KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Chad Morgenthaler won the tournament while more heroes worked behind the scenes at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Allstate.
The Teen Sport Fishing Association provided untold hours of support throughout the week, starting each day at 4:30 a.m. and continuing through weigh-in. It's the third consecutive year the group volunteered to help make the tournament run smoothly.
The teens helped direct traffic and maintain a smooth flow of 200 boats—a full field—through the launch process and to the parking lots. They assisted with fish care at the weigh-ins held at Big Toho Marina and at Outdoor World in Orlando. And they did much more.
“We’re not just a fishing club,” noted Neal Lazarus, the adult leader of the group.
He’s right. Each year the association, covering six counties in central Florida, conducts up to 12 civic service projects each year. Those range from youth fishing clinics to assisting at Paralyzed Veterans Association of America events.
The members are middle and high school age. Active membership requires maintaining a grade point average of 2.0 or higher.
“They are just a phenomenal group of young people,” said Chris Bowes, senior tournament manager. “They are polite, professional and courteous to everyone and very hard workers.”
Girls in the game
Making the top 12 cut were two women, Linda Higginbotham and Amy Leitch. Leitch had the lucky draw on the final day in Chad Morgenthaler. The day was a real treat since she fished with the pro division winner at her very first bass tournament.
“He was extremely patient and just a true gentleman,” said Leitch. “I feel as if I won the lottery in this draw in terms of what I learned about the sport today.”
Morganthaler came from ninth place to win, and even so, Leitch was impressed he took the time to share fishing tips throughout the day.
Leitch, from Denver, Colo., fished the tournament as a co-angler with her brother. She credits him with the reason for entering the tournament.
Leitch finished in ninth place with 17 pounds, 8 ounces; Higgenbotham took 10th with 17-5.
It’s oftentimes noted that pro anglers either love or hate fishing tournaments in the state of Florida. There is no in neutral state of mind where the strategies can quickly go from boom to bust.
Count Chad Morganthaler in the love category. Morganthaler, from Illinois, won the 2013 Bassmaster Classic Wild Card presented by Star Tron. The win earned him a spot in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, his first appearance since 2006. He’s done well there before on other occasions. With this win he qualifies for the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.
The winner had this to say when asked what gives him the Sunshine State edge.
“I’m just hardheaded. I want to catch bass my way and it’s the only way, boom or bust.”
Fishing the long rod is his way. Morganthaler said he rarely relies on any other technique than flipping the many varieties of aquatic vegetation. That’s not easy in a state where the lakes are filled with grass.
“I’ve just learned how to find the transition areas within vegetation, so it’s worked well for me.”
It works best, obviously when you are hardheaded beyond trying anything else.
LeAnn Swindle, known to tournament regulars as Lulu, bridged the geographical gap between Orlando and friend and tournament wife Debbie Morganthaler.
Swindle did that during the weigh-in by whipping out her iPhone and connecting with Morganthaler through Apple FaceTime, the real-time video app. Swindle stood just off stage, holding the smartphone high overhead, even providing commentary throughout the weigh-in.
Morganthaler usually travels to most tournaments with her husband, yet conflicts prevented her making the trip.
By the numbers
Garrett Rocamora’s 11-pound, 9-ounce largemouth on Day 1 was the heaviest bass caught from the Kissimmee Chain since 2007 at any B.A.S.S. tournament. That’s when Kyle Fox caught a 12-5 at the same event.