SANDUSKY, Ohio — Nate Wellman has had a dream since he was 12 years old: to fish in the Bassmaster Classic.
Since then, he’s strived to make that dream a reality by trying to qualify through the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens as well as the Bassmaster Elite Series, but before today, he’s always come up short.
With his win on Lake Erie, he’ll be able to live out that dream this February on Louisiana’s Red River at the 2012 Classic.
The victory was even more special because Wellman had never won on his home water of Lake Erie despite compete on the lake for more than 10 years.
“I can’t even explain what this means to me. To come here and win means an awful lot, but to get to go to the Classic means the world,” he said.
Wellman narrowly missed a spot in the 2011 Classic with his third-place finish in the 2010 Northern Opens point standings. Only the top two anglers advanced.
Along with the Classic berth, Wellman also takes home a fully-rigged Nitro boat with a 225-horsepower Mercury outboard and nearly $9,000 cash. His Day Three catch weighed 18-4, giving him a three-day total of 63-11and almost a two-pound margin of victory.
Most of his fish fell for a Berkley Gulp! Minnow and an Erie Darter, all drop shotted. On the first two days, he used a prototype ABT Lures crankbait that he says will reach 29 feet.
While much of the field struggled due to little wind on Day Three, Jared Rhode of Port Clinton, Ohio, excelled and took home $12,500 for second. He caught 22-11, which gave him a total of 61-15.
Michael Murphy of Gilbert, S.C., also figured out how to catch an above-par stringer as he brought in 22-2, giving him 61-0 and earning more than $10,000.
Murphy said that every day presented a new challenge as the weather conditions fluctuated. The first day the winds were high and blew 6-foot waves across the lake, while on Day Two it calmed down a bit before virtually disappearing on Day Three.
“I lost a good fish today, but I learned something from it,” he said. “They were really finicky and I found that they were just playing with it, so I had to let them take it before I set the hook. It was a real grind.”
Murphy relied on an Ima Beast Hunter crankbait the first two windy days, then switched to a Reins tube and a Tabu Tackle Whip Tail worm when the wind receded.
In fourth place is Chris Malone of Ironton, Ohio, who caught 19-1 today for a total of 60-8. He won more than $8,000. In fifth place is Kurt Dove of Del Rio, Texas, who caught 20-12 for a total of 58-12. He took home $7,500.
On the co-angler side, Day One leader Jonathan Shoemaker of Elyria, Ohio, reclaimed the lead and took home a Triton boat with a Mercury outboard valued at $35,000. His Day Three limit of three fish weighed 11-11, giving him 38-4 and a 13-ounce cushion ahead of two anglers.
Like much of the field, Shoemaker relied on a drop shot rig with either a Roboworm, leech, or a soft jerkbait on the end.
In second place is Day Two leader Mike Chunko of Alliance, Ohio, who caught 9-9 for a total of 37-7. Behind him is Bobby Woods of Stafford, Ohio, who also caught 37-7 after a 12-13 bag Saturday.
Just an ounce back in fourth was Chris Van Vliet of Cleveland, Ohio, who caught 11-12. Rounding out the top five is Pete Manns of Seville, Ohio, who caught 11-6 to total the same as Van Vliet, 37-6.
The third and final stop of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Opens is Sept. 22-24 on Oneida Lake in Syracuse, N.Y.