LEESBURG, Fla. — The father-son duo of Rodney and Aaron Yavorsky were among the final teams to weigh in Thursday on the final day of the 2023 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship.
In this case, the best was saved almost for last.
The Yavorskys, Tampa-area residents representing the Florida BASS Nation Team Trail, caught a mammoth limit of five bass weighing 31 pounds, 6 ounces and stormed to the title here on the Harris Chain of Lakes in central Florida. Their two-day total of 10 bass weighing 51-9 was nearly 14 pounds heavier than the second-place tandem of Blain Bartley and Rj Graham, who caught 10 bass for 37-11 over two days.
The Yavorskys’ 31-6 bag was by far the heaviest of the tournament, easily besting the 24-11 limit caught by Day 1 leaders Chris Whitson and Kevin King of Tennessee’s Morristown Marine Team Trail. The catch was so hefty they would have placed eighth overall even if their Day 1 weight of 20-3 was eliminated.
“We’ve fished a lot of tournaments together and never had a 30-pound bag,” said Rodney Yavorsky, Aaron’s dad. “It was a special day.”
So was Day 1, for that matter, when father and son put themselves in fourth place overall. They started that day slowly, however, before moving from shallow water to offshore. They started offshore on Day 2, and the extra few hours of catching was just what they needed, pushing their total over the hallowed 30-pound mark.
“Today, we did from the start what we should have done on Day 1,” Rodney said.
“The little cold front that moved in overnight helped us, too,” Aaron said. “There was more bait in the area for us to focus on. We caught them deep, mainly on hard spots, with moving baits — crankbaits, some shaky heads. Color doesn’t seem to matter in this area. We just had to match the water clarity.”
Aaron, a 17-year-old high school senior, did the heavy lifting on Thursday, catching a whopper largemouth that weighed 9-3. He hooked the lunker around noon and it immediately brought new energy to the boat.
“We knew at that point that we had a chance to win,” Rodney said. “We had been sitting at 27 (pounds) and felt like if we got to 30, we could do it.”
That 9-3 bite clinched the Big Bass Award of $500, which pairs nicely with the $25,000 the Yavorskys earned with the title. Their winnings are part of a $125,000 cash purse that was distributed to the Top 50 teams in the derby. A total of 248 teams representing 77 different trails came from 30 states and three foreign countries to compete in the Team Championship.
Now that group has been trimmed to the Top 3 teams (six anglers in all), their weights have been zeroed, and they’ll compete individually on Friday and Saturday in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off. The angler with the heaviest two-day total in that portion of the tournament will earn the final berth in the 2024 Bassmaster Classic which will be held March 22-24 in Tulsa, Okla., on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
The opportunity isn’t lost on the teenaged Yavorsky, who said he and his dad will decide Thursday night who will fish which spots in the Fish-Off. They already located good spots in lakes Harris, Eustis and Beauclair, so they’ll have options.
“This is unimaginable, really,” Aaron said. “You catch fish like we did today, and you have a crazy train of thoughts running through your head.”
Rodney, who owns a painting business in nearby Pinellas County, was thrilled with the Team Championship win, but said his goal is to see Aaron fishing in Oklahoma come March.
“I’m here for him,” Rodney said. “He’s 17. I want him to fish in the Classic. I don’t know how we’ll do this, who will fish where. But we’ll figure it out.”
Bartley and Graham, of Pennsylvania’s Keystone Bass Buddy Circuit, caught 21-3 on Day 1 and followed with 16-8 on Day 2, giving them 37-11. They split $17,000 for the second-place finish and will now focus on making the Classic.
“We’ll both start on our best spot and see what happens,” Bartley said. “It’s a dream come true just to have the opportunity.”
Connor Nimrod and Thomas Soileau, who fish for Media Bass in north Louisiana, finished third with a two-day total of 34-14. Their 21-14 bag was the second heaviest caught Thursday, and it helped them to a $12,000 prize.
“The difference today was strictly weather,” Nimrod said. “We rolled up on our stuff yesterday and it was super blown out, with 2- to 3-foot waves rolling in. Today we were able to throw bladed jigs in grass, anything out off the bank.”
Two more productive days by any of the six remaining anglers could lead to more glory.
“Everybody comes here with the goal of qualifying for the Classic,” Soileau said. “We’ve given ourselves that chance.”
Day 1 of the Fish-Off will start Friday at 7 a.m. ET at Venetian Gardens. Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. See the weigh-in online at Bassmaster.com.