“I had a chance to blow this thing away today, but I lost a couple of real good ones. There’s no telling how many pounds I could have had if I caught all that I hooked,” said Dudley, who jumped at the chance to fish in this event, his only Bassmaster tournament of the year. “I couldn’t not fish this one.”
Unlike most of the boaters in the competition, Dudley is not fishing to improve or maintain his position in the Northern Open season point standings. After Saturday’s weigh-in, the top 15 boaters will earn berths on the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour. The top 20 in the boater and non-boater divisions will earn berths in the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship, where the top three boaters will qualify for the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh, Pa. July 29-31. Because Dudley did not fish the whole series, he will not move on.
He ran into trouble within the first hour of the tournament when he snapped the shaft off his trolling motor as he tried to reach a fish—a 5-pound, 4-ounce largemouth that turned out to be the largest of his limit – wrapped around a dock piling. He hooked that bass on a jig. Dudley used his cell phone to call in a tournament support crew that was able to reach him within 15 minutes. He was back on his game in less than an hour. It was just a minor setback for the Lynchburg resident who has a talent for remaining cool under the most adverse conditions.
Dudley spent the day fishing a variety of water throughout the length of the 20,000-acre reservoir, catching fish nearly everywhere he stopped. His primary pattern consisted of fishing docks with a jig of an undisclosed color; he also used an unweighted Zoom Fluke.
“It’s fishing about the same as it did 10 or 15 years ago, only there are a lot more homes and docks,” he said.
Dudley managed to fend off second-place angler Mark Burgess, who weighed a limit of 13 pounds, 15 ounces. Burgess, of Norton, Massachusetts, was fishing a buzzbait, a typical fall pattern, he said, but his lure was a modified Booyah buzzbait that clearly made a difference. While most anglers pitched a jig to smith Mountain Lake’s countless docks, plenty of others caught fish on a buzzbait, as well.
“I replaced the silver blade with a larger gold blade. That allowed me to fish it slower and I think that made the difference,” he said. “I was also fishing very specific cover. I had to have a few key ingredients all in the same place or my pattern wouldn’t work.”
He and many other anglers reported seeing numerous bass cruising shallow water, but only a handful, including Burgess, were able to capitalize on their sightings.
Conditions were stable during the practice period, but a line of thunderstorms prior to the start threw many of the anglers off their fish. Only 13 from the boater division weighed a limit. None of the non-boaters weighed a limit and only two brought four fish to the scales.
Dudley outfished 46 other Virginia residents on the boater side, but two others from the Old Dominion are close. Chris Daves, of Hopewell, and Bo Grovesnor, who lives in Goode, are tied with 13 pounds, 11 ounces and are well within the reach of Dudley.
Connecticut angler Peter Bates is leading the non-boater side with a four-fish weight of 10 pounds, 6 ounces; Mark Clingenpeel is in second place with 8-10 and leads a group of 68 Virginians in the non-boater division.
The Purolator Big Bass Award for the non-boater went to Chuck Robison, of Allison Park, Pennsylvania. His 6 pound, 5 ounce largemouth was the largest of the day from both sides of the tournament and earned him a $400 check from Purolator. Ontario’s George Saliba earned the daily $1,000 Purolator Big Bass Award for the boater division with a 5-pound, 10-ounce largemouth. If Robison’s 6-5 lunker remains the largest of the event, he will earn a $1,000 bonus for bringing in the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament.
Daily weigh-ins will take place at the lower level of the Bridgewater Plaza at 3:20 p.m. Anglers will launch beginning at 7:15 a.m. BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Toyota, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include Smith Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce. For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.