Pro angling is fishy business, as is shown in Texas tourney

On the Outdoors

March 24, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

For many of us, fishing is a form of relaxation. But for a tournament pro, it is a serious and sometimes burdensome business. Take, for instance, the wacky world of tournament fishing in the Bassmaster MegaBucks competition earlier this month in Texas.

On March 4, 158 pros and 146 amateurs set out on Richland-Chambers Reservoir in Corsicana, 60 miles southeast of Dallas. On that first day of competition, with temperatures in the 60s and the sun shining, the pros caught 429 bass over 14 inches in length for a total weight of 1,185 pounds, 9 ounces.

But as Missouri pro Denny Brauer said after the tournament, "In bass fishing, one day may be famine and the next day a feast. You never get out of the woods in a tournament like this."

First-day leader Randy Qualls of Streetmen, Texas, cleverly managed to get into the woods, but as a result was summarily dismissed from the competition.

According to tournament officials, Qualls, who had weighed in five bass weighing almost 19 pounds on Day 1, had a friend cut away a log that blocked access to a favorite fishing area.

Rule 3 in Bass Anglers Sportsman Society says that in official practices or during competition, anglers "may not have the assistance or advice of anyone for the purpose of locating or catching bass."

So while Qualls was worse off for getting a little help from his

friends, Day 2 of the tournament opened with the wind coming up on the 45,000-acre lake and the catch rate going down.

High winds ran boats aground, broke off trolling motors on submerged stumps, drained batteries and generally raised havoc. Several fishermen had to get into the water to push their boats off sandbars.

"I'm fishing in the wide-open," said second-day leader Fred "Taco" Bland of Alabama. "Water was coming over the bow. I lost my batteries about 1: 30."

Despite reporting to the weigh-in 30 minutes early because of his electrical problems, Bland checked in a limit weighing 23 pounds, 5 ounces to take the tournament lead.

Brauer, meanwhile, was having similar troubles positioning his boat over a submerged rise in exposed waters but caught a limit to jump from 40th place to second, with Jim Bitter of Florida only an ounce behind.

Despite the rough weather, the pros still managed to check in 30 limits, only six fewer than Day 1 but the worst was yet to come.

Day 3 started out warm and sunny, but about noon a cold front barreled through and what had been a near-perfect fishing day became chaotic, with the winds picking up abruptly and the temperatures quickly dropping from the 60s into the 40s.

"They were biting early on a Little Big O crankbait," Bitter said, and then they quit until about 12: 30, right after the front pushed through.

Bitter switched to a Carolina rig, but had trouble staying in touch with the fish. "It's hard to feel the bite [with the wind roiling the water]," he said. "It was easier after I tied up to a tree and didn't have to worry about drifting away from the fish."

On Thursday, the wind was gusting into the 30s, the wind-chill factor was minus-6, and Day 4 of the tournament was postponed to Friday.

With the field cut to the top 35 anglers, Bitter had the lead with 55 pounds, 3 ounces, but Jeff Magee of Florence, Miss., was starting to make his move toward a sudden-death fish-off and a $70,000 payday.

In the MegaBucks competition, the top 10 anglers fish the final two days of the tournament, with each starting from zero. This year, the final two days were fished at White Rock Lake, an 1,100-acre impoundment within the city limits of Dallas. And on Saturday, the pros fished the penultimate round blind, because the postponement day earlier in the week eliminated time for the finalists to look over the 10 holes they would fish at White Rock.

On Saturday, Brauer used a blue and black, 3/4 -ounce jig to catch two bass and take the lead with 7 pounds, 13 ounces. One of the fish weighed more than 6 pounds.

Magee, meanwhile, was sticking with the Texas-rigged power lizard (colored pumpkin and chartreuse) he had used all week, and caught two bass for more than 5 pounds to take second.

Bitter caught only one fish, and six of the finalists did not catch a keeper.

On Sunday, Magee, formerly a high school football coach and teacher, switched to a watermelon-colored lizard and fished some brush he found 50 feet off the lakeshore. At the end of the day he was rueing the one that got away.

"That fish [that got off] cost me $70,000," Magee said before the weigh-in. But Magee and Brauer ended up tied with totals of 7 pounds, 13 ounces, and tournament officials sent the pair back out for a sudden-death fish-off.

Within 20 minutes, Brauer had caught a bass that did not measure and Magee had caught a 1 1/2 -pounder that paid $70,000 or more than $2,900 an ounce.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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