MONETA, Va. — When Jeff Freeman heard the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts was headed to Smith Mountain Lake, he made a few phone calls. Mainly, local calls.
Just a two-hour drive from his hometown Max Meadows, Va., Freeman won the co-angler side of this Bassmaster Elite Series tournament Sunday, brandishing his 12-pound, 15-ounce final day stringer to ecstatic family and whooping friends.
In the end, the co-angler standings were as stable as the conditions on this clear mountain lake. Fellow Virginian Robert Peaslee began and finished the day in second place, sacking 11-9 along the way, while Californian Tom Frink held onto third with a 9-2 Day Three bag.
To fish this tournament, Freeman first got clearance from his wife, then from his superiors at the Wythe County Sherriff's office, where the 35-year-old works as a law enforcement officer.
Next he made a personal call to Robert Peaslee, a friend of Freeman's and a soon-to-be tournament co-angler. "Bobby and I only live about 10 minutes apart," Freeman said. "If I didn't win this thing, I would have hoped he did."
The anglers' friendship has grown over the last several years and each believes their combined experience fishing together — about 10 smaller tournaments on this lake alone — helped them during a tough event.
"Jeff and I have been coming out here for awhile now," said Peaslee, a former Virginia Tech punter who now recruits nurses for an agency. "We really do know this lake."
Though his first Elite series entry, Freeman tasted victory here at the Northern 5 tournament just last October.
But most co-anglers found the fishing more difficult Saturday. Eleven of the 50 zeroed out, a ratio close to that of the brutal Day One. Frink, for one, didn't have a fish until 11 a.m. but was still able to find a smaller limit later in the day.
"I was slow fishing with [pro Morizo] Shimizu today, throwing drop-shot and the occasional Carolina rig," Frink said. "This style of fishing has kind of been one of my problems, something I really need to work on."
The Simi Valley, Calif. resident hopes to join the Elite Series as a pro next year.
By the time Frink made his comeback, Freeman had already secured the win. Paired with BASS pro Matt Sphar, who's in eighth place heading into the pros' final day, Freeman had a big morning.
"I had three limits by 9 a.m. and had to cull a bunch of fish to get this stringer," Freeman said, grinning.
"We were fishing the mouth of the Blackwater anywhere between 5 and 15 feet of water and tearing it up," he added. "I was working 5/16th hotshot jigs and shaky heads all morning, and every time that wind picked up, we caught fish."
Catch fish, he did. Taking home a new $50,000 bass boat, Freeman answered the call on Saturday to secure the win and local celebrity status.
All in a day's work, a lawman might say.