The heavens opened, the stars came out, and, finally, even the bass obliged at the first annual Bryan Bickell Celebrity Bass Tournament held at Bangs Lake in Wauconda, Illinois, on Friday, Sept. 11.
The fundraising event, run by the Bryan and Amanda Bickell Foundation and Walter & Connie Payton Foundation, gave local anglers and well-wishers an opportunity to fish with members of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and Bassmaster pros in a one-day bass tournament while supporting the work of the foundations.
View tournament photos here.
The Bickell Foundation raises awareness about treatment of pit bull dogs and works with them in the treatment of formerly abused children through programs such as "Bullies Against Bullying" and "Paws for Strength." The latter program assists abused children through the help of certified therapy "pit bull" type dogs who were also once abused.
Organizer and weigh-in emcee was Frank Hyla, host of Time on the Water television show and a member of the Shimano pro staff.
Fittingly, Bryan Bickell was the first to defy the early morning thunderstorms and falling mercury. He caught a keeper on his second cast and went on to lead his team to a five-fish limit.
Sponsors for the event included Plano Synergy and Shimano, both of which donated prizes for the top-finishing teams.
Blackhawk player-anglers included Cory Crawford, Scott Darling, Daniel Carcillo, Andrew Shaw, David Rundblad and Trevor Van Riemsdyk.
"It's always successful when you can raise money for good causes, and Bryan's foundation is all about 'good causes!'" said Jesse Simpkins who represented Plano Synergy. "This event was not only a blast, but was a success for both the foundation and Plano. We are so proud to partner with these guys for such an incredible cause."
The tournament had special meaning for Simpkins and his Plano-backed team, which included Make-A-Wish teen Max Venchus and Blackhawk goalie Scott Darling.
"I met Max through Make-A-Wish," said Simpkins. "He was diagnosed with leukemia three-and-a-half years ago and next month he goes in for his last treatment. When you meet him, you see his resolve. Now he wants to be a professional angler. He's a lifelong Blackhawks hockey fan, and he loves fishing. Those passions came together here!"
"It was really exciting," said Max. "I got to meet all these people and see them fish.”
Mike Iaconelli and his team got off to a slow start but dialed into a hot afternoon bite that brought 20 keepers to boat.
"We were able to cull up to a pretty respectable weight by getting onto a good dock pattern and pitching jigs," said Iaconelli.
Ike was glad he had the opportunity to contribute to the work of the foundations.
"I'm a huge hockey fan," said previous Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli. "I fished with Bryan (Bickell) a while back, and we've stayed in touch. He's a great guy and a really good stick! It was fun fishing the event and having the chance to contribute to the work of Bryan and Amanda's foundation."
Two of Bassmaster's prime-time faces – Mark Zona and Dave Mercer – brought their usual excitement and energy to the crowd as they praised the work of the organizers.
A premature blast of fall-like weather and heavy rains pounded the area shortly before launch and threatened throughout the day. Though a number of teams came to the scales with five-fish limits, most agreed that conditions were tough.
Said Zona: "We didn't do that well today, but I got on this lake yesterday, and, trust me, this lake's got fish!"
The team of Casey Tucker, Mike Gentile and Mike Morrel won with a 12.68-pound total. The bulk of their catch came on a dropshot rig with Molix soft plastic.
"We were sweating it out up there on the hot seat," said Tucker who anchored the team's total with a 4.59-pound fish that also claimed big-fish honors. "It was really a thrill to fish with these pros and Blackhawk players and to hear and feel the excitement of that crowd.”
For more information on the work of the Bryan and Amanda Bickell Foundation and its programs including "Paws for Strength" and "Bullies Against Bullying," check out the Bickell Foundation website: www.bickellfoundation.org.