Denali Anglers Prep for the Classic
It's been an embarrassment of riches for the Denali pro staff lately. Along with several high finishes in triple-A level events and numerous smaller tournaments, Denali anglers won a Bassmaster Open and the Co angler side of the FLW Championship. It was the former victory that created another first for the company; Pete Gluszek's berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.
The good news didn't stop there, as shortly after Gluszek's win, Denali staffers earned two more berths into the Classic field. North Carolina's Hank Cherry qualified by winning the Southern Open on Smith Lake in early October and Nebraska's Jared Knuth got his golden ticket by winning the central division's berth at the Federation Nation National Championship held later that month.
A Classic berth means a lot to an angler. Not only is it a shot at $500,000, but it also gives an angler the chance to become forever cemented in the annals of tournament fishing history. That fact is not lost on each of the Denali anglers, and it seemed like a good idea to see how they have been preparing for the big event, and what state their nerves are in as they get ready for the Super bowl of bass fishing.
Gluszek was able to spend six days on the Oklahoma Lake prior to the off-limits period. "I spent the majority of my time just getting to know the lake and breaking it down by structure type. Essentially, I was locating and recording which areas of the lake have which characteristics. Whether that is bottom composition, water clarity, a depth change, or man-made structures like brush piles, I now have a pretty good idea of where I need to head if I'm looking for specific factors."
He noted that though the conditions are certainly going to be very different, having the baseline knowledge of how the lake sets up will allow him to be much more efficient once the limited official practice time starts, saying "If I see that they are relating to dirtier water, or staging in pre-spawn areas, I'm not gonna need to spend a bunch of time running all over the place looking for that type of water, I'll already have a pretty good idea where to find it."
Though his focus during pre-practice wasn't on fishing, he did in fact spend a few hours at the end of the trip fishing and was thoroughly impressed by what he saw. "I didn't fish much, but the little bit I did showed me what this lake has to offer as far as quality. I've never in my life caught fish that were so stuffed with food and had such big bellies. They were absolute footballs, and I think that's gonna make this Classic even more exciting."
Since this isn't his first rodeo so to speak, (he qualified for the 1997 and 1999 Classics) Gluszek doesn't feel too intimidated at all by the stature of the tournament. In fact, he thinks his experience in past tournaments will definitely help him, with the added advantage of being an underdog. "One of the things that I think is gonna help is not having to deal with some of the spectator traffic that some anglers will have to deal with. Also, it's nice having that underdog attitude. I've been an athlete all my life, so being an underdog is something that I can really use to motivate myself."
Hank Cherry has long been known as an instinctive angler. That's because his best finishes have often come when he limits his pre-practice and just trusts his instincts. Now he's not saying he thinks practice is a bad thing; it's just that to him, practice more than a couple days can sometimes do more harm than good. "I've just seen conditions change so much between an early scouting session and a tournament that it's rarely the case where you find something that actually holds up during that off-period."
For that reason, Cherry decided to forgo making a trip to Grand before the cutoff and he isn't too worried about it hurting his chances, saying "I've had most of my best tournaments when I didn't take a bunch of pre-practice time. I think it helps to start my practice without any preconceived notions about what to expect. I'd rather just get on the water and deal with the conditions that are actually there for the tournament, than have to worry about what the weather and fish are doing the whole time between trips."
Cherry cites his ability to find fish that suit his style as the key to his success in the Classic and doesn't plan on doing anything too wild once he gets to Oklahoma. "I'm not gonna go out there and do something I'm not comfortable doing, so if I spend my time looking for fish that suit my strengths, I won't need to worry about becoming uncomfortable. Only one person can win the Classic, so I'm gonna pick up a Jig, Jerkbait, and Crankbait which are things I'm already very comfortable with, and just go fishing."
He feels that his lack of pre-practice will also help him mentally, by preventing him from getting caught up fishing memories, or places the fish were in earlier months. "My main focus is going to be to make good decisions, fish my strengths, and not be afraid to do poorly, which I think sometimes prevents anglers from making the decisions they need to win."
Though Knuth is the least heralded member of the Denali team to qualify for the derby, he definitely has the most experience on the Oklahoma impoundment. Grand lake is only about six hours from his Wahoo, NE home and Knuth has fished approximately 30 tournaments on the lake over his career. He considers himself pretty comfortable with how the lake sets up; a fact that didn't stop him from spending an additional 15 days on the lake prior to the cutoff, time he spent mostly just "idling around and looking".
Being familiar with how the lake sets up, Knuth really focused on marking lot of new structure during his pre-practice, including some unique stuff. "They had a flood a few years back on Grand, and I was able to mark several sunken boats, docks, and rubble that weren't even there in years past. Off the wall structures like that could really make a difference if the fish are still out deep."
Mentally, Knuth isn't letting his lack of top-level tournament fishing get to him. "Qualifying was the hard part" he continued, "I'm really feeling as prepared as I can be. I'm not fishing against the other anglers, just the fish and all I need to worry about is getting five bites a day. If I concentrate on that, and fish cleanly I don't think the stage will bother me too much."
There are still a few weeks left before the start of the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, and indubitably all three Denali anglers will be working hard, preparing tackle, and studying maps all the way until it's time to depart for Tulsa, but they won't actually get a chance to fish until the first of two and a half practice days.
Gluszek, Cherry, and Knuth are in an enviable spot. Each has a 1 in 53 (1.8%) chance of becoming the next world champion, something that most bass addicts around the country can only dream about. Although their individual preparation plans may have been slightly different to this point, it seems they each feel pretty comfortable with their chances. Here's to hoping that one of them can figure out the Grand Lake bass to the tune of $500,000 and a place in the record books.