INSTANCES THAT KILLED SHOT AT CLASSIC
While Andy Montgomery reveled in his 11th-hour catches that helped him qualify for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, others who just missed can pinpoint the instance that kept them out.
There were four anglers easily within striking distance, but fate, misfortune or folley flipped them a fickle finger, basically saying, “Forget you,” or something very close.
Montgomery finished 39th in the Toyota Angler of the Year standings, and, at the time, was the last man into the Classic. His 651 points accumulated through the 10 Elite Series tournaments put him one point ahead of Ish Monroe, who later received a Classic berth when a Bass Pro Shops Open spot was left vacant.
Next in line were Keith Poche (649 points), Fred Roumbanis (648), Tommy Biffle (646) and Chris Lane (644), who all finished seven points or less back of Montgomery. We asked each if they could provide one single instance that prevented them from looking forward to fishing Lake Conroe in March.
POCHE NEEDED ONE FISH AT BULL SHOALS
The race for the final Classic spots always comes down to the last event, the AOY Championship, and Poche could say just another five ounces there would have been the difference. But he said it was a point early in the year that was his demise.
“It is a combination of all year,” he said. “We’d probably fish a lot differently if we had a different outcome early in the season. We could always speculate. It all comes down to the last event, but if I had to pick one, it would be Bull Shoals/Norfork.
“I went from third place to 48th place in one day. I zeroed the third day. I knew I wasn’t getting many bites, but they were all good ones. I had five keeper fish bite on that day. If I get any of those fish in, I don’t fall as far.”
Landing just one of the estimated 3-pounders would have moved Poche up four spots, giving him the necessary points. A bag comparable to either of his first two days would have had him vying for the title. Instead, that one awful day in the third event of the season ended up killing his chance to reach his second Classic.
“I missed it by one point. One point!” he said. “I probably would have tied with Ish, and probably won the tiebreaker.”
Two 15-plus bags on Norfork then Bull Shoals put Poche within four ounces of co-leaders Chris Zaldain and Bill Lowen. Using the same jig as the previous days, he said he had five decent bites on Day 3. But zip. Zilch. Nada. He said he could not figure out why he couldn’t land one.
“It just wasn’t my day,” he said. “I don’t know. It come off, got hung up, pulled off, broke off. It just wasn’t my day, for whatever reason.”
Yes, stuff happens for no reason. Sometimes you know the exact reason.
ROUMBANIS RELEASED CLASSIC BERTH
Asked for his one moment of doom, Roumbanis laughed long and hard as he thought of his painful trainwreck.
“The fish I let go,” he said, “and the fact that I had the lead at the last Open, too.”
Releasing his Classic ticket happened on Mille Lacs during the AOY Championship. Roumbanis started the story at the very beginning. He said he doesn’t usually pre-practice, but he went to the fabulous smallmouth fishery in the summer and had a great fishing trip. Yet that might have been his undoing.
“I got so caught up with throwing swimbaits,” he said. “It seemed like you could pick and choose — I could drop shot for giants or throw swimbaits — but I just wanted to catch them my way.”
Which was the swimbait, and other circumstances sort of forced him into that. He lost a couple big ones on Day 1 but stood in 39th place with the points to make the Classic. Day 2 was different.
“It was slick and calm. I started with a drop shot,” he said, “and the offshore reef I was fishing was close to the leader (and eventual winner Seth Feider). All his fans were around and some boats were on top of my spots.”
Roumbanis caught two keeper smallies, but got frustrated fighting the traffic and left to go throw his swimbait at 8 a.m. While he was running, he listened to a voice in his head that his 13½-incher was caught deep and might not be doing so well. Anglers are not allowed to cull a dead fish, so he didn’t want to risk it.
“I stopped the boat in the middle of the lake,” he said. “She was on her side, but totally alive. I let her go, thinking I was going to catch five good ones on a swimbait.”
Roumbanis did catch a nice limit the final day, weighing in 18-1, but Day 2 ended in disaster. He hooked a number of fish, lost several and never filled his limit.
