Bass fishing probably entered a new era when Ken Cook squeezed out a 3-ounce win over Randy Romig in the $200,000 BASS Masters Classic here Saturday. Enter the age of the pH factor.
Cook of Meers, Okla., took 33 pounds 2 ounces from the upper Chester, all of them while playing on water acidity. In three days of casting, when the pH strayed far from Cook's preferred 7.5 to 8.0, he moved to another spot.
On Saturday's finale, he didn't have to move. He stayed put on one area of the lower Elk River, caught 12 pounds 10 ounces, and moved from fourth to first place and the winner's $50,000 jackpot.
For several years, Cook, a 44-year-old former marine biologist, has talked acid waters to anyone who would listen -- and for as long as they would listen. In what was the biggest final day shootout in the classic's 21-year history, he silenced the skeptics.
Now, more serious bass chasers will monitor one more piece of gadgetry on their bassboats. The classic sets the pace, and Cook's unexpected win will convince many that there's more to outsmarting bass than sunlight, barometric pressure, wind direction, tide, plain old luck, and water depth, clarity and temperature -- or lure color, scent and added sparkle flakes. They must also know the pH.
Someday a fellow might need a marine engineering degree to win the classic. Cook claims bass don't bite well or at all when the pH is out of whack, and he can count on many of the half million members of Bass Angler Sportsman Society to listen -- and for two decades BASS has set the pace.
A veteran of 10 classics coming into Baltimore, Cook, a serious -- almost intellectual type -- had won $334,853 on the BASS tour, and was in eighth place in all-time winnings.
He was in ninth place after Thursday's opener with five bass totaling 10 3/4 pounds, got five more weighing 10 pounds 13 ounces when he made his move Friday when only 1 pound 7 ounces separated the top six.
All three days he got most of his fish -- many in the 3-pound class -- on a spinnerbait he designed himself, which he modified in the tournament. Originally it was double-bladed, but he cut the small front one off and let the medium-size willow leaf back blade of copper do the work in conjunction with a red, chartreuse and blue skirt and soft plastic combination.
He also used a tandem hook on the lure, tied to 20-pound test line. Another key factor -- he didn't lose a good fish once hooked. He fished varying tides, but on the finale he defied tradition and worked the incoming.
Much of his fishing was in 3 to 5 feet of water where he worked the spinnerbait midway down, reeling it in an erratic fashion mostly with rod tip action to make it dip and change speed. It worked, the classic is his, and could be worth $1 million in endorsements, appearances and sponsorships. It's the biggest jewel by far among all fishing honors.
Don't sing that old tune about Barnacle Bill the Sailor to Romig of
Spring City, Pa., the favorite at the beginning thanks to his fantastic regional tournament success in the upper Chesapeake complex during the past 20 years. Romig, 41, would have defied classic tradition by winning in his home waters and by also being the first favorite to ever win, had it not been for barnacles.
He was fishing mostly brush and wood, but the barnacle growth cost him dearly. Many big fish cut line as heavy as 30-pound test like a razor for both him and Woo Daves of Spring Grove, Va., who ended up 13 ounces from the top after concentrating on the upper Chester. A top five finisher in five classics, he won $7,500.
"You would feel the fish, then nothing, it was quick as that," said Romig, who also fished spinnerbaits much of the time. Romig's second place was worth $13,000.
Zell Rowland of Montgomery, Texas, slipped to only four fish weighing 9 pounds 10 ounces on the Susquehanna. A newcomer this year to the BASS tour, Carroll Hagood of Auburndale, Fla., stuck with a self-designed spinnerbait with willow blade on Middle River for 10 pounds 6 ounces the final day, 29-13 in all.
The shocker of the tournament came when before 10,000 people in Baltimore Arena, defending champion and four-time classic winner Rick Clunn failed to weigh in a single bass after five on each of the first two days. Usually his big move is on the finale.
In all, the 40 contenders caught 423 bass weighing 771 pounds 3 ounces for a more than respectable average of better than 1 3/4 pounds. Randy Fite's 6-pounder was the classic's biggest fish as six anglers caught their limit of five bass a day for all three days.