DECATUR, Ala. — There may be no greater birthday present for a bass fisherman than to hoist a tournament trophy over his head, one that he’s been wanting for at least 15 years.
That was Mark Dove’s gift today, when he won the 2012 Cabela’s Bassmaster Federation Nation Championship on Alabama’s Wheeler Lake.
“I crossed the Bassmaster Classic off my bucket list back in 1997,” said Dove after his big win today, referencing the last time he qualified for the Classic through the Federation Nation. “I am looking forward to going back again. But the best thing for me is to be able to say that I was at the top of my peers here at the Federation Nation, at least for a period of time. For me, it was more about winning the tournament.”
As part of his prize, Dove will take home the Bryan D. Kerchal Memorial Trophy, a Skeeter ZX200 with a Yamaha 200SHO, Humminbird Electronics and a Minn Kota Trolling Motor, all valued at $53,465. He also wins entry in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla., and eligibility to compete in the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Joining Dove at the Classic in February will be Jonathan Carter of Maine, representing the Eastern division; Andy Bravence of Arizona, representing the Western; Mark Pierce of Tennessee, Southern; Jared Knuth of Nebraska, Central; and Gerry Jooste of Zimbabwe, Mid-Atlantic.
Dove came in with 8 pounds, 12 ounces on Day 1 and followed it up with 10 pounds, 3 ounces on Day 2. His middle-of-the-pack weights on the first two days provided the foundation; the huge 20-pound, 1-ounce sack he brought in today provided the win. It also won him the Lowrance Heavyweight of the tournament, with a Lowrance HDS-7 Touch worth $1,599 as the prize.
“It was just one of those days where you catch one and then another one,” said Dove. “I was throwing back fish today that I would have died to have on the first two days.”
When Dove qualified to fish the 1997 Bassmaster Classic, his colleagues were Gerry Jooste and Dalton Bobo. Bobo came within 2 ounces of winning the 1997 Classic and went down in history as the Federation Nation representative closest to winning without actually winning the Classic. Bryan Kerchal won it for the Federation in 1994.
Bobo taught Dove a pattern that he asked Dove to not disclose, so he’s keeping that a secret. That pattern is what Dove was fishing for the first two days, running and gunning from the I-65 bridge down to the Guntersville Dam.
But today, Dove tried something a little different, what he calls a classic pattern for the Tennessee River in the fall. “I fished a main river flat adjacent to the creek along the break. The bass were holding on the break. I wasn’t surprised to catch them doing that; I was just surprised at the size of the ones I was catching.”
Dove paralleled the drop with three lures — a 1/2-ounce Accent Fishing Products River Special spinnerbait (silver skirt with green flake), a Boogerman buzzbait (black with a nickel blade) and a Paycheck Baits Repo Man (Blow-Up color, which is silver with a chartreuse belly). He used G. Loomis GLX rods, Shimano Chronarch reels and 15-pound Berkley Big Game line with all three lures.
Dove finished with 39 pounds even. Just behind him was Mark Pierce, with 37 pounds, 14 ounces. Pierce flipped laydown trees with a Big Bite Baits Dean Rojas Fighting Frog (black/blue sapphire) with a 3/8-ounce Eco-Pro tungsten sinker. He fished it with 7-foot St. Croix Mojo rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX reel with a 6.4:1 gear ratio and 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon.
“I was slower getting my fish today,” said Pierce. “My area was more crowded. I tried a spinnerbait for a couple of hours but didn’t get a bite.” He went back to the frog and got his limit, and later in the day, the spinnerbait was responsible for helping him cull three times.
Today’s biggest bass was caught by Brent Boyette of North Carolina, who brought a 5-pound, 14-ounce bass to the scales. It was the biggest of the tournament, and it won him Cabela’s Big Bass honors for the day, which includes a $200 Cabela’s gift card.
Many contenders had expressed concern that their bite would shut off today, but almost the same number of bass were brought in today, and the average fish weight moved up to 2 pounds from yesterday’s 1-14 average. And 37 of the anglers brought in limits.
You’ll see Dove, Pierce, Jooste, Bravence, Carter and Knuth on the Classic stage, beginning Feb. 22, 2013, in Tulsa, Okla. The anglers will fish Oklahoma’s Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, competing against top Bassmaster Elite Series pros and reigning champion Chris Lane, as well as anglers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens, the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series and the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series operated by American Bass Anglers.
“It means the world to an amateur angler to be invited to fish the Bassmaster Classic,” said Jon Stewart, B.A.S.S. Federation Nation senior manager. “It’s one of the few ways a grass-roots angler can make it to the pinnacle of the sport.”
“We’re especially proud of these guys,” continued Stewart. “The best thing about these anglers is they now have all the members of the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation across the world rooting for them at the Bassmaster Classic.”