Starting Monday, Caleb Sumrall will be prefishing for another defining moment, or more defining moments, of his pro bass fishing career.
The 34-year-old New Iberia outdoorsman owns 14th-place in the Angler of the Year standings with 480 points going into the last two of nine tournaments on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour in 2021. He controls his own destiny as he prepares for the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite that gets underway Thursday at Lake Champlain out of Plattsburgh, New York, and concludes with the Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite out of Waddington, New York, beginning July 15.
What’s at stake is a berth in the 2022 Bassmaster Classic, scheduled for March 4-6 at Lake Hartwell near Greenville, South Carolina. His goal is to finish the season in the Top 39, the Classic cutline before double qualifiers via Opens, the last Elite and Classic winners.
Sumrall left his hometown Tuesday morning for New York State. The Lake Champlain event will be his first major tournament action since May 20-23 at Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
Driving through central Arkansas around midday Tuesday, Sumrall couldn’t help but think about how he missed the 2021 Bassmaster Classic held last month on Lake Ray Roberts in Texas. Finishing a disappointing 60th in the 2020 AOY standings kept him out of this year’s world championship of bass fishing.
That miss has been a motivating factor this season, particularly now at crunch time.
“No doubt. I don’t want to be on the sidelines (again) watching the Classic. I can’t win it if I’m not there,” he said while he drove his Toyota Tunda pickup truck towing his Xpress X21 Pro aluminum bass boat powered by a 250-h.p. Yamaha Sho somewhere around Little Rock.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m excited. I’m ready to go. That’s about it. I’ve thought about it a lot. There’s a lot of fishing left to go. I’ve got a lot on the line. The thing I want to do is NOT have a bad tournament. I want to be consistent. I want to do good.”
Stored in his boat and truck on the cross-country trip are 11 spinning rod and reel combinations and approximately 30 baitcasting rod and reel combos. Moving baits, such as swim baits, should be a factor at Lake Champlain, he said, while he’ll be relying on a drop-shotted Missile Baits Bomb Shot on the St. Lawrence River.
His approach to catching bass on both bodies of water in the Northeast will be the same as 2020. Hopefully, the results are improved over his showings last year at Lake Champlain and St. Lawrence River, where he was 52nd and 83rd, respectively.
“I had some uncontrollable variables that played against me. One, I ran out of gas. One, I had a broken boat,” he said, noting he’ll make every effort to ensure similar momentum killers won’t happen again.
“I’ll go on the same game plan. I’ll fish it the same, try to expand, get some more knowledge.”
The fourth-year pro knows from experience that largemouth bass also come into play with the smallmouth bass population at Lake Champlain and to some extent on the St. Lawrence River. However, he said, he’ll target smallmouth bass at the SLR.
He also knows what he must avoid doing, especially on the river, which flows 744 miles from Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Only 114 miles of the river are located in New York State.
“The problem is I can’t get zoned in just to catch fish. You have to catch winning fish. You have to leave 3-pounders, essentially, to go find 3 ¼-pounders,” he said.
Overall, he said, he’s pleased with his position in the point standings. He missed the cut in two of the first seven tournaments, the opener Feb. 11-14 on the St. Johns River in Florida, where he was 83rd, and the most recent one May 20-23 at Lake Guntersville, where he was 1 ounce away from fishing in the semifinals, and finished 49th.
His other finishes were seventh at the Sabine River in Texas; 15th at Pickwick Lake in Alabama; 19th at the Tennessee River in Tennessee; 21st at Lake Fork in Texas, and 33rd at Neely Henry Lake in Alabama.
“I’m a little unhappy with how many times I came in without a limit. I’d be way up there overall … (but) I’m happy with where I’m at,” he said.
Sumrall plans to room on the road with his friend and fellow Elite Lee Livesay in Plattsburgh, who won the tournament at Lake Fork. He left New Iberia for a specific reason on Tuesday.
“I’m going to take my time getting over there. I might do a little fishing (before Monday) in some places that I can. I just didn’t want to have a big old drive right before practice,” he said. “Going up north is going to be fun. The fish are biting. They always do. They’re pretty easy to catch. You’ve just got to show it to them the right way.”
Sumrall is one of 95 Elites trying to win the coveted blue trophy and, more importantly, improve his position in the AOY standings. Daily takeoffs will be at 6 a.m. from Plattsburgh City Marina, where each weigh-in is scheduled to be held at 3 p.m.
His family and hundreds of supporters here and elsewhere are behind the bass angler who made five straight cuts after a dismal start to 2021. They follow the New Iberia outdoorsman’s catches on BASStrack at bassmaster.com and/or his every move as often as possible in live coverage streamed on bassmaster.com. Also, FS1 will broadcast the tournament live starting at 7 a.m. Saturday and again Sunday.
His wife, Jacie, and their daughter, Clelie, and young son, Axel, will be home cheering for the 2017 B.A.S.S. Nation Champion who played on the golf team before graduating from Westgate High School. That B.A.S.S. Nation win on Lake Hartwell propelled him into the 2018 Bassmaster Classic as well as onto the Bassmaster Elite Series tour.
“The amount of support I get is always awesome among friends and family. I want to go out the last two events and go make them proud,” he said.