ON LAKE MINNETONKA – Seth Feider pitched a skirted jig into 8 feet of water here the other day, retrieved it, and sent it airborne again with a smooth underhand delivery.
This time as the lure descended into the milfoil-braided lake it hesitated slightly, and Feider set the hook on a 3-pound bass, his quick wrists reminiscent of a home-run hitter smacking a 95-mile-an-hour fastball.
Lifting the surprised fish into his scimitar-shaped boat, Feider swiftly unhooked and released it, and cast again.
Feider, 32, originally from Bloomington and now living in Isle, on Lake Mille Lacs, is hoping for limits of fish like that — albeit bigger — when he motors onto Mille Lacs beginning Thursday to defend his victory there last year in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Tournament.
Feider is the tournament’s lone Minnesota entry.
In last year’s contest, Feider (sounds like “Fighter’’) weighed a total of 76 pounds, 5 ounces of smallmouth bass over three days, with a final-day five-fish limit tipping the scales at 26 pounds, 2 ounces.
Total weight of the 729 (mostly smallmouth) bass caught by the 50 anglers competing in last year’s Angler of the Year tournament was even more impressive.
That Mille Lacs tally was 2,878 pounds, 5 ounces — an unheard of amount, and one reason privately owned, membership-based Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society (B.A.S.S.) of Birmingham, Ala., returned its Angler of the Year competition to Mille Lacs an unprecedented second consecutive year.
B.A.S.S. publishes Bassmaster magazine and broadcasts Bassmaster TV shows, in addition to producing fishing tournaments.
To earn his win last year on Mille Lacs, Feider stunned the likes of famed bass anglers Kevin VanDam and Mike Iaconelli, among many others, by dominating the three-day tournament, beginning to end.
Feider’s victory would seem to have been foretold because the contest occurred on what essentially are his home waters.
But the level of competition and the on-the-water experience of the other anglers made his bid a long shot.
VanDam, for instance, of Kalamazoo, Mich., has won Bassmaster’s top year-ending title six times, including four consecutive years, 2008 through 2011.
Entry to this year’s competition and its $1 million purse is limited to the top 50 of the approximately 100 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers who have competed in nine tournaments this year. The angler with the most points after the Mille Lacs contest is crowned Angler of the Year and awarded $100,000.
In such high-stakes competitions, anglers often are mum about where they find bass and how they catch them.
But after the 2016 contest, Feider revealed that he primarily used a technique on Mille Lacs called “drop-shotting,’’ which generally involves a hook tied about 1 ½ feet from the end of a line, with a weight at the line’s end that carries the hook to the bottom.
The hook is baited with a plastic worm or similar bait.
So many variables are involved in rigging and deploying such an outfit that Feider was giving away few secrets divulging its use.
Where, for example, on Mille Lacs to use such a rig? To determine this, pro anglers read “side-scan’’ and other sonar images from TV–sized monitors mounted on the consoles and bows of their boats.
These pictures can show fish beneath the boat or alongside it. More important, they transmit to a knowledgeable angler a mind’s-eye vision of the lake bottom, particularly, as on Mille Lacs, the location of rocks and boulders and their relative sizes — known places where smallmouth bass hang out.
Using this information, bass anglers intuit what kind of rig might be best to target fish in these areas, and when and how to deploy it.
Variations abound. Selecting one bait type to decorate a hook on a drop-shot rig and not another can be the difference between catching a limit of small bass and a limit of big bass — or catching none at all.
Similarly, the difference between winning and losing can come down to casting one crankbait and not another, or flipping one type of jig — say a “swim’’ style vs. a “football’’ style — and not another.
“Lakes are off-limits for a month before the week leading up to the tournament,’’ Feider said. “So while I fished Mille Lacs this summer, as others in the tournament probably did, what I found then won’t have much bearing on conditions now.’’
Practice fishing for the 50 anglers begins Monday and continues Tuesday and Wednesday on Mille Lacs. But Feider won’t be on site until Tuesday.
“I’ve got a smaller bass tournament on Minnetonka I’m fishing on Monday,’’ he said.
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Feider finished 15th this year among Elite Series anglers, a significant accomplishment.
“I’m more confident and comfortable with my fishing this year,’’ he said. “Last year, I wasn’t sure whether this thing was going to work out for me or not.’’
In fact, Feider barely was seeded in the 2016 Angler of the Year tournament. Going into the season’s last qualifying contest on the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wis., he was in 69th place in points. But he vaulted to 50th — the last qualifying spot for the Angler of the Year Tournament — at La Crosse by placing second out of 106 anglers, winning $26,000.
“I had only cashed three checks all year before La Crosse, which was pretty much breaking even, given my expenses on the road,’’ Feider said. “To make the top 50 from where I had been was almost an impossible comeback.’’
As a kid, Feider tuned in to Bassmaster TV shows, and dreamed of a life of big fish, fancy boats, long days on the water and sponsors galore.
Of the latter, he has quite a few, including industry leader Rapala, as well as Minn Kota electric trolling motors, Humminbird electronics, BassCat boats, Mercury outboards and Diawa rods and reels, among others.
Even considering the long days Feider sometimes passes in his truck while traveling from tournament to tournament and searching for music ranging from ’60s rock to Motown to rap on the rig’s satellite radio, he’s happy, he says.
“Mostly when I travel I stay with friends or friends of friends,’’ he said. “It’s too expensive to rent motel rooms. I did it only twice this year.’’
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Takeoff of the 50 competing anglers and their boats on Thursday, Friday and Sunday begins at 6:40 a.m. at Eddy’s Resort on Mille Lacs, 41334 Shakopee Lake Rd., Onamia.
Weigh-ins are set the same days for 3:45 p.m. at Grand Casino Mille Lacs.
Saturday is reserved for “Bassmaster University’’ in the parking lot of the casino, a family-oriented fan-appreciation event at which competing anglers will give seminars and sign autographs. Food vendors, kids’ activities and games, and interactive B.A.S.S. sponsor displays also will be featured.
All events are free and open to the public.