“I came in with four fish that day. I missed it by two places — one pound. That one fish was five spots in the tournament. I threw away the Classic, and it still eats me up.”
His four fish went 12-3, pushed him down to finish 47th and ultimately ended his bid to a fifth Classic appearance.
But all hope was not lost. There were still two Opens with berths going to the winner.
“I was so determined. I’m going to go win an Open,” he said. “Atchafalaya, I led after two days and the third day just couldn’t get them to bite.”
Not many anglers have left an event so disappointed with a seventh-place finish and a check near $7,000. Roumbanis sums up his misfortunes in 2016.
“I just think I wasn’t meant to fish the Classic this year,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you why or what the reason is, but maybe later in the year I’ll find out. I’m going to work twice as hard to get in this year.”
BIFFLE LAMENTS FLIPPANT FLIP
The flipping expert left La Crosse, Wis., exasperated with a flippant flip he knows cost him the Classic.
“The thing I probably remember the most was there at the Mississippi,” Biffle said. “My last day I flipped an old willow branch laying in the water. And, you know, you kind of knew you flipped it in wrong when you did. But there’s not supposed to be one there, and there was about a 4-pounder there.”
Going down a shoreline, Biffle said he mindlessly took the wrong approach to that branch, and he kicked himself because landing the fish under it would have gone a long way. He finished 63rd and a cull of five ounces would have leapfrogged him over five others. That fish would have been closer to a 2-pound improvement, which would have put him in top 50 and fishing another day.
“When I got him to the top, he was hung up. If I had taken a different approach to it, I might have caught him,” Biffle said. “I couldn’t get over there to him quick enough and he came off. I told my Marshal that was the one that cost me.”
Biffle said if he really thought a decent fish was down there, he would have taken his time and not been so bullish.
“You’re not going to throw it over a big branch. I just threw it in the V, the big part of it,” he said. “It was just real thick, a lot of branches for him to get hung up. If I had went past it and pitched back under it and flipped under the big part of the tree, then I could have got it probably.”
Hindsight is 20/20, but that fish would have gained Biffle another big two-zero — his 20th Classic appearance.
LANE SUFFERED SELF-INFLICTED WOUND
Chris Lane, the 2012 Classic champ, missed qualifying for his seventh Classic by his own hand. And his bad made him quite mad.
“These guys are so good nowadays, you can’t make a mistake,” Lane said. “It can cost you AOY, it can cost you getting back into the Elite Series … or missing the Bassmaster Classic.”
Lane was mired in a poor start to the season. Things were not going his way with a 71st at St. Johns, 81st at the Smith Lake Open, 62nd at Winyah Bay and 74th at Bull Shoals/Norfork. He had a small limit on the first day at Wheeler when his brain locked up.
“I had not made a check. I was like 70th in the points,” Lane said. “I finally got a 4½ to bite, and I set the hook. I had not missed a fish all day. I was catching pound-and-half, 2-pounders.
“It comes up and throws my Shaky Head back at me. And I mean, the four tournaments that I fished before that all came back into my mind. And I was hot, just fuming out my ears.”
Not long after, he landed another 2-pounder that would cull. In his clouded thinking from losing the kicker, Lane fouled up.
“So I go to cull and I throw them both back in the livewell,” he said.
That’s six fish. With his Marshal in the know but not allowed to say anything, Lane landed a seventh and sat stunned after looking for a cull fish in his livewell and adding things up.
“Just mad. You talk about mad, mad, I was mad,” said Lane, who immediately called tournament director Trip Weldon to report the infraction that cost him a 2-pound penalty. “I never did anything with the seventh fish. I had to go back to the sixth fish. And the Marshal knew it the whole time. He looks at me and said, ‘I was wanting to tell you that, but I just couldn’t.’”
Lane figures that mistake cost him the seven points he needed to get into the Classic, but he also lamented several dead fish penalties that just seemed like piling on.
“I counted 26 points of my own self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “You got to be on top of your game every single time against these guys, but just that one mistake cost me the Classic.”
And these things happen every year to a handful of guys, an instance to replay in their minds over again and again, but hopefully never to repeat.