Pandemic leads Venezuelan anglers to Hartwell

Talk about turning lemons into lemonade.

When Venezuelan anglers Daniel Valois and Mauricio Marciales found their travel plans hugely impacted by COVID-19 travel restrictions, they decided that fate had delivered a dream opportunity — one that brought them from Miami, Fla. to Anderson, S.C. 

Hailing from Caracas and San Cristobal, respectively, Valois and Marciales had taken a planned vacation to visit their families in South Florida shortly before the pandemic closed Venezuelan re-entry. Fortunately, they were able to stay with relatives, and filling their downtime eventually led them to a grand idea. 

“We were stuck in Florida, so I bought a canoe and we started bass fishing,” Valois said. “We had always seen Bassmaster Magazine, and we were big fans of the tournaments. We always dreamed of one day going to a Bassmaster tournament.

“One day we were talking, and Mauricio told me, ‘I really want to go to one of those tournaments.’ So I said, ‘Okay, let me check it out, and I’ll find out if we can go.’”

Contacting B.A.S.S., Valois found there was space available in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Hartwell. Recognizing their opportunity, the anglers decided to seize the day.

“B.A.S.S. was very, very helpful, so we said, ‘Why not?’” Valois said. “Hopefully, this will not be the last time, but we had all the indications to make our dream come true.

“We signed up for the tournament, we got the confirmation and we said, ‘Okay, a road trip, it is.’ We drove all the way — Mauricio, his wife Vivi and myself. We drove 12 hours from Miami to South Carolina. None of us have ever been to this part of the United States, but we’re having fun. It’s a nice area with really nice people.”

Both members of La Asociación Venezolana de Pesca de Pavón (the Association of Venezuelan Peacock Bass Fishermen), Valois and Marciales have tasted victory in their homeland, but Hartwell’s deep, clear waters and spotted bass will present a new challenge.

“We have some lakes (in Venezuela) that are similar, but the peacock bass (actually a cichlid) behave differently,” Valois said. “Also, we don’t use the drop shot. And sometimes here, you find fish at 70-80 feet of water, but we don’t fish (for peacock bass) that deep.”

AVPP events field three-angler teams, so U.S. tournament format will also present a new experience. With their boats back home in Venezuela, Valois and Marciales registered as co-anglers. Linking up with pro anglers Jerry Gallogly and Bassmaster Elite Brandon Palaniuk provided an opportunity to see the lake and pick up a few relevant tactics.

“Fishing offshore has been very challenging, but we have been learning as we go,” Valois said. “Also, we’ve realized that with the fishing here, there is a lot of electronics involved. We do use electronics, but not these advanced electronics that you have here. It’s unbelievable.” 

Venezuela is often referred to as La Tierra de Gracia (the Land of Grace), a phrase Columbus used to describe the stunning natural splendor. Hopefully, Lake Hartwell treats these visiting anglers graciously, but regardless Daniel Valois and Mauricio Marciales are no strangers to competition. 

“There are very professional fishermen out here,” Valois said. “For us, we’re going to give 100%, and the first mission is to catch the first fish. Then we’ll go for the second one, then we’ll go for the third. One fish at a time. 

“One thing that we’ve realized — and in our AVPP tournaments, it’s the same: It just takes one cast. It might be only your last cast of the tournament, and it can change everything. Here, the fish are in schools, so you could go to your last point in the last half hour and find a school of fish, your day will change completely. So we need to fish to the last minute like it was the first minute.”