Big bass live in Lake Ray Roberts and big bass were caught. Many of them made a big difference in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. Even though he didn’t catch one of the largest, Hank Cherry was way above the average in repeating as champion.
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Chad Pipkens was the beneficiary of this big bite, which weighed 6 pounds, 5 ounces and helped him to 12-5 on Day 1 to stand 31st. Shy one bass of a five-fish limit, Pipkens said he lost another 6-pounder, which would have put him fourth. But if not for this big one Pipkens would have been in the bottom 10.
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Chris Zaldain, who lives the closest to Ray Roberts, weighed in this 7-13 to take over Berkley Big Bass honors on Day 1. “It's super special to do this in a Classic,” Zaldain said, although he was passed by the very next angler.
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Frank Talley of Temple, Texas, said he got super excited when he leaned back on the 8-3 bass that bit from bushes in 3 feet of water. “To do it in the Classic is exhilarating. I mean, in the first hour of the first day, it don't get any better than that,” he said.
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Talley’s bass held up through all three days of competition to win the $2,500 Berkley Big Bass bonus. The problem for both Talley and Zaldain was, like Pipkens, they fell one fish short of a limit that day. Talley stood 14th with 15-10 and Zaldain was 21st with 13-11.
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On Friday’s warm conditions, 33 of the 54 anglers caught limits, totaling 224 bass weighing 648-5 for an average of 2.9 pounds. With a 6-pounder and another going 4-8 on BassTrakk, Cherry got off to a third-place start with 20-4, averaging just over 4 pounds per fish.
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Patrick Walters continued to excel in Texas. He earned Century Belts, along with a victory, the past two years on Lake Fork, which has similarities to Ray Roberts. With 22-7, Walters started in second place. His biggest fish on BassTrakk was a 5-0, about the same weight he was low on the unofficial scoring system that requires anglers to give Marshals estimates of each fish.
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Steve Kennedy, who finished second in the 2017 Classic on Lake Conroe in southern Texas, had a stellar first day, including several 4-pounders before a 5-10 helped him to 23-0 and the lead. However, the fickle nature of Ray Roberts struck Kennedy on Day 2. A lightning storm delayed blastoff more than two hours and seemed to stall Kennedy, who missed filling his limit with a late monster he had on the line and fell to third place.
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When fishing did begin on Saturday, Pipkens made eyes pop when a 9-0 came across BassTrakk. Although several big bass showed up, only 15 anglers had limits on the shortened day and the average fish went down to 2.54.
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Pipkens was among those falling short with two fish going 10-10, but that moved him to 17th as one of only 19 bags topping 10 pounds. Pipkens took the day’s big bass honors, but his big-eye 9-0 actually weighed 8-1, for which other anglers razzed him. Two fish on Championship Sunday left Pipkens in 24th place.
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Ed Loughran, proud to be fishing his first Classic, was 16th after the first day with a 15-8 limit, the biggest fish around 4-8. His one and only catch Saturday was this 7-13, which moved him up one place. A 13-2 limit on Sunday had him place 12th.
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Fishing his second Classic, Chris Jones of Bokoshe, Okla., pulled fish from the bushes early and often. He weeded through more than 15 catches on Day 1 to stand fourth with 17-2, including a 6-0. Jones maintained that position on Saturday, weighing in 15-7 with a pair close to 4 pounds.
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Justin Kerr of Lake Havasu, Ariz., represented the B.A.S.S. Nation well as he came in with the biggest bag on Day 2. The bulk of Kerr’s 19-12 came from a 6-12 and a 7-2 that moved him up from 22nd to second. His big move elicited comparisons to the only Nation angler to ever win a Classic, Bryan Kerchal.
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Bringing in solid limits was also critical to success. Matt Arey of Shelby, N.C., followed his 15-5 first day with 15-12 to jump from 17th to fifth. Arey started the season slowly but has gained momentum. Falling as far as 78th in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, Arey has climbed to 40th with a good finishes, including 18th at Lake Fork and a fifth at Neely Henry. He continued his run at Ray Roberts.
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Cherry took the lead early on Day 2 with a 4-12 and 6-0. His bag of 17-10 gave him 37-14 and a lead of 4-12 heading into Championship Sunday. In winning last year’s Classic on Lake Guntersville, Cherry led by 4-13 then won by 6-11.
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The outcome was also determined by the big ones that got away. Kennedy lost an 8-pounder in the closing moments of Day 2 that would have sent him into Championship Sunday with a lead of several pounds, which likely would have changed his approach on the final day. He started the day 5-3 out of the lead and went hunting for big bass in the standing timber, but it wasn’t to be.
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Kerr didn’t get the big bites on Sunday, catching a limit going 12-0 to finish fourth with 45-2, 5-13 back of the winning weight. With a 1-8 in his limit, Kerr needed one a few ounces larger than his biggest from Day 2 to win from the Nation, which Kerchal accomplished in 1994.
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Jones was in the hunt and also needed a giant to make up a deficit of more than 5 pounds. With most all his family and around 100 fans at Dickies Arena, Jones weighed 13-0 to finish third. He earned $40,000, his biggest payday in B.A.S.S. since his second Opens win on the Arkansas River out of Muskogee, Okla., to qualify for the Classic. His showing has Jones planning to make the jump to the Elite Series.
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Brock Mosley, who had four fish on Days 1 and 2, brought in the biggest bag on Championship Sunday as well as the biggest fish. A 6-13 bolstered Mosley’s 19-1 and rocketed the Collinsville, Miss., angler from 16th to fifth. Good friends with Cherry, Mosley was brought up onstage for a bear hug with the champion.
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Misses hurt Arey’s chances to become the 41st angler to put their name on a Classic trophy. Arey started the day 6-13 behind Cherry, but a 3-12 and 4-12 gave him the lead from around 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Like Cherry in the 2013 Classic, Arey had the potential winning fish on the line.
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Arey did come in with the second-biggest bag on the day at 18-0 and finished just 1-14 behind Cherry, who lives less than a half hour from him. As runner-up, Arey earned $50,000 but like Cherry, the lost fish will haunt him. “I feel bad for Matt,” Cherry said, “and I told him I’ve been where he was. I had the same thing happen to me and mine happened a lot closer to the boat.”
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Struggling with two fish, Cherry landed a 4-pounder around 10:25 a.m. to regain the lead. He went on to bag 13-1 and win with 50-15. “I’m not giving it back — not apologizing for it. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” he said.
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Cherry is only the fourth repeat champion in 51 Classics and the seventh angler to win more than one title. Cherry doubled up on $300,000 checks in a span of one year, three months and five days, and with it claimed legendary status in bass fishing.