“As far as not really knowing anything about a couple bodies of water, this is definitely as new as it gets,” he said.
He’s not alone. Few, if any, of the dozen All-Star pros have competed on the two fisheries for this week’s event out of Decatur, Ill. The challenge of the unknown gets even harder: Anglers will be allowed only one day of practice on each lake.
The full field will compete Thursday and Friday on Lake Shelbyville, an 11,100-acre, clear water impoundment that stretches about 20 miles, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake, recently rated the largemouth bass fishing on Shelbyville as “excellent.”
There’s at least one thing about Lake Shelbyville that Chapman knows: toothy muskellunge live there.
“Musky tend to steal lures,” he said. “Say you want to use some baits you don’t have a lot of. You might not want to throw those lures. It makes you a bit nervous knowing that musky could be continually cutting your line.”
After two days on Shelbyville, the four pros with the most weight will advance on Saturday to Lake Decatur for the Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship. Lake Decatur, a reservoir within the city of Decatur, will present a completely different set of fishing challenges to the four pros.
Only two will survive Saturday’s round. With weights zeroed, the last two will fish against each other Sunday on Lake Decatur. The angler with the most weight will claim $60,000 of the $100,000 All-Star purse.
Tough fisheries, tough format. Those factors alone will force the All-Star pros to reach deep down into their reservoirs of fishing knowledge. But there’s another layer of competition that each must deal with: the very high caliber of his competition.
The All-Star roster begins with the Top 8 in points from the regular Bassmaster Elite Series season. As the newly crowned Angler of the Year, Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan., leads that list. The other seven points qualifiers are:
Ott DeFoe, Knoxville, Tenn., who won the All-Star event in 2011; Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla., a five-time Bassmaster winner; Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, a 2012 regular-season event winner; Randy Howell, Springville, Ala., who led the AOY race at one point in 2012; Matt Herren, Trussville, Ala., who stayed strong and high in the points standings throughout the season; Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., with his seven AOY trophies and four Bassmaster Classic titles; and Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., six-time Bassmaster tournament champion.
Fans voted at Bassmaster.com to select the final four All-Star competitors. The winners were Michael Iaconelli, Pittsgrove, N.J.; Aaron Martens, Leeds, Ala.; Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif.; and Gerald Swindle, Warrior, Ala. All four “Fan Favorites” own an Angler of the Year title and are coming off strong seasons.
“My All-Star competitors are obviously the best of the best,” said Chapman, who is in his first Bassmaster postseason. “As a small field goes, they’re heavy-hitters, and it’s not going to be an easy event.”
Morning Takeoffs: Thursday and Friday, 7:30 a.m. CT at Lake Shelbyville’s Eagle Creek State Park, RR 1, Findley, Ill. On Saturday and Sunday, the pros will be on Lake Decatur. They’ll launch at 8 a.m. CT from Nelson Park, 2203 E. Lakeshore Drive, Decatur, Ill. Fans are invited to watch the takeoffs; there is no admission charge.
Weigh-ins: 5-6 p.m. CT, Thursday-Sunday at Nelson Park, 2203 E. Lakeshore Drive, Decatur, Ill. There is no admission charge to the weigh-ins.