BRANSON, Mo.—Ryan Lavigne and Timothy Klinger are living the dream of every bass club angler at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open.
Lavigne and Klinger are fishing the pro angler division on Table Rock Lake. Two weeks from now they will live the ultimate dream of any bass angler by fishing the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
Lavigne, Klinger and Darrell Ocamica finished as the Top 3 anglers at the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors. Last November, those anglers earned the B.A.S.S. Nation’s Best prize package, which is the use of a Toyota Tundra truck and a fully rigged, tournament-ready Phoenix boat for one year, as well as paid entry into the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens series of the angler’s choice, and a berth in the 2017 Classic.
Lavigne, of Gonzales, La., won the championship on Lake Conroe, also the Classic fishery. Klinger is from Boulder City, Nev., and Fruitland, Idaho, is the hometown of Ocamica. He is fishing the Southern Opens and also accepted the invitation to compete in the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series.
“What Phoenix Boats and the other sponsors are doing for us is just amazing,” said Lavigne. “The three of us are running the best equipment on the market.”
Lavigne, who won the championship as a co-angler, is equally impressed with the new B.A.S.S. Nation championship format that opened up the competition to co-anglers.
“To qualify like I did was just awesome,” he added. “The B.A.S.S. Nation went above and beyond with the new format.”
Lavigne likes the format for more reasons than he qualified.
“It’s amazing because I’ve never been to Table Rock and don’t have a lot of experience in clear water,” said Lavigne. “So it’s a cool thing to get the chance to learn these different lakes.”
Back to Conroe
Lavigne won the championship in blowout fashion. The Louisiana angler caught a whopping 24-pound limit on the final day, upping his winning weight to 58-03 after three days. Ocamica finished second with 41-12 and Klinger took third place with 37-11.
With the win still fresh, Lavigne went back to Conroe to scout the lake. He wisely resisted the temptation to go fishing during the December trip.
“I really wanted to go back and set the hook on a few more,” he said. “I knew what was in front of me so I spent the six days just looking around.”
“I fished some and am very interested in getting back to see if my thinking was right,” he added.
Lavigne and his B.A.S.S. Nation peers get that chance March 24-26, when the Classic comes to Lake Conroe.
About a dozen Central Open anglers drove 1,200 miles to get to Table Rock, even though many live only a few hours away. Those anglers traveled from Lake Okeechobee, Fla., site of the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee.
The long road trip had challenging consequences. Stephen Browning, the only angler of the dozen to fish on Championship Sunday, had less than two days of practice at Table Rock.
After fishing all day—and the previous week—Browning drove 6 hours and spent the night in the Florida Panhandle. On Monday he drove 13 hours nonstop to Table Rock.
“If I could do it all over again I would have slept in on Tuesday and just fished that afternoon and all day on Wednesday,” he said.
Browning sat down for the first time at the tournament meeting on Wednesday evening. The sudden stop shut off his adrenaline rush. He hit the wall.
“I had a couple of friends jab me because I started nodding off in my seat,” he admitted.
Luke Clausen was part of the convoy too, although he got a one-day head start on Browning after missing the Top 12 cut. Clausen departed on Saturday morning and arrived Sunday evening after a 19-hour drive, with one overnight stop.
Clausen gets the unofficial distance award for his jaunt to Table Rock from Okeechobee. That trip began the week of the Elite Series event. The Spokane, Wash., pro flew from his home to Nashville, picked up his boat, truck and drove all day to Okeechobee.