All eyes, and eyeballs, were focused on Table Rock Lake over the weekend and the final Bass Pro Shops Central Open.
Local pro James Watson of Nixa, Mo., held off a star-studded Top 12 to claim the automatic berth to the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake ‘O the Cherokees. After Watson took the lead on Day 2, it’s certain his Bassmaster profile received views to check if he in fact had fished the previous two Central Opens, a requirement for receiving the Classic bid. He had.
Watson, who last crossed the stage here two years ago in winning a Professional Angler Association (PAA) event, said he pretty much copied that pattern this time.
He looked rather calm on the stage set up in the uniquely cool Branson Landing, with dancing fountains, flames and Lake Taneycomo as a picturesque backdrop. But Watson was a ticking bomb of emotion. He scribbled his sponsors on his left hand and looked down at it several times hoping to thank all.
Watson erupted when his winning weight was announced, throwing jubilant fist pumps and hollers to a happy crowd full of family and friends. Tournament Director Chris Bowes then asked Watson if he’s ever been to the Classic.
“Never … but I’ve been to Grand Lake a lot,” Watson said. “I’m stoked. I’m stoked. I think I forgot to thank Rick Emmitt at Bass Pro. Bass Pro is a phenomenal company and business.”
Watson didn’t bring up his good-luck token, although he earlier gave writer Craig Lamb the rundown on how and why he carries his grandfather’s artificial eyeball.
Clunn comes close to 33rd
Aside from the Watson clan, and Jonathon VanDam, everybody over 8 years old, and even some under, were rooting for legend Rick Clunn to win at Table Rock. Clunn came close by finishing third, but there will not be a 33rd Classic appearance this year.
Clunn was among several bass fishing legends competing last week, including Tommy Martin and Stacey King. Martin was a member of the famous Hemphill Gang and won the 1974 Classic. Read what he told me about the stone ages of bass fishing.
Sure, those two garner tons of respect, but Clunn tops them all. He’s had great productivity as well as longevity. Steve Bowman penned this column on the respect shown to Clunn when he came close to a Classic berth at Falcon Lake 2 years ago.
Although Clunn hasn’t been to a Classic since 2009, he holds the record with 32 appearances, including an incredible 28 in succession from 1974-2001. That’s probably insurmountable. As for victories, winning four Classics -- back-to-back in 1976-77, 1984 and 1990 -- has Clunn tied with Kevin VanDam for most ever.
In his career that’s now spanned five decades, Clunn has competed in 416 Bassmaster events and weighed in nearly 6 tons of bass. He’ll turn 70 next July.
In that Falcon derby Clunn nearly won in 2013, photographer James Overstreet shot him catching lunker after lunker, and those pictures have made the rounds. Afterward, Jerry McKinnis wrote on how extra special it was to have Clunn, Overstreet and cameraman Wes Miller together on a final day. The great Falcon trifecta, he called it.
Well, JO was on Clunn again Saturday, and he came up with an incredible gallery of one of the all-time greatests plying his trade.
Need a little help here
As first man out of the Classic, Jonathon VanDam was certainly interested in the goings-on at The Rock. James Elam and Josh Bertrand were in the Top 12 on Day 3, and a victory by either would mean the next Elite angler in the point standings, JVD, would get a Classic bid.
So where was VanDam? While most assuredly checking on the event, he was off the grid. Calls to his cellphone went right to voicemail, but a search on Facebook showed he was out West chasing elk, and he did bag at least one thing over the weekend.
“Put one down this morning! Pretty dang excited for my first ever bull in New Mexico! Unbelievable chasing these big bruisers around!” he reported.
Yeah, that’s a pretty nice bull, but it's no bull he'd be tickled to sneak into the Classic.
JVD’s last hope for a Classic berth comes with the final Southern Open this month. The Opens are win and you’re in to the Classic, but anglers have to fish all three in the series. So far, two Opens slots for the 55-man Classic field have moved over to Elites.
If an angler who’s already qualified for the Classic wins the Seminole Open Oct. 22-24, JVD is in. So, there is still hope.
Next in line is Gerald Swindle, and he's left with the slimmest of hopes. He would have to have the aforementioned scenario as well as Chad Morgenthaler missing the event and losing his berth from winning the first Southern Open. Seems highly doubtful.
Fish didn’t disappear, lake did
Pros are always talking about their fish just vanishing. It’s one thing that keeps a tourney angler up at night.
He finds a big school of fish that are snapping and he can’t wait to get there. But as happens more often than we can count, the fish are gone the next day, or maybe just not eating. The horror. The horror.
That’s nothing like what happened to Mountain Meadows reservoir near the Northern California town of Westwood. Better known as Walker Lake, fish were all over the mucky bottom of the 170-acre feet reservoir, but all the water disappeared overnight. Just gone.
Skeptical residents believe the power company, which has rights to the water, didn’t want to pay for a costly fish relocation and secretly emptied the lake. An official with the game and fish department surmised the culprit was a clogged outlet valve that was cleared two days before the incident.
Understandably, residents are extremely upset to lose a popular fishing hole, as well as suffering through the stench of rotting fish.
The Golden ticket?
There’s some crazy animal colorations out there -- white lions, pink dolphins, blue lobsters.
Brown and green bass are the norm, but how about orange and yellow? Seems someone opened the Crayon box on bass as several oddly colored Micropterus salmoides have been caught recently.
Xanthism, a pretty rare case which causes pigments to turn orange, was cited in the fish on the left. That’s similar to the way albinism causes a lack of pigment.
The golden bass, which in fact is not a ticket to the Classic, is a genetic mutation where blue color receptors failed. Sound rights, blue and yellow make green. See Robert Montgomery’s rundown of the golden bass.
- Photo of the Week goes to James Overstreet’s shot of Rick Clunn fishing early on Day 3 at Table Rock. Overstreet said this of his day: “Perfect fall morning, perfect body of scenic water, watching a man fish that has always sought perfection. Yes ... we both have the perfect jobs to do.” Check out all the Open shots.
- Elroy Krueger died last month at 75 to little fanfare. Rick Clunn, who roomed with Krueger and learned from him, put the impact of one of competitive bass fishing’s pioneers into perspective. He called him “the greatest bass angler that no one probably knows outside the state of Texas.” See Thomas Allen’s Saying goodbye to Elroy Krueger.
- Everyone in the bass fishing community is hoping all went well with Mark Davis. The three-time AOY and Classic winner underwent surgery Monday for squamous cell carcinoma of his lower lip. See Don Barone’s report.
- At the same time, Norma McCaghren reports Billy McCaghren, the last man into the Classic, is undergoing a procedure at a Little Rock endoscopy center. She wrote on Facebook that she hopes it’s nothing more than a constricture of the throat. Prayers for both.
- Mike Iaconelli is on a tour of Italy with Molix, and he’s showing off the scenes and happenings, like his seminars with B.A.S.S. Italy folks. Of course, he had some news to report about an amazing day: “Got to marry my wonderful wife, Rebecca, AGAIN!” Congrats, Ike and Becky.
- What’s your favorite Hollywood mention of B.A.S.S.? NBC’s “The Blacklist” gave a big nod when James Spader’s character said he’d now have time to catch up on reading Bassmaster magazine.
- My all-time favorite remains “Ghostbusters 2,” when a security guard tells Bill Murray’s character his psychic show was among his two favorite. Dr. Peter Venkman asked, what’s the other? “Bassmasters … It’s a fishing show.” “I know Bassmasters” was Murray’s smarmy, disappointed response. Funny, but you have to appreciate Murray.