By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
(Editor's note: In observance of the Independence Day holiday, BassFan will not publish a new First Cast article until Tuesday, July 6.)
Two anglers have garnered most of the headlines on the MLF Bass Pro Tour this year – Ott DeFoe and Jacob Wheeler have combined to win four of the five regular-season events conducted thus far.
It might surprise some BassFans to discover that another competitor sits between DeFoe (1st) and Wheeler (3rd) in the Angler of the Year race. And no, it's not Kevin VanDam, the only other angler to tow home a trophy.
It's Brent Ehrler, who posted his second straight 5th-place finish and third Top-10 of the campaign in the recently concluded derby at the St. Lawrence River in New York. With 342 points, the Californian trails DeFoe by 10 and leads Wheeler by 4.
Now in his 16th pro season spanning three different tours, Ehrler is still pursuing his first points title. He's been a runner-up twice, a 3rd-place finisher twice and among the Top 10 at the conclusion of three other seasons.
"I've had some really close calls and to have the culmination of a season pan out for once would be pretty amazing," he said. "Every time there's been that one tournament where I could say that if I'd just gotten a check in that one, I would've won it. Back in the FLW days it'd be a finish in the 70s or 80s and even though there'd be 150 to 200 guys (in the tournament), it'd be the one that cost me.
"The group of guys we've got right now is the strongest there's ever been in the history of bass fishing and anglers today are way better than they were 10 years ago – not just the newer guys, but the older ones are also better. The competition is much tougher right now than it's ever been. The one thing that's always eluded me is winning Angler of the Year on a national circuit and it's something that we all strive to get. It's killing me that I haven't been able to make it happen."
A Couple Shots Left
Ehrler has two more chances to try to overtake DeFoe and hold off Wheeler and other contenders in the points race. The first will come at Lake Champlain in early August, followed by the finale at Lake St. Clair in mid-September.
"St. Clair is absolutely one of my favorite lakes in the entire country," he said. "Champlain ... I should be excited about it because it's just about everybody else's favorite lake, but I've never really done well there. I've had a couple of okay finishes, but I haven't really clicked with it yet.
"I've tried it all there – I've run down to Ticonderoga (where the majority of the lake's biggest largemouth reside), I've fished up north for largemouth and I've fished up north for smallmouth. Maybe under this format (in which all keeper-size fish count toward an angler's total) it'll be a little different. I don't think you necessarily need to target one species do well.
"At the St. Lawrence, I fully believed (correctly, as it turned out) that smallmouth would dominate. Champlain could go either way."
One Regrettable Decision
Ehrler's totals for the Championship Round at the St. Lawrence were 86-15 on 27 scorable fish. He beat half of the 10-angler field for the finals, but was more than 40 pounds off of Wheeler's winning number (139-00 on 35 fish).
He did most of his work with a dropshot rig featuring a Roboworm, a Yamamoto Shad Shape worm or a small Yamamoto Fat Ika. He believes that the vast majority of his fish were actively spawning – he could see some and caught others just casting around in bedding areas.
"The thing that cost me (in the Championship Round) was making a long run to try to catch some hair-jig fish late in the second period after it'd gotten windy and it (became) tougher to catch them," he said. "I didn't catch them and it ruined my tournament. I wasted about 2 1/2 hours and caught very few fish.
"I went to another area and caught 12 pounds in the last 45 minutes. If I'd done that from the beginning, who knows what would've happened."
He credited his X2Power batteries and his Power-Pole Charge as big factors in his success.
"There was a lot of current and I was fishing very (wind-exposed) stuff," he said. "I was shocked to be able to fish all day with the trolling motor literally on 100 and still have power. I could charge my batteries while running around and even during our breaks I'd let the motor idle, which is legal as long as it's not in gear.
"The rods, reels, line and baits and all important, but to have something like that happen ... I was pleasantly surprised."