Catching fish can’t cure all ailments

DECATUR, Ala. — Catching fish can take your mind off many ills, but it can’t necessarily cure them. John Garrett experienced that Saturday on Day 3 of the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament on Wheeler Lake, where temperatures have climbed past the mid-90s with heat indexes over 100 degrees.

“We had a (Bassmaster) Open about three years ago on the Red River,” said Garrett, who starts Championship Sunday in 4th place, 14 pounds behind runaway leader Cliff Prince. “When I brought my fish in, I had a heat stroke.

“Today, the last hour I was on the water, I started thinking about that tournament, where on one of my graphs, the screen started melting. My entire depth finder melted.”

But Garrett, a 28-year-old Elite Series rookie from Union City, Tenn., quit thinking about that tournament when his fish-catching picked up in the heat of Saturday afternoon.

“I was catching those fish and I’m like, ‘I don’t feel bad.’ The hottest part of the day, and I was catching fish like every cast, working hard, culling fish out. Once it stopped, all of that caught up with me at one time. I took a second and realized how bad I actually felt from how hot it was. I pulled the trolling motor up 40 minutes early.”

Garrett, who won at Florida’s Harris Chain in April in his third-ever Elite Series event, started feeling even worse after he got his fish checked in.

“I finally went to the (nearby) hotel I’m not staying at and laid down on the lobby floor for about 20 minutes,” said Garrett, who was feeling much better by the time he strolled across the Elite Series stage when the Championship Sunday Top 10 was introduced.

Przekurat felt the heat too — When asked where Saturday ranked on the heat scale of the days he’s competed in tournaments, Jay Przekurat gave it some thought. He’d experienced some burners at Texas’ Sabine River a year ago. But Saturday on Wheeler Lake topped it.

“At the Sabine, at least you had a breeze,” he said. “Today you had nothing, nothing at all. It’s probably the hottest day I’ve ever fished.”

Przekurat had in his boat a “Bassmaster LIVE” cameraman, who got sick due to the heat. Przekurat decided to check-in early, about 1:30, for the health of everyone – his cameraman, his five fish in the livewell and himself.

“When the cameraman’s yakking, that tells you (the heat’s) just bad,” he said.

Przekurat, who will celebrate his 25th birthday on June 21st, quickly established himself on the Elite Series. In winning the Rookie of the Year title in 2022 he became the youngest angler ever to win an Elite Series event. And he added a B.A.S.S. century belt in the process with his 102-9 winning weight at the St. Lawrence River. There was no “sophomore slump” for the Wisconsin native, who finished 6th in the final 2023 Angler of the Year standings. With another top 10 finish assured this week, Przekurat starts today in 8th place.

No current, no bass for Hamner — Justin Hamner appeared to be the guy that was going to contend for the coveted Elite Series blue trophy Friday when he weighed in 20-8 and finished within three pounds of leader Cliff Prince. The 33-year-old reigning Bassmaster Classic champion was surprised to find a popular fishing spot below Guntersville Dam unoccupied Friday. 

Saturday, however, it was bank fishermen using live bait who had all the fish-catching action.

“I was fishing the biggest community hole on the whole lake, and it’s Saturday,” Hamner said. “I knew I was going to have a problem today. But I didn’t know if it was going to affect me being able to catch fish, or if we could all catch ‘em.

“I still had hope all day, even when the morning didn’t pan out. They’ve been generating more water in the afternoon, and that’s when the bite really turned on. But they never turned the water on.”

Hamner’s limit weighed only 10-2 on Saturday, which dropped him from 2nd to 9th in the standings. The Alabama native will be second in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings when all the points become official at today’s weigh-in.