The annual BBT Tournament of Champions was held on Clear Lake this year and the lake produced some great action, even with changing weather conditions and non-stop tournament pressure in the past several weeks. Taking the top prize was the team of Bon Gotuaco and Michael Chen, who took home $20,000 after catching 44.64lbs over two days of fishing.
Crowning the Clear Lake champions
It was an excellent ending to another BBT season, according to Tournament Director Randy Pringle, who shared that Gotuaco and Chen have earned the right to be the "faces of BBT" on the website for the next year.
"This week was a real rollercoaster with the weather changes between practice and the tournament and the winners had to earn it," he said. "It went from horrific winds to overcast to cold and blue skies while the anglers were there."
In addition to the changing weather, the bass were doing many things throughout the lake. "There were key sections that produced most of the better weight and the shad were everywhere. The teams who did well figured out little things to get those bigger fish to bite," said Pringle. "There were a lot of 13, 14, and 15-pound bags as guys were able to find three-pounders just about everywhere. The ones who were able to get those six-pounders by slowing down were the ones who could separate themselves."
One of those teams was the winners, who weighed one over six pounds each day. They weighed 19.72 lbs on the first day and found themselves in 19th place before rallying for the win after dropping 24.92 lbs on the scales the second day.
How they did it and what it means to them
On the first day, the team focused on rock transitions and picked off bass on the ledges. One key was using forward-facing sonar to locate both the shad and bass.
"We caught around 15 keepers and fished a lot of reaction baits like lipless crankbaits, ChatterBaits, and squarebill crankbaits," said Chen. "The reaction baits helped us locate productive spots, but slowing down and picking it apart with shakey heads and jigs put most of the weight in the boat. We were 19th after the first day, but the weights were stacked and everyone was very close."
Going into the second day, they decided to slightly adjust the plan, and a clue turned their event around and led them to the winning pattern.
"The first day, we were mainly fishing 4 to 6 feet of water, but caught a bigger one shallow the second day mid-morning," said Chen. "The bigger fish seemed to be in the 1 to 3-foot zone and we started piecing that bite together and ran with it. We caught a 4, two 5's and that 6-pounder in the last 30 minutes of the day."
That fish 6.14 lb kicker proved to be the winner, as they won by 1.52 lbs over the second-place team of Tim Meeks and Eric Pickard. "That last cull boosted us over 2-and-a-half pounds," added Chen.
Even after that big cull, they didn't even comprehend that they might have a chance for the win. "We had a feeling that would get us into the money since they paid 13 places and we hoped maybe we could sneak into the Top 10," he said. "In the weigh-in line, when we saw the leaders only caught one bass, so we had a little hope we'd finish higher, but still didn't think we had enough to win until we saw how tough it was on a lot of the teams the second day."
Both Gotuaco and Chen live in San Jose and this year, they qualified for the T.O.C. through the Travelers Division. It's their seventh season fishing BBT and their first win of any type with the organization.
"This is our only win and we did it at the right time," said Chen. "We feel really happy to get a win finally and for it to be at the T.O.C. is a cherry on top. My partner and I would like to thank the fishing friends we've met along the way because they were so important to our growth and the win this past weekend."
It was another successful season for the BBT and this year's T.O.C. winners are highly deserving after outlasting 122 other boats on the way to the win. The 2024 season starts in January and the BBT website has a sneak peek at the schedule for all six divisions. The T.O.C. location will again be a surprise for much of the year and will be held on October 13th and 14th, 2024, with a guaranteed first-place prize of $20,000.