Sumrall scrambles to 2nd place

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Caleb Sumrall this week – emphasis on “everything.” It began with an illness that left him “sick as a dog.” When he finally felt good enough to practice on Tuesday, he had boat motor problems. He got those fixed in time to put a couple of hours on the water Wednesday, but the engine failed him again about two miles away from takeoff on opening day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship.

Then everything started turning around – in a hurry. Somehow, after Day 1, Sumrall finds himself in second place with 15 pounds, 1 ounce – only 8 ounces behind leader Mark Rose.

“I told my co-angler, I think this was meant to happen,” said Sumrall, who just finished his rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series. “It was a truly blessed day.”

Sumrall’s blessings began when he was paired with Will McNutt. He told Sumrall that his father, Bill McNutt, who lives in Henry, Ill., was on the water with a boat, if tournament director Chris Bose would okay the switch. The senior McNutt towed Sumrall’s boat back to Long Creek Marina and the switch was made.

Because Bill McNutt, who also competes in Bassmaster Opens, has some history on this lake, Bose told Sumrall he could not use the full functions of the sonar on McNutt’s boat. It was strictly depth-finder only.

“I was going to do a little of what I ended up doing today, but I can’t say I was going to do it forever,” Sumrall said. “I’m telling you, it was a blessing.”

Sumrall turned lemons into lemonade. His was one of the rare limits Thursday - only 10 anglers weighed-in limits. Even rarer, Sumrall’s bag included only largemouth bass. Almost everyone else had a mix of largemouth, smallmouth and/or spots.

“Whenever I got bit, I just kept telling myself to stay with the pattern,” said the 31-year-old New Iberia, La., pro. “I kept moving and it worked.”

Will McNutt didn’t catch a keeper Thursday, but he got a first-hand look at overcoming adversity.

“It was interesting from my perspective to see an Elite Series guy figure out something on the fly and catch fish, especially on this lake, which has been fishing so tough,” McNutt said.

McNutt has been in the Air Force for 15 years. He’s stationed at Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base. He plans to retire from the Air Force in five years with a goal of qualifying for the Elite Series.

Both Sumrall and McNutt learned a lesson Thursday in overcoming adversity that neither will ever forget.