SIMONTON HOPING TO MAKE THE JUMP
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos courtesy of B.A.S.S. Communications
Fremont, OH – In seven career Bassmaster Northern Opens dating back to the final Open of the 2009 season on Lake Erie, Fremont, Ohio angler Michael Simonton has cashed a check in every single tournament and has never finished below 47th place.
As a result, for the second year in a row he is faced with the tough decision of either staying at the triple-A level or making the jump to the Elite Series to ply his craft against some of the top bass anglers in the world.
Simonton was hesitant to make the move after the 2010 Northern Opens for several reasons. “Last year, I didn’t fully qualify for the Elites but they ended up going down the list far enough that I got an invite,” he said. I just wasn’t able to come up with the money that I needed and I might have done it, but it would have cost me over $30,000 before I even made a cast. I just didn’t think that it was a good business move at the time so I said no,” explained Simonton.
Simonton’s 2010 Northern Open season was solid, with finishes of 21st at Lake Champlain, 47th at the Detroit River, and 22nd at the Chesapeake Bay, but his continued success in the 2011 Northern Opens proved that he might be ready to make the move to the Elites if things line up from a financial and sponsorship angle.
In early July, he notched a 20th place finish on the James River and then backed it up in August with a 31st place finish on Lake Erie out of Sandusky. Sitting in the Top 10 in the point standings, Simonton saved his best Open tournament for the finale on Oneida Lake in mid September. With nearly 49-pounds, he finished 2nd to Ish Monroe and edged out Elite Series pros Derek Remitz and Charlie Hartley for the points title.
“Obviously I’m happy to win the points because that’s pretty awesome in itself,” he explained. “My main focus was to just qualify for the Elite Series again and that’s all that I cared about. Having the chance to win was nice, but Ish had such an awesome day on the first day. Without that, I think that I might have ended up winning but he had almost 20-pounds. The last two days I caught more weight than he did but that first day stringer was tough to overcome. He just smashed them.”
Green over Brown
With six of his seven Top 50 Northern Open finishes coming on fisheries noted for smallmouth, it would be easy to peg Simonton as an offshore expert adept at mining smallmouth from deep water haunts. That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I kind of have some attention problems so I like going down the shoreline looking at the stuff that I’m fishing,” Simonton said with a chuckle. “Smallmouth fishing is a lot of fun but it can be really frustrating when they’re not there. I’m missing something offshore because I’ve had the opportunity to go out there and work on it but it’s just not my style.”
With the exception of the 2010 Northern Open on the Detroit River and the most recent Northern Open on Lake Erie, Simonton has done the majority of his damage by targeting largemouth. That includes his 13th place finish on Lake Erie in 2009 where he ignored the brown fish and targeted shallow water largemouth.
“On a lake where there is a 50/50 chance to catch a largemouth or smallmouth, if I weigh-in a smallmouth that probably means that I’m struggling or I just happened to find a spot that was loaded with them,” he stated.
It’s a fact that’s somewhat ironic, considering that Simonton lives just a stone’s throw away from one of the biggest and best smallmouth fisheries in the country. His affinity for fishing shallow and covering water was one of the main factors that drove Simonton to fish the Northern Opens.
“Fishing in Ohio is so frustrating and I was getting down on myself. The guys who typically do really well in Ohio fish really slowly. I hate fishing rough water out in the lake but it seems like when I go somewhere where I can fish fast, I do really well. My only option was to sit around and complain about how the fishing stinks or suck it up and go fish the Opens.”
Friendly Elite Series Schedule
Even though all of Simonton’s Open success has come on northern fisheries, he’s optimistic that should he commit to the 2012 Elite Series he’ll be able to hold his own and fish his strengths at the majority of the eight regular season events.
“The 2012 Elite Series schedule isn’t going to be intimidating to me,” he stated. “I’m curious to see what will happen because I think that I have the ability but at the same time I was talking with (Elite Series pro) Kevin Short at the Oneida Open and he told me that you really can’t compare the Opens to the Elites.
“I know that there’s a major difference,” he continued, "but those Elite guys who show up at the Opens don’t just lay down and let other people take their money. I think that if I was to fish the Elites next year and cash three, four, or five checks, I would be stoked.”
One of the things that he likes about the 2012 schedule is the absence of TVA fisheries with the exception of Douglas Lake. “I’m glad that there aren’t any Alabama lakes that are on the river this year,” he said. “Basically, all those TVA lakes scare me to death with the ledge fishing. I don’t even know what a shell bed looks like.”
If he does decide to make the jump to the Elites, Simonton knows that sooner or later, he’ll be forced to compete on fisheries where the predominant bite is outside of his current comfort zone.
“I’ve heard guys say that there’s definitely a lot more fish available shallow than what’s been taken advantage of because right now, it seems like fishing deep is the “in” thing,” he explained, pointing to Ott Defoe’s 2011 Elite Series rookie season where he caught only one bass in water deeper than 10 feet the entire year.
“The payment structure for the Elites is a lot friendlier this year and it’s a lot easier to get started. I have a meeting set up with my main sponsor, Crown Batteries, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I’m optimistic that this year it’s going to happen,” he concluded.