MANY, La. — It took three full days, but Jay Beffa finally found the big bass Toledo Bend Reservoir is famous for, and the discovery propelled him to victory on the final day of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional.
Beffa, a resident of Festus, Mo., caught a five-bass limit that weighed 19 pounds, 4 ounces Friday, which was the heaviest bag of the day by almost 7 pounds and more than 5 pounds heavier than any other caught in the tournament.
That gave him a 35-12 total over three days, which was plenty to clinch the title on this sprawling 181,000-acre reservoir straddling the northern part of the Louisiana/Texas border.
Albert Collins of Nacogdoches, Texas, led the first two days, but slipped to second with 32-8. Blake Sylvester of Plaquemine, La., finished third with 32-1.
A total of 160 anglers from eight states started the event — 80 in both the boater and nonboater divisions. Each field was cut to the Top 22 anglers for Friday’s competition, and Beffa was in 16th place among boaters. He began Friday trailing Collins by more than 6 pounds.
But Beffa’s Friday was magical, despite the fact his outboard motor quit working on the way back to Cypress Bend Park for the weigh-in. He was able to catch a ride with another angler and had time to spare before weighing the winning bag.
“This is an incredible feeling,” he said after collecting the winner’s trophy and the $5,000 check that went to the top angler in the boater division. “We’ve got our state tournament next week, so I’m anxious to get back at it.”
Beffa also can look forward to competing in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Alabama’s Pickwick Lake on Nov. 11-13. It’ll be his first trip to the Championship, and he is well aware that three spots in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic will be up for grabs at Pickwick.
“I’m on a roll,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
Beffa primarily flipped docks on the Texas side of Toledo Bend during the first two days, using a custom black/blue jig with a Hawg’s custom blue trailer. On Friday, when a brisk north wind kept some anglers from running to the far northern stretches of the reservoir, Beffa sought familiar terrain near Cypress Bend.
That can be a tough prospect for a central Missouri angler fishing in Louisiana, but he knew exactly what he wanted.
“I looked for Missouri rock and a topwater bite,” he said. “I found some in practice right around the corner (from the launch site) and hit it every day a little bit. I went back today and caught a pair of 5-pounders with a custom-painted Whopper Plopper.”
Happy with his start but certainly not satisfied, Beffa decided to chance a run up Toledo Bend to the Huxley area where he had fished earlier in the week. He caught a 4-pounder on one of his first casts there Friday and finished with two more solid keepers to hammer down his 19-4 limit.
“I didn’t expect this today,” he said. “I was really frustrated with myself. I only caught three fish on Thursday and lost a 5-pounder and a 3 1/2-pounder. Being in 16th place but coming back to win it, that was huge.”
Connor Rushing came from behind to win the nonboater division but didn’t have to make nearly as big a leap in the standings. The 18-year-old from Pride, La., caught a limit of three bass Friday that weighed 7-12 to give him a 21-pound total for the tournament. That was enough to overtake teammate Trace Day of Denham Springs, who finished second with 19-15.
Rushing, who won $2,500, trailed Day by 2 ounces heading into Friday’s action, when he fished with Oklahoma’s Jared Miller. He said it was a challenge fishing with different boaters each day.
“I caught them all the first day in 15 minutes on a gooseberry (Zoom) trick worm,” he said. “Yesterday, we pulled up on a dock first and I caught back-to-back 3-pounders…using a Shongaloo 10-inch worm (junebug red).
“Today, I was just flipping a (Missile Baits) D Bomb when I caught my two big ones. I picked up a black and blue ChatterBait and got my limit with that.”
Rushing said qualifying for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship had him “super-pumped.”
“Ever since I caught that first big fish today, I knew it would be a good day,” he said. “I’m really glad it worked out.”
Day finished second in the nonboater division with 19-15, while Kyle Klein of Kansas placed third with 16-13.
The leading boater and nonboater from each of the eight states competing earned berths in the championship tournament at Pickwick next month.
Arkansas won the team championship portion of the tournament, which was decided Thursday. Louisiana was second and Missouri third. Other states competing at Toledo Bend included Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado.
The total purse for the regional was $24,000. The event was hosted by the Louisiana Office of Tourism, Toledo Bend Lake Country, the Sabine River Authority, DeSoto Parish Tourist Commission and the Vernon Parish Tourism Commission.