GREEN RIVER, Wyo. — At 9 o’clock this morning, Shane Baertsch caught his last fish.
The next five grueling hours of no bites made him think he had lost the 2012 Cabela’s Bassmaster Federation Nation Western Divisional on Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge.
But as it turned out, the second-day leader had an entire pound on the competition, and he was crowned the champion at today’s weigh-in.
“I really thought I had lost it,” said the member of Montana’s Big Sky Bassers.
“I caught one bass in the bedding area I found yesterday, then moved up to the weedbed where I had caught some of my other fish with a lipless crankbait and caught two there. I went back to the first cove and was finally able to pull that last spooky bass off the bed, and that was my last bite.”
Baertsch won with a total of 33 pounds, 6 ounces, including the 9 pounds, 7 ounces he caught today. He won the overall competition in the Western Divisional, plus an invitation to the 2012 Cabela’s Bassmaster Federation Nation Championship on Alabama’s Lake Wheeler in October.
Just behind him were Andy Bravence of Arizona with 32 pounds, 6 ounces; Jason Hemminger, California, 32-3; Josh Polfer, Idaho, 32-0; and Brent Shores, Idaho, and Bill Golightly, Wyoming, both with 31-10.
Baertsch caught his bigger fish in a cove off the main river channel north of the launch ramp on the Green River using a Yo-Zuri Rattlin’ Vibe (silver with gold back). He fished it on 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene XL monofilament using a 7-foot Shimano Compre medium action rod with a Quantum Accurist AC501PT baitcast reel with a 6.2:1 gear ratio.
He caught his bedding fish drop shotting a 3-inch Yamamoto Senko (watermelon/black flake), 8-pound Trilene XL, a Shimano Spirex 1000 spinning reel and the Shimano Compre rod.
“Going to the championship means everything,” said Baertsch. It’s his first trip to the championship after qualifying for four divisionals.
Bravence, Hemminger, Polfer and Golightly will be joining him at the championship, as well as the following anglers who also were tops on their state teams: Frank Villa, Colorado; Timothy Klinger, Nevada; Franco Vallejos, New Mexico; David Mays, Oregon; Tyler Swaney, Utah; and Jeremy Percifield, Washington.
Drop shotting was a popular tactic in this event, as was fishing with reaction baits. The no-cull rule that made it challenging for anglers to decide whether to keep smaller fish early or hold out for bigger bites proved to be a game-changer for some, including Washington’s Jake Cook.
“I threw back a 12 1/2-inch fish early this morning that probably weighed 1 to 1 1/2 pounds.” Had Cook kept that fish, he would be going to the championship instead of Percifield.
Individual anglers combine their weights for their state team as well, and the state with the most weight wins a Triton/Yamaha/MotorGuide/Lowrance boat package worth $35,000.
In the Junior Bassmaster competition, Tyler Evans of Montana won the younger age division, ages 11 to 14, with a limit that weighed 6-9.
Washington’s Nik Autrey won the 15- to 18-year-olds age group with five fish that weighed 11-5.
Both have qualified for the 2012 Bassmaster Junior World Championship, which is held in conjunction with the Federation Nation Championship in October.
Tune in next week for the 2012 Cabela’s Bassmaster Federation Nation Central Divisional, June 6-8, on the Atchafalaya Basin in Morgan City, La., where eight more anglers will secure a spot in the championship. Full coverage will be on Bassmaster.com.