Florida takes B.A.S.S. Nation team title on Okeechobee

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Brenden Kanies
The Florida B.A.S.S. Nation team won the team championship at the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Southeastern Regional on Lake Okeechobee with a two-day total of 396 pounds, 3 ounces.

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Consistency was key for the Florida B.A.S.S. Nation team, which backed up a Wednesday leading weight of 197 pounds, 6 ounces with 198-13 Thursday to win the team championship at the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Southeastern Regional on Lake Okeechobee with a two-day total of 396 pounds, 3 ounces.

For their accomplishment, the Florida team won $6,250. The second-place South Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation team, which posted the event’s largest combined single-day weight on Day 2 — 215-12 — won $3,750 and the third-place North Carolina B.A.S.S. Nation team won $2,000.

Florida B.A.S.S. Nation team captain David Driggers said his team’s deep well of Okeechobee knowledge proved helpful in tracking down quality fish during the often-tricky period of prespawn to spawning. Essential to maximizing this potential was the low-key team fellowship that fostered strategic interaction.

“I tried to keep them together every night since Sunday when we got together and made sure everyone got out on the water (for practice),” Driggers said. “The biggest thing was getting the anglers together in the evenings, feed them and let them enjoy the camaraderie. With that atmosphere, we’ve found that the anglers tend to talk among themselves without anyone telling them to do so.”

Noting that his team members dispersed throughout the lake, Driggers said the anglers experienced two mechanical issues, but everyone made it back to tournament site without incident.

B.A.S.S. Nation President Jon Stewart lauded the Florida team’s steady performance. With a wide age diversity, the winners have plenty of experience and longevity.

“It was just a really consistent team-wide effort,” he said. “We noticed that on Day 1, Florida didn’t have any boaters in the Top 10; they were just consistent throughout. Other teams had two or three teams that caught a big bag, while other team members struggled.

“There are a couple of high schoolers on that Florida team and one of them (sixth-place nonboater Zack Barrera) made the cut to fish in the final round.”

As Stewart observed, the winning team overcame a common impediment of tournament fishing and, in fact, leveraged the home-field advantage to their benefit.

“Nine times out of 10, the home lake is a curse where the team doesn’t really (perform well),” he said. “But the weather has been kind of inconsistent with cold fronts on and off, and I think the local anglers’ knowledge of what Florida bass do in a cold front scenario helped the Florida team this year.”

Driggers agrees that local knowledge aided his team: “Obviously, knowing the body of water played into our win. Since it was right here in our backyard, we more or less let the guys fish where they wanted to fish. There was no directing the lake; most of them knew this body of water and for the ones that weren’t familiar with it, we tried to explain it to them what they needed to try, but for the most part, it was just go out and have fun and enjoy the event.”

Leading the Florida B.A.S.S. Nation team standings, Ray Trudeau of St. Cloud, enters tomorrow’s final round in fifth place with 35-9. Jim Topmiller of Orlando, maintained his lead in the nonboater division with 24-1.

“Ray Trudeau is a hammer in the state of Florida; he’s fished the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens, and he’s made it to the B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship,” Driggers said. “He struggled the first day (13-5), but had a great sack (22-4) today.

“The nonboaters are always at the mercy of what the boaters are doing, but Jim (Topmiller) is one who can adapt wherever you put him.”

Bryan Gunter of Ninety Six, S.C., leads individual standings with 43-8. The only angler to reach the 20-pound mark both days, Gunter moved up from third place by bolstering his Day 1 catch of 20 pounds with 23-8 — the heaviest bag of Day 2 and second-heaviest overall (behind Day 1 leader Mark Pierce’s 23-12).

“My best spot yesterday produced my biggest fish and it produced my biggest fish again today,” Gunter said of the shallow vegetation he targeted first each day. “My secondary spot really picked up. I caught two there yesterday and seven today and they were bigger. I caught my fish on a mix of reaction baits and flipping.”

Jeff Lugar of Cross Junction, Va., is in second place with 38-0. Matthew Robertson of Kuttawa, Ky., is in third place with 37-6.

Lugar leads is in the lead for Big Bass honors with his 9-10.

Mike Caul leads the Big Bass competition among nonboaters with a 9-8.

Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET at C. Scott Driver Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3:15 p.m.

The event is being hosted by Okeechobee County.