Gonzales’ Ryan Lavigne did what no other Bassmaster angler has done before: He rose to the top of the B.A.S.S Nation Championship as a non-boater during this weekend’s even at Lake Conroe outside of Houston.
His three-day stringer weighed 58 pounds, 3 ounces — and earned him a coveted berth in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic, as well as an invitation to join the Bassmaster Elite Series next year.
“Making the Classic is a dream come true,” Lavigne said. “It’s something I’ve thought about since I started fishing. My dad took me fishing when I was a kid, and it’s just a passion I’ve never let go.
“And making it to the Classic is one of the biggest goals of my life.”
The Ascension Area Anglers bass club member stomped the competition, besting his nearest rival by 16 1/2 pounds.
Along with the Classic and Elite Series invites, Lavigne earned two prize packages worth a combined $131,820.
As the non-boater champion, he won paid entry into the Bassmaster Opens division of his choice, a Skeeter/Yamaha boat package with a Minn Kota trolling motor and Humminbird electronics, and a spot as a marshal in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic.
As one of the Top 3 anglers, he earned the B.A.S.S. Nation’s Best prize package, which includes use of a Toyota Tundra truck and tournament-ready Phoenix boat for one year, as well as paid entry into the Bassmaster Opens series of the angler’s choice.
As overall winner, he was invited to compete on the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series with part of his entry fees paid.
If he accepts the Elite Series invitation, he will be one of four Louisiana pros on that circuit.
Lavigne bolted into the overall lead on the second day of competition, winning the title of non-boater champion and opening up a 6 1/2-pound gap between him and the top boater.
He made the margin even bigger in the first two hours of Sunday’s final round, putting 18 pounds of bass into the boat before 8 a.m.
“I prepared for any boater I could draw,” said Lavigne, who spent his time practicing for any scenario he thought he might encounter with his boaters, which are drawn at random.
Lavigne qualified as a non-boater because of the way the Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation assembled its state team. The Top 10 anglers in the qualifying tournament were assigned boater spots on the state team; the anglers who placed 11th through 20th were assigned non-boater spots.
Competing as a non-boater in the B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville, he won his division. Then he did it again here on Conroe, and when he was mixed in with the boaters (an honor only the non-boater champion earned), he beat them, too.
“Every non-boater out there should see this and realize it’s worth their while,” Lavigne said. “If you’ve been thinking about competing as a non-boater, come out and do it.
“I just did something nobody thought could happen.”
The boater in the championship has ultimate control of where the boat goes, but the non-boater can offer suggestions. Lavigne had a plan for anywhere his boaters might take him, but he also had waypoints marked that he suggested — and his boaters listened.
“I had decided that I could do really well flipping boat docks or cranking offshore,” Lavigne explained.
When he was on boat docks, which he mostly was the first two days of competition, he flipped a Stand-Up Jighead with a Trick Worm or Missile Baits Tomahawk Worm. In offshore areas, he cranked a Strike King 5XD.
On the final day, Lavigne was in control of the boat and chose a small hard, hump in the main lake. He was sitting over 13 feet of water, but the top of the hump was 6 feet.
In practice, he had found this spot and caught a 16-inch bass on it. He knew it was a place he could go back to if he needed.
“I went there (the final day of competition) and caught a limit using a Missile Baits Twin Turbo in green pumpkin,” Lavigne said.
He left the area alone until noon, when he came back and culled three of the bass he caught there in the morning.