PARIS, Tenn. – Nearly 400 anglers competed in the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship. They traveled from all over the U.S. and Canada for a chance at not only a team title, but also to vie for the final available spot in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic next March.
They all share a few things in common, besides their love of bass fishing, of course.
For starters, many of the teams were “Just happy to be here” sorts and didn’t seem to think they had a reasonable chance to fish in Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off, which began this morning on Kentucky Lake.
That’s just silly, as anything can happen on a body of water as large as the 160,000-acre giant that is Kentucky Lake. Throw in wacky weather (rain, wind, plunging temperatures) and a low winter pool, and you have a recipe for potential surprises.
The second thing many of the teams shared is what can be referred to as the “What if?” factor – as in “What if I make the fish-off?”
“Where am I staying?”
“Should I let the wife and kids know I’ll be a few days late getting home?”
“Is it OK I don’t have a fishing plan for the weekend?”
B.A.S.S. officials had all that under control, of course, except the fishing plan – that’s up to the individual angler. But the six anglers who qualified for the fish-off had rooms available to them, boats for the ‘non-boaters’ to choose from and more. B.A.S.S. Nation Director Jon Stewart capably worked hand-in-hand with the anglers, who on Thursday afternoon, still were trying to wrap their brains around the fact they now have a 1-in-6 chance of fishing with Edwin Evers, Greg Hackney, Kevin VanDam and more in the Classic come March 26.
Still, it made for a somewhat comical scene backstage on Thursday afternoon as the six surviving anglers met with Stewart for a tournament briefing. As they gathered in a semicircle around Stewart, a photographer and reporter hovered. There were checks to collect, trophies to be hoisted, polygraph tests to be administered and (most importantly) strategies to be planned.
Remember, the six guys who made the Classic Fish-Off shared a boat on Wednesday and Thursday during the team championship portion of this tournament. So they’ve certainly been fishing the same spots, and most likely using similar rigs and techniques the whole time.
All that changes now – or does it?
“We’ll have to figure out what we’re going to do,” said Colorado’s John Gardner, one half of the winning tandem of the team championship with partner Ty Faber. “We may share a spot. It’s OK. We’ll just share it.”
Faber and Gardner fish on the Ultimate Bass Team Trail back home in Colorado. On Thursday, they collected a boat/motor package worth nearly $42,000, and they were both a bit amazed at their stroke of luck. They joked about not having a plan for Friday, but you can guarantee, they spent a large portion of Thursday evening deciding how (or if) they would share the honey hole that produced a 37-pound, 10-ounce haul over two days; a total good enough to earn them the national Team title.
Ashley Medley and Scott Clift are used to sharing – a boat, spots at the holiday dinner table, rides to family reunions. They’re brothers-in-law from Missouri, and they finished second in the team championship with a two-day total of 37-3. All weights were zeroed after Thursday’s weigh-in, however, so each of the remaining six anglers has a clean slate as they build creels each hopes is good enough for a berth in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
“We won’t have any issues at all (about both finding a spot to fish,)” said the 46-year-old Medley, who is part of the Joe Bass Team Trail. “We haven’t discussed anything yet, but I can guarantee there will be no issues. We have a plan ready.”
That plan didn’t include, however, them thinking their 20-8 bag on Thursday would be good enough to get them into the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off.
“We would have liked to have had 22 pounds, but we still got in,” Medley said with a laugh.
And “getting in,” Clift said, brings him one step closer to the Classic.
“If you get on the fish, anybody can catch them,” Clift said. “We gave ourselves a chance.”
So did Barron Adams and Trevor Prince, both of Blue Ridge, Ga. They fish on the Chattanooga Bass Association Trail and caught 36-13 over two days of the team tournament. They were culling by 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, so they have some confidence heading into the Fish-Off.
But they too were adjusting to the reality of having the Bassmaster Classic within reach.
“We have to talk about what we’re going to do,” Prince said after Thursday’s weigh-in. “We pretty much have only one spot. I’m just tickled we made it. It really hasn’t sunk in yet, but we’ll figure it out.”
The six anglers launched from Paris Landing State Park Friday morning at 6:30 a.m. CST. They are due back for weigh-in at 2:30 p.m. CST. They’ll follow the same plan Saturday, and the man with the heaviest two-day sack will claim the final space in the $1 million Bassmaster Classic.
Both the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship and the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off are being hosted by the Henry County Alliance.