It started with 80 elite professional bass anglers from around the country, included six days of grueling fishing on three very different north Louisiana lakes and it was viewed live on the internet by thousands of fans around the world.
It was a grueling late-winter event, but Bradley Roy of Lancaster, Ky., made it a fun trip. Especially the last part, which included a walk up to the winner’s podium to claim a $100,000 first prize check in the B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One Major League Fishing Pro Bass Tour event finals at Bussey Brake on Feb. 10.
The unique format of the tournament sent anglers to fish the first four days of the event on Lake D’Abonne in Farmerville. The top 35 from those rounds advanced to a one day knockout round at Caney at Chatham. The top 10 then headed to the newly renovated Bussey Brake Reservoir in Bastrop for the championship. More than $800,000 in prize money overall was awarded to the field.
The baby pattern
It was Roy who grabbed the biggest catch and the biggest check. Roy spent the day flipping bushes and isolated pieces of structure with a beaver-style bait, using a 7-foot, 6-inch Ark Essence Series flipping stick with a 7:1 gear ratio reel, spooled with 22-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line and a 3/8-ounce Ark tungsten weight.
“Man, this has been a long time coming. God gets all the glory for this one, because I tried every way in the world to mess this one up,” Roy said in his post-game interview. “The third period for me was miserable. I just felt like I was taking blow after blow. Randy (Howell) catches a 12. Jordan Lee was coming — I knew he wouldn’t quit. Then Alton (Jones) — I could see him. I could see (Bryan) Thrift. They were all catching them, and I couldn’t get a bite.
“I think the baby pattern must be the deal,” Roy said, of his new son Lucas who was just born in August. “Everyone always says — you have a new baby, and you win a tournament. Well, we just had Lucas, and now I win. I think there might be something to that.”
Jones, of Lorena, Tex., finished second with 24-15 and won $45,000; Lee, of Cullman, Ala. was third with 24-9 and won $38,000 and Brian Thrift of Shelby, N.C. was fourth with 23-15 and won $32,000. Louisiana’s two anglers in the event, Cliff Crochet and Gerald Spohrer, didn’t make the finals but won $3,741 and $10,000 respectively.
Lake record for Bussey
Overall, the final day on Bussey Brake was tough at first, but then turned incredible. One of the MLF announcers described it as being “like a home run derby with the wind blowing in.” Anglers knew big fish were there, but they couldn’t get them to bite. In the end, the final 10 Bass Pro Tour anglers caught 31 scoreable bass on Bussey weighing 163 pounds, 2 ounces — an average weight of 5 pounds, 5 ounces. The catch included three 7-pounders, one 8-pounder, two 9-pounders and one 12-pounder, a day that had the professional bass fishing world buzzing.
For the second consecutive day, pro Randy Howell of Guntersville, Ala. broke the Bass Pro Tour record for heaviest bass ever weighed in. On Wednesday, he landed a 10-pound, 11-ounce giant from Caney Creek. On Thursday at Bussey, Howell backed it up with a new record-setting 12-pound, 14-ounce lunker, also a new lake record for Bussey.
“Overall, I didn’t catch many bass this week, but I made it all the way to sixth place,” Howell said. “It just goes to show you that one flip, one cast can change your whole life. Never give up, fish to the last minute and good things will happen.”
A lot of hard fishing
There were several eliminations to get to the finals. Two anglers qualified for the championship with their catches on Lake D’Arbonne. Fishing there was brutal following a major cold front that left anglers with ice on their boats and fish sluggish from temperatures in the low 20’s. One round of practice was even cancelled due to icy conditions.
Mark Daniels, Jr. of Tuskegee, Ala., and Jarred Lintner of Covington, Ga., earned automatic berths in the championship with their performance at D’Arbonne. Daniels caught 16 bass weighing 33 pounds, five ounces and Lintner caught 18 bass weighing 47 pounds, five ounces, both in two days of fishing on D’Arbonne. Jacob Wheeler then won the knock-out round on Caney with his personal best tournament catch, nine bass weighing 43 pounds, seven ounces. His largest was seven pounds, 11 ounces.
Each competing angler has a certified marshall who weighs each bass as it is caught, registers it in the computer and then the fish is immediately released back into the water. Each boat also has a camera on board with live coverage of the event provided over majorleaguefishing.com every minute of the actual fishing tournament.
The tournament payouts go deeper than angler checks. MLF and the sponsoring Monroe West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau and Louisiana Department of Tourism estimate the regional economic impact of the event at around $2.1 million, plus immeasurable long-term value based on the positive publicity the area lakes and businesses received.