LEESBURG, Fla. – People following BASSTrakk on Friday had to think Matthew Robertson was going to build an insurmountable lead on the five other anglers competing in the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off.
It certainly appeared that way early on Day 1 of the fish-off as the 32-year old Robertson had five bass in his live well by 8 a.m. The Kentucky Bass Nation Team Trail angler only had to upgrade a couple times later in the morning to accumulate his spectacular 25-pound, 10-ounce limit.
But Jayme Copenhaver III of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Bass Association quietly chipped away at Robertson’s lead as the day progressed. A 6-12 bass, the biggest caught by anyone on Friday, anchored Copenhaver’s bag and helped the 32-year old climb to within 4 ¼ pounds of the lead.
Though it’s tough to predict outcomes on a fishery that has produced five bass heavier than eight pounds this week (the largest was a 10-10,) the Classic
Fish-Off clearly appeared to be a two-man race heading into the second and final day of competition Saturday.
There are, however, four other anglers in the tournament who wouldn’t mind disproving that notion. They are William “Clay” Samples, who is in third place with 14-0; Adam Dysart with 11-0; Wendell Anderson with 10-4; and Charles “Tyler” Purcell with 1-12.
Still, each of those four competitors said they also pretty much believe that either Robertson or Copenhaver will win the fish-off. The angler who does win will lock up the 52nd and final berth in the Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods when it is held March 15-17 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Of course, it’s a good bet there are two biased opinions in the informal poll. Robertson teamed with Anderson all year on the Kentucky Bass Nation Team Trail, and Dysart fished with Copenhaver in all Chattanooga Bass Association events this season. Their friendships run deep, and if they can’t win themselves, then why not their fishing buddy?
“I think he’s going to keep catching them,” Anderson said of Robertson. “And if he’s not, then I know he can go grind out a limit.”
Robertson fished in Lake Harris on Friday while Anderson was plying Lake Eustis nearby. Robertson again will fish the plum spot the duo located earlier in the week, and Anderson, sensing his partner is nearing a win, was happy to relinquish it.
“I think he’ll need 42 to 45 pounds to take it,” Anderson said.
Dysart said he too will let Copenhaver have their best stretch of water on Saturday. They’ve shared the spots the past three days.
“That spot has got big fish in it,” Dysart said. “We caught a 7 (pounder) and a 6 (pounder) there this week, and he caught another one close to 7 (pounds) today, so there’s quality there. If he can get some kicker bites to go with some 4 pounders to go with it, (Robertson) will have to answer.”
Samples and Purcell teamed to win the two-day team championship on Thursday behind a pair of 20-pound limits. Purcell struggled Friday, but Samples pieced together a limit – albeit it one that has him nearly 12 whole pounds off the lead.
Samples said he believes 40 pounds over two days will win the fish-off. If he’s right, he’ll have to catch 26 pounds on Saturday to have a shot at the Classic. Robertson, meanwhile, would need 14-6 to advance.
Samples said it’s a feat, but it’s not entirely out of reach -- not on the Harris Chain, at least
“If the fish turn on for me like they did in practice, I most definitely can catch that,” he said.
The final day launch began at 6 p.m. ET. Weigh-in is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. ET at Ski Beach Park in Leesburg.
BY THE NUMBERS
$120,000 – Value of cash and prizes awarded in the 2018 Bassmaster Team Championship.
$41,999 – Value of the Nitro Z20 boat and Mercury 225 Pro XS boat/motor combo awarded Thursday to Samples and Purcell after they won the team championship.
197 – Number of two-person teams entered in the team championship.
133 – Number of five-bass limits caught on Day 1 of the team event.
124 – Number of limits caught on Day 2 of the team championship.
35 – Number of states who had competitors fishing this week on the Harris Chain.
3 – Number of foreign countries represented. Australia, Canada and South Africa all had anglers here.
29-1 – The number of pounds (29) and ounces in the five-bass limit caught by Robertson and Anderson on Day 2 of the team championship.
23-12 – Number in pounds and ounces of the second-heaviest limit of the team tournament. Ultimate Bass Team Trail anglers Aaron Leon and Timothy Klinger on Nevada produced that weight on Day 2. It wasn’t enough to get them into the cut to three teams in the Classic Fish-Off.
25-10 – Number in pounds and ounces that Robertson caught on Day 1 of the fish-off – the second heaviest limit produced in either event this week.
10-10 – Number in pounds and ounces of the big bass of the team tournament. Tennessee’s Nobuyuki Terajima caught the lunker on Day 1 of the event.
9-5 – Number in pounds and ounces of the second-heaviest bass of the team tournament caught by Illinois’ Luke Estel on Day 2.
6-12 – Number in pounds and ounces of the heaviest bass caught on Day 1 of the fish-off. Jayme Copenhaver III weighed the bass to close out Friday’s action at Ski Beach Park.
1,555 – Number of bass weighed over two days of the team championship.
3,456-13 – Total weight of bass in pounds and ounces caught during the two-day team tournament.
84 – Total weight of bass caught by the six anglers in the Classic Fish-Off on Friday.