it should have been Brauer. With a shoreline dominated by boat docks, it would make complete sense to bet the farm on Brauer hoisting the trophy at the end.

But, with so many world class anglers in the field, including legendary flippers Gary Klein, Greg Hackney and Tommy Biffle in his qualifying round, nothing was a guarantee. Brauer managed to mount a late rally that moved him up to third place in his Elimination Round. Then, in his Sudden Death Round, Brauer began to put the puzzle together further, finished second, and headed on to the Championship Round.

It was there that the veteran pro began to establish his dominance. It came as no surprise to anyone that he took control early. With more than 30 years of experience with a flippin' rod in his hands, Brauer probed each dock post until he figured out where the bass were holding. So thorough was his thwarting of the rest of the field, that observers spoke of watching other competitors go through a stretch of docks, flip all of the major posts and catch nothing. Brauer would follow behind them, make a series of flips to each post, and pull a bass out from underneath.

Brauer used a pair of Strike King Lure Company baits to run away with the Summit Cup Championship. His primary tool proved to be his signature Denny Brauer Flippin' Tube, but he paired it with a then new lure, the Rage Tail Shellcracker to attract some of his strikes.

Brauer's win was monumental, however, it would also prove to be historical, because it would soon be announced that he would be retiring from tour level competition. To earn a victory, in such a namesake fashion, would prove to be an exclamation point on his legendary career.

Edwin Evers at Istokpoga

Edwin Evers has become one of the hottest, steadiest anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series in recent years. Part of being able to remain consistent is having the ability to scrap together a day when you have to. That ability relies heavily on being able to make quick, authoritative decisions on the water, and being able to capitalize on opportunity.

That describes Evers' event at Lake Istokpoga.

In an event that was dominated largely by the weather, Evers scraped together enough weight to move on in each round. With the effects of Hurricane Sandy making the fishing difficult, Evers made a snap decision that became the most dramatic Major League Fishing victory yet.

After squeaking past the Elimination Round, Evers had to wait three days to get back on the water for the Sudden Death Round. He moved into the finals when he and VanDam qualified without reaching the cutline weight after Alton Jones punched out late in the second period.

In the Championship Round, Evers was given the chance to make a game-changing decision, he did, and it worked. With the championship zone being the area of the lake that took the brunt of Sandy's heavy winds for the week, the bite proved to be tough for most. Ish Monroe had built himself a nearly 13-pound cushion at the end of the second period. It appeared he had the championship firmly in his grasp.

When Major League Fishing officials made the announcement that the whole lake was open for fishing, Evers made a run up a creek that he had not fished in either of his two previous rounds. He found a group of fish schooling in the current up Arbuckle Creek and used a Zoom Super Fluke soft jerkbait to trigger strikes. In the end, Evers won by nearly 10 pounds, meaning that he put just under 23 pounds of bass on the leader board in the final period.

All of these anglers' exploits are still available for viewing in the Extended Cast section. They serve as a benchmark for the rest of the events to come. Who will make their mark next? We'll have to wait and see.

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