Fishing & Boating News

Bassmaster Classic rookie James Elam could make noise on his home fishery

James Elam
Photo by Courtesy BASSMasters
(Feb 26, 2016 - Tulsa, OK)  Of the 55 boats that blast off from Wolf Creek Park in Grove, Oklahoma, on March 4 – the first day of the 2016 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees – 31 will be powered by 250 Mercury OptiMax ProXS outboards. Driving some of those boats will be multiple previous Classic winners (Kevin Vandam, Skeet Reese, Boyd Duckett, Randy Howell, Casey Ashley and Chris Lane), and a handful of other major-award winners (Aaron Martens, Jacob Powroznik, Greg Hackney, Edwin Evers, Brent Ehrler).

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to one industry insider, though – Mark Zona of “Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show” – if the most soft-spoken member of the Team Mercury “All-Star Bunch”, Classic rookie James Elam, made the loudest noise of them all.

“You don’t get many chances to play ‘big-boy ball’ in your back yard, but James Elam making the Classic on Grand Lake is just like Mercury pro Casey Ashley making the Classic last year on Lake Hartwell … and, oh, jeez, that turned out pretty good for Casey now, didn’t it?” says Zona, referring to Ashley’s home-lake victory in the 2015 Classic. “James Elam is a very quiet guy. But on Grand Lake, he’s a very, very scary guy as well.”

Elam, who qualified to fish the Classic thanks to a win at the Fort Gibson Lake Central Open in 2015, resides in Tulsa, and has been fishing Grand Lake since he was “7, 8, maybe 9 years old.”

“I learned how to fish on Grand Lake,” Elam says. “Local knowledge on a lake can help you if you use it right. You have to use your knowledge, and keep your composure. No matter what, it’s just going to be nice to fish a major tournament on a place where I’m comfortable, instead of on some lake that’s completely foreign to me. That’s usually my situation on the Elite Series. I’m looking forward to that.”

Elam’s practice for the Classic will lean heavily on his 250 OptiMax, which he’ll use to cover as much of the lake’s fishable water as possible in developing his game plan.

“Grand fishes pretty big: you can catch fish all over the lake, and you could find the winning fish just about anywhere, from one end to the other,” he says. “There will be a lot of different places to look at, so I’ll be running around a lot in practice, looking for bites. Hopefully I’ll figure out a pattern on the first day of practice. If I do, that’ll actually translate into even more running around, looking for specific (conditions that fit the pattern).”

Other “hometowners”
Fellow Oklahomans Jason Christie (Park Hill, 64 miles away) and Edwin Evers (Talala, 71 miles away) are also popular choices to do well on Grand Lake, and for good reason. Christie won an FLW Tour event on Grand in 2013, and finished seventh the last time the Classic was held here (also in 2013). Evers was the most popular choice in a recent Bassmaster poll of former Classic winners.

Both are heavy favorites, according to Zona.

“I mean, who do you pick? Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady?” he says. “Christie is a sniper, Edwin is a ninja. Who’s better, a sniper or a ninja? Regardless, smart money will be on one of these two guys to win it.”

Team Mercury Classic Quotables
Here’s what some Mercury pros had to say heading into the Classic:

Aaron Martens, 2015 Elite Series Angler of the Year: “Grand reminds me a lot of the West Coast in the way that it looks and fishes. It doesn’t really have any grass. It’s pretty shallow, so weather affects it a whole lot. If it gets windy, it could mean muddy water, and that’ll mean fish will move around a lot.”

Jacob Powroznik, 2014 Elite Series Rookie of the Year: “I think we’re going to light ‘em up this year. Grand is a great lake, with a ton of fish in it, and we’re hitting it on a warming trend. It really suits my style of fishing, so I’m excited about it. It should be really good.”

Edwin Evers, 10-time B.A.S.S. winner: “The weather is shaping up for this to be a great Classic, but the only X-factor will be if it’s muddy. It could be tough if the lake hasn’t cleared up, but I can’t wait to get out there and start to figure some stuff out.”

The following anglers will be powered by Mercury at the 2016 Bassmaster Classic:

Casey Ashley

Edwin Evers

Chad Morgenthaler

Chris Dillow

Gene Bishop

James Elam

James Watson

Greg Vance

Albert Collins

Levi McNeill

Thomas Martens

Aaron Martens

Jacob Powroznik

Brent Ehrler

Greg Hackney

Jordan Lee

Skeet Reese

Jason Christie

Greg Vinson

Bernie Schultz

Chris Lane

John Crews

Kevin Van Dam

Randy Howell

Micah Frazier

Ott Defoe

Brett Hite

Boyd Duckett

Josh Bertrand

Brandon Lester

Billy McCaghren