"I'd come back to Bentonville four times a year to fish with Gary and Drew," Sawhney said. But he also learned there were bass to be caught much closer to Manhattan – like right in the middle of it, in Central Park, and in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
"I met some backpack fishermen," Sawhney said. "I started learning from them, and catching 3- to 5-pounders in Central and Prospect Park. My go-to bait was a Texas rigged Senko."
That's how Sawhney caught his biggest smallmouth to date – a 4-pounder that he caught twice off a spawning bed in Prospect Park.
When I met Sawhney a year ago, he was practically walking on air. Walmart had moved him back to Bentonville, and he'd just spent a day on Beaver Lake with 2012 Bassmaster Classic champion Chris Lane, as part of the Children's Network Benefit Tournament.
Tejmohan "call me Tej" Sawhney is one of those people who never met a stranger. He likes to talk, particularly about bass fishing, as we'd done many times over the phone since our initial meeting.
So when the opportunity arose to combine Sawhney, Drew Barnes, Billy Lemon and his friend, John Soukup on a day at Grand Lake, Tej was all over the idea.
The first thing you notice about Billy Lemon, even when bundled in a foul weather jumpsuit, is that his 6-foot, 240-pound body is stacked like a weightlifter's. When asked about it later that day, Lemon said he'd recently set a new personal record in the bench press – 435 pounds. That's no misprint: four-hundred-and-thirty-five pounds.
"It's something I started after high school," Lemon said. "I had a friend that was really into it. I've been doing it so long now, it's just part of an everyday deal."
Plus, Lemon added, "I like to eat."
But mostly Lemon likes to bass fish. And he has raised a son who likes to bass fish, too.
Lemon and his longtime friend John Soukup were practicing for the next Nichols Marine event on this Saturday – one month after Lemon caught the 12-pounder in the previous one.
John Soukup has worked as a volunteer organizing high school bass fishing clubs. Lemon's son, Levi, was the president of one of the first clubs Soukup started.
"My son is about as eat-up with it as I am," said Lemon about Levi, who turns 21 years old in July.
Lemon and Soukup were having a pretty good practice day when I arrived about 8 a.m. that day.
"I've got something to show you," Lemon said, as he pulled a 5- and a 4-pounder from the livewell before releasing them. The umbrella rig pattern was still going strong.
"A lot of guys are catching them on jerkbaits," Lemon said. "To me, if they're hitting a jerkbait, they'll hit an A-rig."
One thing about fishing with an unsponsored bass tournament fisherman is that you'll find out what he truly has confidence in, not what he's paid to say he's got confidence in.
Gene Larew Lures has long been an Oklahoma standard. The company celebrated its 30th anniversary of the Salt Craw during the Bassmaster Classic in February. And Lemon has long been a fan, not just of Salt Craws and Sweet Swimmers, but also of Biffle Bugs and Hoodaddies. He was flipping flooded bushes with a Hoodaddy when he won the BFL on Fort Gibson May 18th.
Like he did with a lot of folks, Lemon got the company's attention with the 12-pounder in February.
"I didn't have a deal with them until that lake record," Lemon said. "They've been awesome to me. They're paying to get a table mount replica made of that fish."
"That fish" – the 12-pounder – came from the Duck Creek area, where Lemon and Corey Smith were alternating between three points. Lemon's exact setup was a Yumbrella with 1/8-ounce Larew High Tides jigheads and 3 1/2-inch Alabama shad colored Larew Sweet Swimmers.