KIMBERLING CITY, Mo. — Arkansas answered the challenge on Day Three of the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Central Divisional presented by Yamaha and Skeeter.
The surprising Razorback team led Oklahoma by a slim 3 pounds, 4 ounces, going into the final day of the event on Table Rock Lake. Oklahoma won the Central at this same site last year and was the odds-on favorite to repeat.
But Arkansas didn’t back down, pushing across its best team weight of the tournament — 140 pounds, 7 ounces — and claiming the title in the eight-state event by nearly 18 pounds.
“We just stayed focused,” said Jim Alexander, first-year president for the Arkansas Federation Nation. “And knowing how good Oklahoma was gave us even more adrenaline.”
Tom Jessop, meanwhile, earned his fourth trip to the National Championship as the individual winner, while leading his Texas team to a third-place finish. The angler from Dalhart used a 15-7 limit to overtake Nebraska’s Pat Klausen, who led for the first two days.
Klausen jumped to an early lead on Wednesday with the heaviest limit of the tournament, 20-3, while Jessop managed fourth with 13-12. But the Texas angler bounced back on Day Two with 18-4 to move with 1-11 of the lead.
“The bite was over by 9 a.m., but I had two 5-pounders,” said Jessop, who caught his fish by dragging a creature bait on a shaky head down a bare bank.
While Klausen took his bass on a swimbait, crankbait and Sweet Beaver, many of the anglers focused on flipping jigs and tubes in and around flooded brush and trees. Kansas champ Beau Branine was one of them, bringing in an 18-4 limit, anchored by a 6-10 largemouth, on Day Three.
“It was crazy out there,” said Branine in describing Table Rock’s cooperative fish, many of them chunky postspawn largemouth.
In fact, the fishing kept getting better, the opposite of what often happens in tournaments. With steadily falling water each day in the wake of April floods, anglers brought in 35 limits Wednesday, 45 Thursday and 48 Friday.
By way of comparison, Central Divisional anglers totaled 1,801 pounds last year on Table Rock, and 2,419 pounds, 9 ounces this time around.
Along with Texas’ Jessop, Nebraska’s Klausen and Kansas’ Branine, the following anglers will advance to the National Championship later this year: Josh Wray, Arkansas; Jason Pecararo, Louisiana; Destre Dedeaux, Mississippi; Daniel Stark, Missouri; and Jared Miller, Oklahoma.
In the team standings, Louisiana took fourth, Kansas fifth, Missouri sixth, Nebraska seventh and Mississippi eighth.