LANETTE, Ala. — An angler who recently spent more than a week hospitalized with a rare but serious infection took home top honors Saturday at the Southern Open on West Point Lake.
Mark Menendez of Kentucky won the tournament, a fully rigged Triton boat and $15,000 in cash with a three-day total 36 pounds, 14 ounces. Though this is his first tournament, and win, since his illness, Menendez already is focused on the future.
"After a good night of rest, I'll be ready for the next tournament," said Menendez.
Menendez contracted a severe case of viral meningitis at a BASS tour event on Lake Guntersville in February. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord and the fluid that surrounds the brain. Its symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, and tiredness. While Menendez is making a full recovery, he still battled a few lingering complications Saturday.
"This has been a hard road that I, my wife and daughter are still going down," Menendez said. "To make the whole tournament, I knew I had to manage my strength and energy like a tank of gas. I took off one day of practice so I could have that strength to finish."
Menendez paced himself, relying on his skill, knowledge and an established winning fishing pattern. With a flip of a Strike King Elite spinnerbait, Mark boated a 4-pound, 9-ounce bass, his largest fish of the day. Then, adrenaline running, he caught three more fish for a total weigh-in of 10 pounds, 6 ounces.
Menendez used a Strike King Spit-N-King for topwater lure areas, and chose a Strike King Premier Elite spinnerbait for deeper water.
He says he also called on his inner strength and energy to clinch the win.
"I feel good about these three days, but every joint and muscle in my body hurts right now," said Menendez.
Since the tournament began, weather conditions on West Point Lake changed from a clear sky and blistering heat to partly cloudy with high humidity. By Saturday afternoon, anglers fished under a solid cover of gray clouds and increasing winds.
The weather concerned some anglers, but appeared to favor Scott Rook of Little Rock, Ark. Rook took second place after moving up from fifth place with his five-fish limit weighing 8 pounds, 14 ounces. He managed a three-day total of 29 pounds.
"I took four fish quickly in the morning and then on my final cast, I caught the fifth one that put me into second place," Rook said.
He used a square-bill crankbait and a Berkley Power Worm to help him take his limit Saturday. Kevin Langill of Arkansas came into Day Three in third place and held his spot, finishing with a total weight of 28 pounds.
Saturday's Purolator Big Bass was awarded to boater Peter Ponds of Madison, Miss., for a 5- pound, 7-ounce catch.
A 7-pound bass was the largest of the day for non-boater Robert Hill of Saint Louis, Mo. The overall Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament award went to Gerald Beck of Lexington, N.C., for a 7-pound, 7-ounce bass.
Meanwhile, Georgia's Allen Burkalter landed first place and a fully rigged Triton boat in the non-boater category with 25-12. Darrell Hicks, also of Georgia, placed second with 20-6, and Jason Nixon of Alabama rounded out the top three with 11-19.
The next stop on the Southern Open schedule is Lake Guntersville in Guntersville, Ala., Sept. 22-24. The Southern Open will close on Oct. 27-29, on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., site of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic.
BASS last visited West Point Lake in 1987.
Sponsors of the Bassmaster Open Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops and Cialis (tadalafil).
Local sponsors include the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce.