DAYTON, Tenn. — In the famed movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character was given a second chance — over and over and over again.
Skylar Hamilton was perfectly satisfied Friday to get just one second chance. After all, one was all he needed to stay in the Bassmaster BASSfest game for $125,000 and an instant-in to the 2015 world championship of bass fishing, the Bassmaster Classic.
With a Nickajack Lake catch of 25 pounds, 13 ounces — including a 9-15 kicker largemouth — the 19-year-old angler from Dandridge, Tenn., topped the list of the 10 competitors who won the right on Friday to advance to Saturday’s round of BASSfest competition on Chickamauga Lake.
The icing on Hamilton’s cake: He had the best day of his life as an angler.
“Today was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m not that old, but I’ve fished a lot — most of my life,” said Hamilton, who said he began competing at age 12.
Besides Hamilton, the best at Nickajack were: Mike Kernan of Wylie, Texas, second place with 17-15; Charley Hartley of Grove City, Ohio, third with 16-13; Kota Kiriyama of Moody, Ala., fourth with 16-4; David Mullins of Mount Carmel, Tenn., fifth with 15-14; Tracy Adams of Wilkesboro, N.C., sixth with 15-9; Brock Mosley of Collinsville, Miss., seventh with 15-7; Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., eighth with 15-7 after a tie-breaker was applied; Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas, ninth with 14-15; and Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., tenth with 13-12.
Eighty anglers fell out of the competition. The 10 Nickajack winners will pick up their Chickamauga weight total from the first two days when they join the 50 pros who qualified for the semi-finals through the Wednesday and Thursday rounds on Chickamauga Lake.
Hamilton, fishing Nickajack for the first time despite that he lives nearby in Dandridge, said he began his day by running to the Chickamauga Dam. So crowded with other competitors, Hamilton turned around and went looking.
He stopped at a ledge just outside a creek mouth, where he saw bass breaking the surface, feeding. He threw a football jig and hooked into his first bass, about a 2-pounder
Then he noticed a mudline where the creek met the main river. His first cast over the mudline yielded a 6-pounder. His next cast brought back a 4-pounder. On the third cast, the 9-15 was on the hook. It was the largest bass he’d ever caught.
Later he landed a 12-inch spotted bass to complete his limit.
“I really needed to get rid of it, but couldn’t until about 12 o’clock or so. I finally did with one of about 4 pounds,” he said.
His “mudline” lure setup was a 10-inch plum Berkley Power Worm with a 3/8-ounce Tungsten weight. His hook was a Gamakatsu 5/0 straight-shank model.
That one spot held winning bass because of the big forage, highly attractive to recent post-spawning largemouths, he said.
“That cold water creates a lot of oxygen for shad. A lot of bigger fish trying to feed up after the spawn were after those shad. I saw shad there as big as 12 inches,” he said.
Hamilton was, perhaps, more excited about landing the largest bass of his life than he was about besting 90 other anglers.
“I feel amazing,” he said. “And I’m happy to make it back to Chickamauga.”
Kernan started his day by flipping to manmade river structures. A bust, he went to the dam. There he caught eight keepers. His best was a 5-pounder.
Even though he’ll begin the next leg of the tournament in 52nd place, his weight from the first two days of 22-11, plus a really good day’s catch, possibly could jump him into the Top 12, he said.
“Chickamauga has proved it can produce some giant sacks,” Kernan said.
Hartley, after beating the bank, gave up on that tactic after it produced only three small bass.
“At about 11 o’clock, I said, ‘If you don’t even go out there and try, you won’t have a chance,’” he said. He turned to the strolling technique, something he said isn’t one of his strengths. He lost two fish on the first and second passes over a shoal.
On the third try, he hooked into a 4/5 double on his crankbait.
“They tried to jump, but they couldn’t,” he laughed. “They were pulling against each other.”
Hartley landed them both. With another 4-pounder, and a few more bass, he was on his way to claiming his second chance. His final weight was 16-13.
Hamilton’s 9-15 was the largest bass weighed in from Nickajack. But, for his 10-11 on Day 2’s competition on Chickamauga Lake, Elite pro Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., remained the top contender for BASSfest’s Carhartt Big Bass award of up to $1,500.
Part competition, part festival, BASSfest is a new and unique event. The competition began with 107 pros of the Bassmaster Elite Series plus 33 anglers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by Allstate circuit. After two days on Chickamauga Lake, the Top 50 stayed on shore to meet fans while the remaining 90 anglers moved to Nickajack for Friday’s shootout. The Top 10 from the shootout qualified to rejoin the Top 50 for Saturday’s semi-final round on Chickamauga.
The Top 12 after Saturday will move into the final round Sunday on Chickamauga to compete for a first prize of $125,000 and a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
The 60 semi-finalists will take off from Dayton’s Point Park at 7 a.m. Saturday. They’ll weigh their catches at the park beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday’s takeoff and weigh-ins also will be at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. All times are Eastern.
There’s no admission charge for any BASSfest event.
The local host of the event is the City of Dayton.
The Bassmasters on ESPN2 will present coverage of BASSfest in four hours of programming beginning June 29 at 8-9 a.m. ET. The next two hours will air July 6, 6-8 a.m. ET, including the finale. It will reair July 13 at 7-8 a.m. ET.