REDDING, Calif. — Following two consistent performances on the first two days of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Western Regional on Shasta Lake, Thomas Nokes saved the best for last and mounted a final-round rally that propelled him to a three-day winning weight of 33 pounds, 15 ounces.
For his victory, Nokes earned $5,000 and a spot in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, to be held Nov. 6-8 on Lake Hartwell, South Carolina.
The Riverton, Utah, boater placed 14th on Day 1 with a five-bass limit catch of 10-12 and then advanced to 10th on Day 2 by adding a limit that went 10-1. Today, Nokes added 13-2 — the biggest catch of the day — to surge up the standings and overtake Day 2 leader Taylor Smith by a 5-ounce margin.
Nokes was the top boater for the Utah B.A.S.S. Nation state team, which finished third in the event’s team competition. Most of his fish came on what he described as an old-school tactic, but today it offered a tremendous opportunity that he leveraged to the fullest.
“I started out this morning doing the same thing I’d been doing all week — using a 1/4-ounce dart head with a Berkley Power Worm,” he said. “I got a random big fish — a 4-pounder — off a point that I had worn out for the last three days. It just happened to be there today.”
Nokes said he and his nonboater got their limits fairly quickly by fishing main-lake points. Unsatisfied with his weight, he knew he needed to make something big happen, so he relocated to Shasta Lake’s Pitt Arm and immediately got to work.
“We rolled in and made a few casts, and they were there,” Nokes said. “We landed on a big topwater bite and the fish were busting shad in the backs of little tiny cuts. We spent about three hours whooping and hollering and catching fish.
“It was a mess; we had tied-up stuff all over the boat, broken lines and baits, but it was fun. We took a long time culling things out and we’d regroup until the fish would come back up somewhere else and we’d go over there and get them.”
Nokes caught his schooling fish on a bone-colored Zara Super Spook. The fish seemed to respond best to a speedy retrieve.
Once he felt comfortable with his day’s productivity, Nokes returned to Bridge Bay Marina early. With a potentially winning limit in his livewell, he was taking no chances.
“We came back down here around 1 o’clock (an hour before weigh-in) and sat at the dock for an hour to make sure we made it in time,” Nokes said.
Smith, who hails from Spokane Valley, Wash., caught a limit that weighed 10-8 and finished with a second-place tournament total of 33-10. He began the final round by focusing on spotted bass early with a River2Sea Whopper Plopper, a Reaction Innovations Vixen and a Lucky Craft Sammy. This pattern yielded one keeper before Smith transitioned to his largemouth pattern.
“After my nonboater got his limit, I ran my largemouth stuff and flipped all day,” Smith said. “I was flipping a Texas-rigged Senko.”
Smith was the top boater for the Idaho B.A.S.S. Nation state team.
Nate Caldwell of Fort Collins, Colo., finished third with 32-3. Topping the Colorado B.A.S.S. Nation state team, Caldwell rose from 26th on Day 1 to eighth on Day 2 before rising to third on the strength of his final-round limit that weighed 11-1.
“I was throwing 3.3 Keitech swimbaits on a 1/4-ounce white head for spawning spotted bass that I couldn’t see,” Caldwell said. “Occasionally, I’d follow up with Ned rigs and drop shots. I caught some nice largemouth in practice, but I abandoned the pattern of running pockets because everyone was doing it. I just played the numbers game and tried to cull up. I caught 75 to 100 fish a day.”
Trevor Scott of Windsor, Co. won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award with his 7-4.
Jonathan “J.B.” Bryson of Las Vegas, Nev., completed the wire-to-wire victory in the nonboater division with daily weights of 8-3, 7-11 and 5-13 for a tournament total of 21-11. His was a simple strategy of drop shotting a Keitech Easy Shiner to secure a couple of keepers and then switching to a larger drop shot with a 7-inch Zoom Trick Worm.
“My boaters put me on fish, so I just tried to whack as many as I could,” he said. “I wasn’t going for the big giant fish; I was just going for numbers.”
The tactics did produce one big bass, however. Bryson won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for the nonboater division with his 4-1.