ESCANABA - A group of 88 anglers will descend upon one of Michigan's great fisheries this weekend, but it's not walleye they're after this time.
The 2013 Michigan BASS Nation State Championship will begin on the Bays de Noc and beyond beginning Friday.
Michigan BASS Nation President Paul Sacks was reached Tuesday afternoon while crossing the Mackinac Bridge en route to Escanaba. His organization has held two prior tournaments in the Bays de Noc, but this weekend will be the first time the State Championship has been held here. Sacks said everything about the Escanaba area made it an ideal location for the tournament.
"Escanaba is a lovely city with beautiful people and the convention bureau has worked so well with us," he said. "The fishing is phenomenal. It's a smallmouth fishery that's basically untapped because (bass) isn't a target species here.
"I'd like to thank our national sponsors and the people of Escanaba for hosting this event for us."
The tournament will run Friday and Saturday with anglers launching from the North Shore Boat Launch. Once on the water, boaters can go anywhere in Michigan waters and aren't limited to just the Bays. Wisconsin waters are off limits.
"All of these guys are experienced boaters," said Sacks. "They understand weather and know how to handle the larger waves."
At the end of the tournament, the top 13 anglers will advance to the Northern Divisional team that will compete in Indiana in August 2014. Of those 13, one will advance to a National Championship to take place in October 2014.
Weigh-ins will be held in Ludington Park at approximately 2:30 p.m. each day of the tournament.
"The local marina is helping us with volunteers for set up and tear down," said Sacks. "We invite any locals that would like to come see the fish that we catch. We'll put on a pretty good show."
Of the 88 competitors, none are from the Upper Peninsula, though Sacks said he was trying to stir up interest for a U.P. based club.
"We've tried to get a club started here. There are bass fishers here," he said. "We stopped at a bait shop in Gladstone last year and met a big bass fisherman, so I assume there are some guys up here, but hopefully with more exposure, we'll pick up some new members.
"You will see the guys around town in their club jerseys," Sacks added. "We welcome anyone who wants to come and ask questions. Our anglers love to talk fish."
Anglers in the tournament pay their own way in with funds going toward travel expenses for the 13 who advance. In addition to the incentive of going on to the next level, there are also modest cash prizes at stake for the top team and the top fish overall.
Sacks said because bass fishing is largely under the radar on the Bays, fish should be plentiful and also somewhat naive to bait tactics.
"There are some unbelievable large fish in this system. The fish are actually curious about boats," he said. "When I was here before, I had fish following the shadows of the boat. It was curious and very unique for a fishery. The fish haven't seen bait or bass anglers. They're a natural species and they're curious."
Sacks also had some advice to offer novice or prospective bass anglers. "I explain to novices that bass fishing is kind of like a puzzle that has 100 pieces. You have variables like water, temperature, weeds, seasonal patterns, baits, the line you use and the width of that line. When you can get about 80 pieces in place, you become a consistent angler. The guys that figure out 90 pieces are the ones that excel in tournaments," he said.
"Most guys like to throw tubes, drop shots, crank baits, spinner baits and some top waters," Sacks added. "Sometimes smallmouth are finicky and will change hour to hour on what colors they like. You have to figure out that pattern."