I wouldnít want to be Mark Rose today.
But I doubt he feels the same.
Yes, today marks the first day of the final event of the FLW Tour season, and Rose, the current Angler of the Year points leader, has his work cut out for him. As the boats launch this morning on Michiganís Lake St. Clair, Rose must consider his place, and the four closest men who chase him:
Scott Martin - 64 points back.
I teeter back and forth as to whether Scott Martin is the best angler ever to fish the FLW Tour, as he seems to pour it on year after year, at locations all across America. A Floridian, Martin excels at large, shallow fisheries dominated by grass. Lake St. Clair fits that bill, Martinís been here many times before, and his list of close friends include many St. Clair junkies who join his familyís business at Lake Okeechobee each winter, adding to his familiarity of the system.
Bryan Thrift - 72 points back.
I teeter back and forth as to whether Bryan Thrift is the greatest angler to ever fish bass tournaments, period. Thriftís nonchalant attitude turns ugly in competition, and heís capable of super-human feats at any time. Look for Thrift to quietly shift to another gear in this event; heís likely Roseís biggest fear. Heíd be mine.
Cory Johnston - 85 points back.
The Johnston boys are the real deal, it appears, and theyíre monsters on the big waters of the North. One of them will almost certainly threaten to win here. If it turns out to be Cory, things could get interesting.
John Cox - 90 points back.
Cox is crazy, so to speak, and couldnít care less about things like logistics, run times and weather. If thereís a dark horse who could find a hidden area, or possibly gamble on a big run to Lake Erie, itís likely Cox. Heís done very well on this chain before and is perfectly content catching a handful of fish a day. After all, thatís all he can weigh.
Boy, as points races go, this could be one for the memories. Rose has a good cushion, no question, and will undoubtedly perform. Like all the others, heís been here before, and has a good network of friends in the area to lean on. I doubt any contributed to his fishing strategy, however, as Rose is the epitome of a self-made professional angler. His mood is contagiously upbeat, his skill set focuses on power over finesse, and his on-the-water decision making is characteristic of the most successful veteran. Rose wonít choke, and he wonít quit, of that we can be sure.
But despite being the countryís all-time smallmouth mecca, St. Clair can be a fickle opponent. Sheíll give you plenty of bites, but oftentimes the largest fish in the system Ė those that at least a few of Roseís closest competitors will find ¨Ė can evade even the best angler. Having to weigh a few 3-pounders could slide a competitor back dozens of places.
In addition, competitors will find themselves at St. Clair in what is likely the biggest transitionary period of the year, as the lakeís post-spawn females recover, schooling in smaller numbers than the true summer period, and are often very selective about what they eat. Itís not uncommon this time of year to go from zero to hero, then back to zero, all in about an hour.
Add in the mayfly hatch, and tough conditions get downright strange. Iíve personally witnessed numerous times when anglers armed with Ugly Sticks outfish the pros simply as a function of pure luck when fishing around mayflies. Itís anyoneís guess as to where the big bass will pop up, but they will, somewhere, at some time.
Mark Rose continues to operate at the pinnacle of his career, despite longevity on Tour lasting two decades. Heís more than capable of winning his first Angler of the Year title this week, and Iíd bet the majority of fans are hoping he does.
Nothing against the rest of the field, but I, too, find myself in that same club, crossing my fingers for the good guys. Itís all you, partner; keep your head down.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)