GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. -- "I'm not joking." Those were the words uttered on the phone by Ryan McMurtury shortly after he was crowned 2010 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series National Champion, a title that brought with it a check for $100,000 and a trip to the Bassmaster Classic in February.
"Last night I was trying to sleep and my emotions were going everywhere," McMurtury said. "The Classic is a dream. I'm going to get to see people that I've watched on television.
Now I'm going to be beside them."
The victory capped what has been an amazing week for McMurtury, a week that nearly started in disaster. With only one practice day in the books, McMurtury's boat broke down. He opted to return home to get a backup boat, losing the rest of his practice time in the process.
That forced McMurtury to focus on the only spot he found, and it turned out to be the winning area. McMurtury was one of the few anglers who reported catching large numbers of fish each day, including occasionally catching two fish at a time.
His 18.10-pound final day stringer pushed his total to 69.53 pounds, more than 2 pounds higher than his nearest competition. Brent Anderson landed 18.46 pounds, the heaviest stringer of Day Four and moved into second place.
Day Three leader Ralph Steve DeBord struggled on Saturday and only managed 11.16 pounds, dropping into third. Rounding out the top five was Brandon Gray in fourth with 62.09 pounds and Dustin Evans in fifth with 61.86 pounds.
While weights dropped for many of the anglers on Lake Guntersville, McMurtury kept getting stronger, using a technique on the north end of the lake that produces frequently back home in South Carolina. "I've been using a double-rigged fluke and that's how I've caught two fish at a time," McMurtury said. "That's the same thing I've been doing for four days and my weights kept going up even though it got colder. I had to change a little today, letting it sink for about 10 seconds."
The area he was fishing was a flat off the main lake that had a line of grass along the middle. On the sunny days, the fish would be up on the bank, but it was the cloudy days that McMurtury really capitalized, fishing out in the middle and catching two at a time when they were more aggressive. For someone who plans to fish the Bassmaster Opens next year, the victory and subsequent trip to the Classic will be a big bonus for McMurtury.
Minutes after the weigh-in ended, the congratulations had already started pouring in. "My phone is going to be ringing off the hook because I used to be a football coach in a small town, so word gets around fast," McMurtury said. "I've had a lot of doubters that didn't think I could do it.
This is the first year that I fished a bigger circuit, so this is huge -- it's bigger than big." For McMurtury, the win is more than just a big payday, it's also a tribute to an old fishing buddy. "I'm dedicating this to Arnold Thomasson," McMurtury said. "He died a couple years ago from cancer.
We used to fish together a lot and he was the one who told me to go for it." On the non-boater side, the weigh-in was less suspenseful, as Dennis McGouirk continued his dominance, bringing in 8.73 pounds to close out a 5-pound victory with 41.76 pounds for four days.
The challenge every angler on the back deck faced was figuring out how to catch fish behind four different professionals and McGouirk developed a system that worked better than the rest. "I started to put it together that there was a swimbait bite working better up the lake," McGouirk said. "I know this is the time of year they turn onto a swimbait.
Then when I fished down the lake on the second day, I fished a frog and flipped to catch the big one." His second-day stringer of 15.75 pounds was the biggest caught by a non-boater during the tournament. McGouirk, who pocketed $50,000 for his win, credited great partners during the week as an important factor in his success, especially on the final day. "Today, I knew we would be fishing down the lake," said McGouirk, who fished with Day Three leader DeBord. "Fish started busting and he told me to throw in there.
I whipped my swimbait in there and caught the 5-pounder. That fish belongs to him." Finishing a distant second was Richard Peek from Centre, Ala., who caught 8.55 pounds on Day Four, giving him a total of 36.28 pounds.
Rounding out the top three was Marty Colley from Ashville, Ala., who finished with 31.29 pounds over the four-day event.
Final standings can be found at www.abaproam.com.