My travels for BASS ZONE .com this year took me from Oklahoma two times, to Florida, Alabama in March and again in October with a side trip to Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina twice, once for the Bassmaster Classic and then again for the Forrest L. Wood Cup.
I’ve witnessed our Western Anglers do very well, and I’ve been able to see the world’s best anglers compete in the most trying conditions. In short, their skill is amazing, and I felt that some of these stories needed to be told, and some of the images needed to be shared.
Bassmaster Classic – Lake Hartwell, Greenville, SC
The fishing world knows that Alton Jones won the Classic fishing deep flooded timber with spoons and jigs. However, what was not widely spoken of was that the 2008 Bassmaster Classic was among the coldest in the history of the event. Despite that cold, anglers caught Hartwell’s bass as shallow as two feet deep on crankbaits and plastics
I got to experience the sheer numbers of fans that follow Kevin VanDam as he tries to compete at lakes across the country. As I followed him on day two of the event, The Kalamazoo, Mich. Pro had 52 spectator boats as he tried to hop from point to point on the main body. When VanDam decided to make a program change mid-morning and run more than 30 miles upstream to shallow water, he was able to shake more than half of the boats, but needless to say, it was a harrowing experience to be in a chase boat with all of the boats jockeying for position at high speeds trying to keep up with his Nitro Z9.
On the evening of the Classic’s second competition day, Aaron Martens caught a flu bug that kept him up most of the night, and gave him chills for the entire final day. But Martens, being the competitor he is, fished as hard as ever looking for the win. The only adjustment he thought about making was to move his stand up casting seat to the front of the boat; he never did.
FLW Tour - Lake Toho, Kissimmee, Fla.
Florida fishing is among the most challenging fishing in the country. The shallow waters make them extremely susceptible to fronts and even high winds. As the FLW Tour kicked off the week after the Bassmaster Classic, the east coast was pounded by a cold front which brought low temperatures into the high 30’s and low 40’s the first two days. Needless to say, the fishing was tough, but Western pro Brett Hite proved that you can still catch enough of them to win in Florida.
What was even more amazing is that Hite drove to the opposite end of the country and won the FLW Series National Guard Western Division opener less than two weeks later, on the same pattern that he employed at Toho.
FLW Tour – Smith Lake, Jasper, Ala.
What they say about the weather in the South, is that if you don’t like it, wait ten minutes and it will change. That statement was certainly proven true as the anglers battled huge wall clouds and powerful straight line winds on the second day. The rest of the week was fairly normal as it rained intermittently, but brought mostly breezy partially sunny days.
Lincoln, Calif. pro Michael Bennett showed his prowess as an angler as he claimed his first tour level win. Bennett used a mix of sight fishing and throwing wacky rigged soft plastic stickbaits to grab victory. His patience for the pattern was impressive as he used light line to catch big spotted bass from under floating docks, battling the fish around dock cables all the way to the boat.
FLW Tour – Lake Norman, Charlotte, NC
Winning a national tournament is never an easy proposition, but when Sean Hoernke won the third stop on the FLW Tour’s schedule, he did so with a disadvantage. Hoernke spent a week competing at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic at Lake Fork immediately before the FLW Tour event. Competing in the PAA sanctioned event along with travel from Texas to North Carolina left him with only one full practice day. The flexibility and adaptability in his performance was nothing short of impressive.
FLW Tour Rookie of the Year – Scott Canterbury
Somebody wins the Rookie of the Year Title every year, but Canterbury; from Alabama did it with style, and in the face of some real adversity. While Canterbury was stringing together back to back top 10 finishes at Smith Lake and Lake Norman, his wife Dixie was battling cancer. Dixie was diagnosed the Monday before the Smith Lake tournament kicked off, but was on hand at both events as her husband grabbed the spotlight en route to his Rookie of the Year title. Canterbury was very transparent in his dealing with the issue as he was able to face the situation with his wife a couple with strong faith, but as one would expect, it was obvious there was a great deal of emotion regarding the topic.
Forrest Wood Cup – Lake Murray, Columbia, SC
What more can you say about this event, Michael Bennett once again grabbed the headlines by winning the $1 million dollar first prize by throwing a combination of Snag Proof frogs and Berkley Triple Hand pours. The Lincoln, Calif. angler once again showed his skill on the national stage as he won in a variety of conditions at tough summer tournament.
PAA Corporate Cup - Pickwick Lake, Florence, Ala.
This was the first event of its kind as the PAA paired corporate sponsor partners with tour level pros in a four angler team competition. The Strike King pros Mark Rose of the FLW Tour and Elite Series pro Greg Hackney paired with their sponsors at Haynes Hardwood floors to claim the $100,000 prize.
Strike King Lure Company’s Reelfoot Writer’s Camp – Blue Bank Resort, Reelfoot Lake, Tiptonville, Tenn.
The staff at Strike King Lures works hard every year to bring outdoor writers and videographers from across the country to Blue Bank Resort at Reelfoot Lake. Along with the outdoor media the Strike King pro staff was on hand to work with the media on new stories, interviews, videos and photography. The staff at Blue Bank Resort cares for all of the room and board as well as a healthy dose of Tennessee hospitality.
The evenings at the resort were spent having dinner at the Blue Bank Fish House, listening to stories told by the extremely funny Mark Davis, and hanging out with the anglers and media colleagues in the lodge after dinner. We were all shocked to find out Davis played guitar and could sing quite well, it was a lot of fun.
Along with the media work, the anglers (and some of us in the media) filmed several new Strike King Lure commercials that will air throughout 2009. To see those commercials, visit Blue Bank Resort’s website at http://www.bluebankresort.com/.
The year turned out to be a very fast one, as I lost track of the calendar several times, but all in all it was an amazing year that saw newsworthy events happen frequently. I don’t know where 2009 will take our industry, it will undoubtedly include more historic occurrences, and I am looking forward to seeing more of what our sport brings us throughout the season.