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A Pro's Approach: Ken Cook on the Chesapeake Bay

This week BASS travels to the Chesapeake Bay for this season's first Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Oakley. For most of the 200 competitors it's a venue chosen by someone else. For some that means a gift, for others it's a tough break.

For, Ken Cook, however, it's much more than that. It's his first tournament on the Bay since he won the 1991 Bassmaster Classic there, something that never really leaves his mind.

"Sure I think about it," he says as he reminisces about the past. "You can't help it. Every time I pass a landmark or a waypoint a memory of some sort is triggered. But you have to remember — that was then, this is now.

"I've only been back once since the Classic. In 2007 Tammy (his wife) and I had a couple of slack days. We stopped, and I took Tammy out to show her where I caught my bass. She was at the weigh-in, of course, but had never seen the actual spot on the water where I caught the winning bass. That meant a lot to both of us.

"But, let's get back to reality. You don't win two tournaments on one spot. It just doesn't happen. I will confess that I did go by my old spot on Monday, though. You know, just to look. I didn't fish it. They aren't there. Nevertheless, it was nice to see it — you know, just to look and think.

"Anyway, the 1991 Classic was in the summer. This event is in the early spring. The fish here are still in their winter patterns. The water's 50-52 degrees, and that's cold even for Yankee bass."

Cook continues his line of thought by saying that even though the Chesapeake Bay is massive, it fishes small.

"These bass are holding in small, deep spots out of the current. They're not up on the grass like they were in 1991. There may be a lot of water out there, but most of it isn't holding bass. The field is crowded, and there'll be a lot of boats on the spots that are capable of producing a winning catch."

That's why he thinks there'll be a huge advantage to local anglers. He theorizes that the locals know the winter patterns better than the visitors. That means they'll spend less time looking and more time developing a bite.

That theory has been intensified by this week's practice. Monday and Tuesday were miserable. There was wind and rain and bitterly cold conditions. That makes looking even tougher and makes water that fishes small fish even smaller.

The weather is supposed to improve by week's end, however. Sunny skies and fair winds are predicted for Friday and Saturday. That'll likely start the fish moving and make local knowledge even more valuable. All in all, it's likely to be a tough tournament, with conditions, fish and patterns changing daily.

Still, Cook is optimistic, if guarded, about his chances.

"For some reason, over my career, I seem to do better in the tournament when I have a tough practice. This year's Elites are an example. I had good practices everywhere except Dardanelle. My performances, however, weren't very good at all. I didn't catch them in competition the way I did in practice.

"This event is shaping up differently. I haven't had a very good practice, so maybe I'll have a good tournament. It seems like if you only know a little, you know it well. You can go out and work the details of what you do know and put fish in the boat.

"It's funny, this one is starting to look like the 1991 Classic. In 1991 we had a hurricane blow through just before the tournament. Our practice immediately before the Classic was cut to one day. In the early practice, I found good bass on wood. I went back to that pattern and spent most of the one day I had trying to develop it.

"But my fish were gone. It wasn't working. Late in the day — at the last minute, really — I found a grass bed that was loaded. I fished it in competition because it was all I had. I worked it to death and it turned out real well for me. Maybe this tournament will be the same."

Cook certainly hopes so, anyway. He's announced this is his last professional season. He admits that he desperately wants to fish the 2010 Classic. As of today that goal is in serious jeopardy given his slow start in the Elites.

"I'd really like to do well here and in the other two Northern Opens. That might be — probably is — my best shot for a Classic spot. I won't kid anybody. I want to go to next year's Classic. But some things are meant to be and others aren't. I've had a wonderful career. I'll never complain. We'll just have to see how it goes."

No matter his tough practice, and implied lack of knowledge about the bite, Cook believes it'll take a fair amount of weight to cash a check. He predicts a 25 pound cut weight to fish with the Top 30 on Saturday and thinks it'll take 50 pounds to win. His big bass prediction is 8 pounds even.

"This is a good fishery. Don't let the fact that this is an Open fool you. There are plenty of good anglers here, many of them with local knowledge. Somebody'll whack 'em."

That somebody, in Cook's opinion, is likely to be Mike Iaconelli, Dave Wolak or Rick Ash.

"Iaconelli probably knows this water as well as anybody, and his style is well suited to what we'll be doing this week. I'd sure watch him. Wolak's the same. And Rick Ash — he used to fish the Elites — is really good here, too. Any one of them could bring home the bacon."

The glaring omission in Cook's list of top contenders is, of course, Cook himself. When asked about that he says, "Some things are better left unsaid. I don't even want to think about it much less talk about it."