Montana wins the West, Guerrette crowned tourney champ

Bullfrog, Utah—The Montana team won its first ever BASS Federation Nation Western Divisional title today at Lake Powell and Arizona angler Jeff Guerrette became the individual tournament champion.

Relying on a jig all three days allowed Guerrette to catch double-digit limits and lead the tournament from start to finish. The 32-year-old tile contractor from Glendale Ariz., finished with a three-day total of 15 bass weighing 38-9 and also won the $1,000 Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament award by weighing in a 6-pound, 14-ounce largemouth the first day of the tournament.

The Surprise Bassmaster club member pitched a brown 1/2-ounce Bass Patrol Flipping Jig and a blue sapphire Zoom Junior Chunk with a Conquistador rattle to chunk rocks and floating debris mats in cuts on the Colorado River. "I was fishing the dirtiest water I could find," said Guerrette. "Most of the fish were in less than 10 feet of water and many of them were right on the bank." He pitched his jig-and-chunk with a G-Loomis 7-foot heavy-action rod and Shimano Curado reel filled with 15-pound P-Line Fluorocarbon.

Guerrette found the area in practice and made the commitment to make a round trip run of more than 100 miles a day. "I found dirty water and that's what I like to fish," disclosed Guerrette. "I went up there twice in practice and kind of figured the fish out the second time and then left it alone until the first day of the tournament."

He threw a swim bait and Senko a lot in practice, but the first day of the tournament he had to rely on the jig to catch his limit early. So he stuck with the jig the next day and caught his biggest sack of the tournament. However he threw a blade off of his prop yesterday and limped back to the weigh-in on a spare prop. Last night, Guerrette had to search around for another prop that would fit his motor and was able to borrow one from Arizona teammate Doug Noble. Borrowing Noble's prop allowed Guerrette to make the long run to his best spot and catch a 10-pound, 10-ounce limit to clinch the tournament championship.

The Arizona angler believes he caught both spawning and postspawn largemouth. "I caught all of my fish today from the same areas but didn't get as much weight. I had my mind made up that I would come back down by 1 o'clock and I got one or two more bites that helped."

By winning the tournament and finishing as the top angler on his state team, Guerrette advances to the only international championship for amateur bass anglers, the BASS Federation Nation National Championship. The Western Divisional is the first of six regional qualifying events that advance the top finishers from each Federation Nation competing in the tournaments to the national championship to be held this year at a date and location to be announced later. The top regional finishers at the Federation Nation Championship then qualify for a berth in the Bassmaster Classic.

The other 10 state winners include John Mace, Washington; Sidney Reeves, Wyoming; Mike Baskett, Oregon; Ben Schilling, Montana; Larry Triplett, Colorado; Franco Vallejos; New Mexico; Brent Shores, Idaho; Mark Torrez, California; and Jesse Milicevic, Nevada; and Kurt Walters, Utah.

Eleven Federation Nations vied for state bragging rights and a total payout of $58,000 with the monies to be apportioned to each state for conservation, civic and fishing programs. The Montana 12-man team took top honors in the team competition and won a Triton 186 bass boat/Mercury Outboard rig valued at $32,000. The team brought in a total of 150 fish weighing 254 pounds, 12 ounces to the scales during the three competition days.

"The key to success for our team was that we had team meetings each night and everyone told everyone what they were catching their fish on and what to do," said team captain Ben Schilling. "That paid off big time for us. We had two or three guys who have been here twice so that helped out. Half of our guys were dragging points and others were fishing chunk rocks in the river about 20 feet deep. Myself and three others stayed close trying to find bedding fish."

Another highlight of the team event was the Nevada squad, which was competing in its first divisional for the recently formed Nevada Federation Nation and finished eighth.

The next divisional will be held in June when the Southern Divisional qualifiers compete on Lake Eufaula in Alabama.

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