PARIS, Tenn. – Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish that really counts.”
That may be true, but boy, oh boy, did Scott Clift have a fantastic start to the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off today on Kentucky Lake.
The 39-year old Dadeville, Mo., resident boated a five-bass limit that weighed 17 pounds, 8 ounces, which put him well ahead in the six-man field with one day of competition remaining.
Now, Clift’s hoping he can match the catch on Saturday and finish the job that will earn the winner of this contest a berth in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic next March.
As he sat in his boat at Paris Landing State Park waiting to weigh-in, Clift estimated he had about 15 pounds in his bag – maybe less.
“Sometimes your eyes get big out there,” Clift said. “I may even have only 14 pounds or so. But I’m hoping for heavy as possible.”
Turns out the haul was significantly heavier than his guess. That was a pleasant surprise to him, and surely a letdown to the other five men chasing him.
Clift caught the only limit on Friday. He is followed by Barron Adams (four bass, 9-2); Ty Faber (two, 8-7); Ashley Medley (three, 6-2); Trevor Prince (two, 4-12); and John Gardner (0 fish weighed.)
After 186 two-person teams competed in the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship on Wednesday and Thursday, the field was whittled to the Top 3 teams. Those tandems were separated and the six surviving anglers had their weights zeroed. They began a two-day fish-off on Friday, and the individual with the heaviest total after Saturday’s weigh-in will earn the last available spot in the Bassmaster Classic on Texas’ Lake Conroe March 24-26.
The anglers were met by a morning frost here in the northwestern corner of the Volunteer State. But the sun broke through and warmed Kentucky Lake a bit soon after daybreak.
That’s when Clift took advantage. He had five bass in his livewell by 9:15 a.m., and didn’t upgrade from that point.
He did miss a big fish — “in the 5-pound class,” he estimated — and another fish he didn’t see. He had about 10 bites today, and with each keeper of his limit in the 3 1/2-pound range, that was more than enough to stake a sizable lead.
Like most anglers in the team championship, Clift started the week fishing rocks and underwater structure in about 10 feet of water. Colder conditions scattered the bass, however, and Clift appears to be the only remaining angler who has squarely located them.
Still, he was nervous as could be on Friday morning, especially when he lost his first three bites.
“I told my marshal my hands were really shaky,” Clift said. “But then I got my first bite, and it kind of went well from there. The fish changed, too. Everything early today was kind of lipped [hooked only in the lip], but they really went to chewing on it for about an hour. That’s when I caught them, then it pretty much shut down.”
Clift and Medley, his team championship partner who both fish on the Joe Bass Team Trail, flipped a coin to see who would have first choice of their best spots from the first two days of the tournament.
“Both of our spots were about the same the first two days,” Clift said. “After the start, (all water) was fair game.”
Adams, who hails from Blue Ridge, Ga., and fishes with the Chattanooga Bass Association, said it took him all day to boat his four bass. He’s making a long run on the sprawling 160,000-acre lake, and plans to do so again on Saturday. He had a big bass on his line in the final minutes of angling time, but it dropped off.
“It looked like it was about 5 or 6 pounds,” Adams said. “That fish would have made it interesting.”
Faber and Gardner won the team championship on Thursday, but both men struggled on Friday. Faber weighed the biggest bass today, a 6-3 lunker he caught early in the morning. His bites have produced quality fish, but he failed to boat a limit for the third consecutive day.
“I’m just not getting the bites I need, and I only had five bites today,” Faber said. “But whatever we’ve found, they’ve been big ones.”
With fish that heavy biting in December, the half dozen remaining anglers know they all technically remain in the hunt for that spot in the Bassmaster Classic.
But Clift certainly is in the pole position. He plans to fish the same area on Saturday and hope he can, as the saying goes, finish what he started.
“I just have to go hit ’em, and hit ’em hard,” Clift said.
Launch for the final day of the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off will begin at 6:30 a.m. CT at Paris Landing State Park. Weigh-in is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT.
The tournament is presented by the Henry County Alliance.