Faber, Gardner take Championship

PARIS, Tenn. — Ty Faber and John Gardner expected to be deer hunting in Wisconsin by Friday.

There’s been a change of plans.

The Colorado anglers won the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship on Thursday at Paris Landing State Park here in the northwestern corner of the Volunteer State. They boated a two-day total of 37 pounds, 10 ounces on Kentucky Lake, which not only clinched the team title, but gave each angler a 1-in-6 chance of fishing in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic next March.

Not long after they hoisted the team championship trophies over their heads, it was time for a reality check.

“This hasn’t sunk in just yet,” Gardner said. “I’m still trying to process it. I have no idea what we’re going to do tomorrow.”

Thursday provided the highlight so far in a whirlwind week. Faber and Gardner drove from Colorado to Kentucky Lake and suffered through a dreary practice session that was accompanied by wind, rain and falling temperatures. They only caught one fish between them during practice, and figured they’d be able to keep their road trip of America alive by heading for Wisconsin Thursday evening after the second day of fishing in the team tournament was complete.

But the duo lit into the bass on Day 1 with a four-fish haul that weighed 22 pounds. They followed up with four more bass on Thursday that weighed 15-10. Though they only landed eight of a possible 10 bass, their total still was enough to hold of the Missouri tandem of Ashley Medley and Scott Clift, who finished second with 37-3. Barron Adams and Trevor Prince of Blue Ridge, Ga., placed third with 36-13.

The Top 3 duos now will be split, and the six individual anglers will fish for two more days with the final berth in the $1 million Bassmaster Classic on Texas’ Lake Conroe on the line.

But first things first, and that involves savoring the team championship.

Faber, 31, and Gardner, 58, won a Nitro Z30 and Mercury 225 Pro XS boat and motor package valued at $41,995. The rig also is outfitted with a Minn Kota trolling motor, Lowrance electronics, and more. Faber also collected a $500 check for landing the big bass on Thursday (a 7-7 lunker he hooked midmorning.)

When anglers win a tournament, they almost always disclose the techniques they used on the path to victory. But with two more days of fishing ahead, Faber was as tight-lipped as a bass on ice. Appropriate, perhaps, given the icy conditions Thursday morning on Kentucky Lake

“Jigs,” he said, cracking a wry smile, when asked what lure attracted the biggest bass.

The 7-7 monster carried the bag, but it was a 1 1/2-pound squeaker they caught with 10 minutes of fishing time remaining that provided the winning edge. They lose that fish, and they’re deer hunting by midday Friday.

“We’d have been excited before this tournament if you had told us we’d have caught eight fish,” Faber said.

As Gardner said, neither he nor Faber have a plan for Friday’s competition. After all, they consider themselves lucky to be fishing another day anyway.

“We ran out of fish,” Gardner said. “We really don’t have a plan. We’re just going to go fish and see what happens.”

But first, they’ll have to ask some friends they’re staying with in the Paris, Tenn., area if it’s okay to hang around a few more days.

“Hopefully, they’ll keep cooking us dinner,” Faber joked.

Faber is a plumber by trade, and Gardner a taxidermist. They’ve fished together on the Ultimate Bass Team Trail in Colorado for six years. But for the next two days, they’ll be competitors.

“I came here for him,” Gardner said, throwing his support behind Faber. “No way had I thought I’d be standing here talking to you about a chance to fish in the Bassmaster Classic. We’ll have to figure out what we’re going to do. We may share a spot. It’s OK. We’ll just share it.”

And win or lose, come Saturday they’ll be heading to Wisconsin to hunt deer. For now though, they’re hunting a bigger prize — the final spot in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic.

In all, 186 two-person squads from 31 states and Canada were represented in the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship. The next 36 teams behind Faber and Gardner won cash prizes, including $7,000 each for Medley and Clift (who fish on the Joe Bass Team Trail,) and $5,000 each for Adams and Prince (who are part of the Chattanooga Bass Association.)

Alabama’s Mark McCaig and Tim Hurst caught the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament. That 8-3 lunker boated on Wednesday netted $1,000 in cash awards. Nearly $116,000 in cash and merchandise was awarded in the team championship.

The six anglers competing in the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off will launch from Paris Landing State Park at 6:30 a.m. CT on both Friday and Saturday. Weigh-in is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT both days. All weights were zeroed after Thursday’s weigh-in, so each individual angler has equal opportunity to earn a Classic berth.