FLORENCE, Ala. — Blake Sylvester was a bit worried the spot he pounded to grab the Day 1 lead in the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Pickwick Lake might not be as productive a day later.
It wasn’t, but it didn’t matter.
Sylvester, a 29-year-old Plaquemine, La., resident, caught a limit of five bass Thursday that weighed 12 pounds, 3 ounces. Added to the 16-10 limit he caught Wednesday, he has a tournament-best 28-13 total heading into the final day on this 43,000-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River.
Despite his position atop the leaderboard after both days of fishing, Sylvester has struggled to get the Pickwick largemouth bass to bite. He found a stretch of submerged grass in approximately 6 feet of water that was productive in practice, and he fished it almost exclusively on Wednesday but got only a handful of bites. Sylvester returned there Thursday, but he didn’t catch his first bass until after 11 a.m.
With nothing in his livewell more than halfway through Day 2, Sylvester wondered if he should stick with the grass or look for another area. He chose to remain on his primary spot, and it finally paid off with six keeper bites, five of which made it to Thursday’s weigh-in at McFarland Park.
“Back home, I would have left the spot in a heartbeat,” he said. “But in the three days I spent here before we were off-limits, plus the three days we practiced, that was the only spot that I was really confident in.”
Still, it was extremely difficult to stay when nothing was biting.
“I was thinking about what my sob story would be when I weighed in today,” he said with a laugh. “Really, I was looking at the same thing over and over again. It was tough. I must have thrown a thousand times.”
Sylvester said his bite ignited only when he switched colors on his lure of choice. He said that simple change was the difference between fishing Friday’s championship round and heading home to Louisiana.
It’s no surprise he’ll head back to the grassbed Friday, hoping it can sustain him for a wire-to-wire championship win and a spot in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.
“I think it has more fish,” he said. “They’re there for a reason. It has all the right conditions. I might run some stuff tomorrow morning to catch some smallmouths, but I’ll wind up back in the same spot. It’s been the best one here so far.”
Sylvester is one of 12 competitors who survived the cut and will fish Friday. The top three among them will earn berths in the Classic to be held March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts near Fort Worth, Texas.
The winner of this week’s tournament will also win $20,000 cash and $16,000 in paid entry fees to compete on the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series. The winner can opt instead to receive entry to the 2021 Bassmaster Opens, and B.A.S.S. will provide a “Nation’s Best” wrapped boat to use on either circuit next year.
Utah’s Terry Peterson won the co-angler division Thursday with a two-day total of 21-7. Peterson was presented the Louis “Pee Wee” Powers Trophy for winning the division and collected $10,000 cash and paid entries to all Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens tournaments in 2021.
B.A.S.S. officials outfitted him with a boat to use in Friday’s final round, and he’s the only one of 46 co-anglers competing Friday.
Peterson jumped to the top of the co-angler leaderboard Wednesday with a 14-10 limit and followed with three bass Thursday that weighed 6-13.
“I only started fishing B.A.S.S. Nation four years ago,” the 52-year-old West Jordan, Utah, resident said. “Having a chance to make the Classic tomorrow, it’s like an amateur playing golf in The Masters. It’s an amazing feeling, and it’s really close to reality right now.”
The Top 12 co-anglers split $31,500 in cash after Thursday’s weigh-in.
Wisconsin’s Pat Schlapper placed second in the boater division with 28-7, followed by Vermont’s Michael Comeau with 26-12 and Arizona’s Justin Kerr with 26-1.
The Top 10 competitors in the boater division automatically advanced to the final round, as did the co-angler champion and anyone who placed among first or second in one of five B.A.S.S. Nation Regional tournaments who wasn’t in the Top 10 at Pickwick.
Whoever finishes second among the remaining dozen competitors will win $15,000 cash and entries into all 2021 Opens events, while third place is good for $10,000 and invites to all Opens.
In all, 94 boaters and co-angler champions from 46 states qualified for the championship on Pickwick with a total purse of $176,800 in cash and prizes up for grabs. North Dakota, Connecticut, Hawaii and Alaska are the only states not represented this year.
Oregon’s Cody Hollen, last year’s B.A.S.S. Nation Champion, was entered, as was Florida’s Ken Carter, the Paralyzed Veterans of America Angler of the Year.
The final round begins with takeoff at 6 a.m. CT Friday from McFarland Park. The weigh-in is scheduled for 2 p.m. back at the park.
The tournament is being hosted by Visit Florence.