KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Jeff Freeman, a deputy sheriff from Max Meadows, Va., locked up the BASS Federation Nation Championship Saturday with a three-day total of 27 pounds, 11 ounces, outlasting a field of 55 amateurs and earning a coveted berth in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 22-24 on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, S.C.
"It's nice to see a cop finally win," Freeman, 35, said. "I'm so fired up right now, it's hard to put into words. I love the competition and to be able to go to the Classic is the pinnacle of the sport."
Freeman not only punched his ticket to the Classic through the Mid-Atlantic Division, he won a Triton boat package valued at $50,000 and an invitation to the Bassmaster Elite Series. He wasn't the only law enforcement officer to secure a Classic berth: Mike Baskett, a police officer from Salem, Ore., bested the Western Division with 20 pounds, 12 ounces, earning one of six Classic berths awarded.
The other four division winners and Classic qualifiers were Jamie Laiche of Gonzales, La., with 24 pounds, 10 ounces (Central); Chris Loftus of Bloomfield, N.Y., with 23 pounds, 8 ounces (Eastern); South Africa's Richard Watson with 17 pounds, 3 ounces (Southern); and Brent Haimes of Mazeppa, Minn., with 19 pounds, 1 ounce (Northern).
Fishing near the first lock from the launch area on expansive Lake Tohopekaliga, Freeman drop-shotted a Roboworm into precise spots. He rotated through the area, allowing each to replenish while hitting the others.
He said he found his winning spot by accident: While he was waiting to lock through during the official practice period, he had some time to kill, so he started fishing the area. He caught a few bass and decided to leave the area alone until competition time. He said 13 of his 15 weighed-in fish were plucked from the honey hole.
The BASS win was Freeman's second. His first was in June as a co-angler at a Bassmaster Elite Series event on Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Va., where he once used his police privileges to put a scare into Elite pro Kelly Jordon.
"I pulled over Kelly in Virginia a few years ago," Freeman said. "He asked what he did wrong. I told him he did nothing wrong. I just wanted an autograph."
Freeman, a longtime fan of professional bass fishing, is excited he will be able to view himself when coverage airs of the premier amateur championship on The Bassmasters on ESPN2 Saturday, Feb. 16, at 9 a.m. ET.
Finishing behind Freeman in the overall competition was Laiche. It was a banner year for the 31-year-old pro in Federation Nation competition. He was a member of the winning six-angler team in the BASS Club World Championship in October, earning a Triton boat package valued at $50,000.
Despite missing out on the victory and a boat in Kissimmee, Laiche effectively fished a Lucky Craft crankbait, catching a 4-6 brute with 10 minutes left to go in his final competition day.
"Everyone who fishes for bass competitively dreams of going to the Bassmaster Classic," said Laiche. "Now I'm going. It's just unbelievable."
Before the Federation Nation champs were crowned, the Bassmaster CastingKids Semifinals were staged in Kissimmee. Six anglers from two age divisions moved on to the CastingKids Finals, which will take place in February at the Bassmaster Classic in Greenville, S.C.
Competitors in the CastingKids program focus on three basic casting techniques: pitching, flipping and casting a hookless lure at a bull's-eye target. Scoring is based on a points system and anglers compete against others in each age group.
In the 7 to 10 age group, the finalists were Conner Choate of Swisher, Iowa, with 130 points; Christopher Guest of Shelby, N.C., with 140 points; Sierra Voisin of Teeswater, Ontario, Canada, with 150 points; Austin Scrivani of Layton, N.J., with 130 points; Jacob Lescenski of Las Vegas, Nev., with 130 points; and Isaiah "Zay" Ridgle of Brownsboro, Texas, with 130 points.
In the 11 to 14 age group, the finalists were Payton Monson of Parkston, S.D., with 140 points; Jared Raymer of Brandenburg, Ky., with 140 points; Shauni Voisin of Teeswater, Ontario, Canada, with 130 points; Austin Neary of Crofton, Md., with 140 points; Jacob Wall of Jacksonville, Ore., with 130 points; and Shea Baumgartner of North Platte, Neb., with 140 points
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