Stephen Mui, a competitor in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series, qualified for BASSfest and walked away with an 18th-place finish and 48 pounds, 4 ounces. Below is his account of the Chickamauga Lake event.
The first ever Bassmaster BASSfest started for me with a 690-mile drive from my house in Bartlett, Ill., to Dayton, Tenn. I wound up getting lost once I was in Dayton and in the pouring rain had to navigate my boat through a field to turn around. I finally found my final destination.
I stayed with Bassmaster Elite Series pros Brandon Card, Chad Pipkens and the elusive Kevin Hawk. Overall, I had a tough practice but found a few key spots. The angler meeting and dinner was a great experience. It was very cool to be in the same room with all 107 Elite Series anglers.
Day 1 of the tournament arrived, and the reality that I was competing in an Elite-level event had not set in yet, until I launched my boat and parked on the bank. I’m sitting on my deck checking over some tackle, and the “king” himself, Kevin VanDam, pulls up right next to me. It was at that point that it sunk in: This is the Elite Series!
After shaking off some nerves, the guru of bass fishing, Rick Clunn, pulls up on the other side of me.
“Man, I need to focus!” I thought to myself.
As launch started, so did the rain. After a long run in the rain, I arrived at my spot in the Chester Frost area, and to my amazement, I had the spot all to myself. I had a bite on my first six casts of the morning and had a limit in the boat by around 7:45 a.m. I was beyond excited.
I decided to make a long run back north to a spot I found north of Dayton, and it paid off. I was flipping main channel grass along a small stretch of docks in 6 to 8 feet of water. I caught a 4-pounder and culled my bag up to 16 pounds.
After Day 1, I realized I had a great chance to cash a check. I went with the same plan of attack and fished Chester Frost first thing in the morning. I had a slow morning and only had three fish to show for it. I decided to change up my tactics and started skipping some docks in the area. The decision was a good one. I was awarded with two solid keepers.
At this point in the day, I decided to run north and flip grass again. Shortly after I arrived, I caught a solid 4-pound fish and culled out a 15-inch squeaker. I ended the day with 14-14. I made the Top 50 cut!
I spent my time on the off day wandering around the BASSfest expo and meeting fans. I signed a lot of autographs and took a lot of pictures, which was a new thing for me. It was a lot of fun and I met a lot of great people.
On Day 4 of BASSfest, I found myself sitting in 30th place. I was guaranteed a check and flirting with a chance to make the Top 12. I went with the same game plan.
The fish were biting that morning. My first fish of the day was a 5-pound beast. The very next cast was a 3 1/2-pounder and, after that, a one around 3.
After getting my limit, I decided it was time to run back up to my grass spot up north. Shortly after arriving, I caught a very nice 4-pounder to help me out. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I fished hard all day and put together the best bag of my tournament at 17-05. I had just missed the Top 12 cut by a little more than 4 pounds.
Walking on stage on Day 4 was the most amazing experience of my fishing career so far. Fishing with the Elite pros was a great experience. All of the Elite pros were very welcoming and easy to talk to.
To be able to say I competed in a Bassmaster Elite Series event is an accomplishment in itself, but I can also say I cashed a nice check at the Elite level as well!
Below is a list of the main tackle I used during BASSfest.
Fishing humps with grass:
Flipping grass clumps: