Gessner, who lives near St. Louis and narrowly missed out on a WBT victory in 2007 with a second-place finish on Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle, got a boost from a 5-pound, 8-ounce lunker she caught in a wind-protected area. Admittedly, Gessner has struggled on the Tour thus far in 2008 after having a successful 2007 but she could turn her fortunes around in a big way this weekend.
In addition to scoring the top prize of a Triton/Mercury boat package valued at $50,000 with a victory, the 49-year-old feels she would earn enough points to qualify for the 2008 WBT Championship presented by Academy Sports & Outdoors, set for Oct. 23-25 on Arkansas’ Lake Hamilton. The top-20 pros and co-anglers in the Toyota Tundra Women’s Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year standings will receive berths into the Championship.
To Gessner and the other WBT pros, the Championship now represents an avenue to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic (Feb. 20-22; Red River; Shreveport-Bossier City, La.). BASS announced this year that the winner of the 2008 Toyota Tundra Women’s Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year, determined from the WBT Championship, will receive a qualifying berth into bass fishing’s premier event in addition to a fully-rigged Toyota truck.
In the points lead heading into Clarks Hill was Kim Bain of Alabaster, Ala., who took control by winning the season’s first event and has never let go. But Bain was just 24 points ahead of Juanita Robinson of Highlands, Texas, and 65 points in front of Muskogee, Okla., pro Sheri Glasgow, the reigning Toyota WBT Angler of the Year.
The top three, though, can’t count out other pros. For the first time in the tour’s three-year history, each pro’s lowest 2008 regular-season tournament finish will be dropped from the points tally, making the outcome of the points race tough to gauge at this point in the season. While Gessner knows she is a long shot, she will be satisfied with regaining her 2007 form.
“I just haven’t done all that well this year and it hurts because this is the year where I could go to the Classic,” she said. “All I can do is fish hard.”
Heading into the event, Gessner was down on her chances after a relatively unproductive practice. She rallied Thursday, catching the 5-8 within her first 10 casts and culling on a day when others had problems scratching out a limit.
She has three locations through which she will rotate Friday, and she’s hoping for wind and clouds in the final two days of competition. She felt that because of some colder weather of late, the fish moved deeper Thursday.
While Gessner found a bait and stuck with it, Kim Stapp of Ringgold, Ga., who was second with 9 pounds, 3 ounces, was all over the map. Stapp utilized her entire tackle box, throwing a variety of baits at a variety of depths. The epitome of “junk-fishing”, Stapp felt she had pegged the right areas as her weight was accomplished on just three fish.
She lamented her missed opportunities and felt that if she had executed she would have caught at least seven keeper-sized bass. One in particular, one she estimated to weigh more than 3 pounds, she missed during her practice period and on competition Thursday.
“I think I’m in the right areas,” Stapp said. “I’m seeing some nice-sized fish but I just didn’t execute. You can bet that I’ll try to catch that fish that I missed twice. The third time is the charm, right?”
Stapp found her areas in practice but was “following the wind” Thursday on Clarks Hill, feeling that the wind was the determining factor for when the fish would bite.
Rounding out the top five were Angie Douthit of Clewiston, Fla., in third with 8 pounds, 12 ounces; Susan Gregory of Kiln, Miss., in fourth with 8-9 and Bain, the AOY points leader, was fifth with 7-3.
In the co-angler division, Lesley Childers of Anderson, S.C., led with 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Co-anglers are vying for a top prize of a boat package valued at $32,000. Trailing Childers were Barbara Gaskins of Suffolk, Va., in second with 6-6 and Gail Wood of Russellville, Ark., third with 4-15.
Fishing fans are invited to watch the anglers at the free and public weigh-ins. They’re set for 3:15 p.m. ET, Sept. 18-19 at Wildwood Park in Appling, Ga.; and 4 p.m. ET, Sept. 20 at the Academy Sports & Outdoors store at 4120 Washington Road in Evans, Ga.
Live video of the weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards will be available at www.Bassmaster.com through all three days of the competition. All WBT events are free and open to the public.
Sponsors of the Women’s Bassmaster Tour include Academy Sports & Outdoors, Toyota Tundra, Advance Auto Parts, Lowrance, Mercury, Skeeter, Yamaha, OPTIMA Batteries, Triton Boats, Legend Boats, MoGills and Mustang.