Big Weights in the Mr. Bass TournamentGunnar Beale and Johnny Duarte Win Big
MD BASS Federation angler Rick Svoboda chronicles his journey from Mr. Bass to BASS Nationals
My post-season tournament experience began when I qualified for the Maryland State Team through the Mr. Bass Tournament, which launched out of Tydings Marina, in May of 2012. Qualifying for the tournament in the rider division, I spent both of the days of the tournament fishing with Paul Gietka, who was the former MD representative at BASS Nationals. Fishing as a rider, I had no access to the front of the boat and was not expected to make any decisions on where to fish. For me, both days in the tournament were very different. The weather, patterns and weights varied greatly on each day of the event. The first day, I only managed three keepers but on the second day, hauled in a limit topping 20lbs, after culling twice. On day two Paul and I each brought a giant to the scales. His weighed 6lbs 10oz and mine a hefty 7lbs 9oz. My fish took a watermelon Senko and was the largest bass of the tournament. We fished on the flats in the Susquehanna River, throwing ChatterBaits and a variety of soft plastics to various forms of cover including grass, rocks and wood.
The following tournament, the Mid-Atlantic Divisional, was a five day event which included two practice days. It was held in Mid-September on the Northeast River, with launch and weigh-in occurring at Anchor Marine. Our twelve Maryland representatives fished against the other teams in the division, which included New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and Zimbabwe. We had a very strong showing collectively and boasted the highest team weight of the event. For our team’s success, we were awarded with a Triton boat.
I qualified for this tournament in the rider division again and spent the three days of the event fishing with competitors from Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia. Being a non-boater was not a disadvantage at all because unlike the Mr. Bass tournament, the rider and the boater share the front of the boat and share the responsibility of location selection. Each day I was able to convince my partner to give me the front of the boat when we fished my locations and I paid him the same favor, allowing us each to more effectively fish the water that we’d personally selected. During the second day of practice I’d isolated a cluster of bass in the 3-5lb range, holding in a location in the Northeast River which I had never fished before. This new area would be the key to my success in the tournament. On days one and three of the event, I managed two near 12lb pound limits off of this location. On day two, I found myself struggling for a limit and was dealt a psychological blow when my partner, Jay Walls of Delaware, promptly procured his limit by 10:00am, pulling two of his keepers from my locations. Around noon, with an empty livewell, I convinced Jay to make a run to one of my other spots, a small creek bed that brandished a few lay-downs. Luckily, I managed to pull out a 9lb limit in about an hour and a half and Jay managed a few more keepers from the back of the boat. My go-to baits during this event were Powerbait soft plastics and Rapala crankbaits. Despite complications on day two, things fell into place for me and I was able to catch enough fish to advance to the BASS Nationals. The divisional event was a great experience. Federation President Roger Trageser did an outstanding job by helping with accommodations, keeping the team together for meetings and dinners, while encouraging us to communicate with each other. The next step was the BASS Nationals.
Nationals were held on Lake Wheeler in Decatur, Alabama, in late October of 2012. Lake Wheeler is about ninety miles long and has a dam at both ends and is part of the Tennessee River chain of lakes. The lake has little grass but houses numerous creeks, ledges, stump fields bridge pilings and lay-downs. It fishes like river and the bite varies greatly, changing with the fluctuating water levels and currents. Having never fished the area before, I decided to try and get down there before the off-limits period, which is implemented just prior to the tournament. I had to majorly reconstruct my work schedule and I was extremely grateful that my two jobs allowed me time off to fish this event. I quickly arranged for a hotel in Decatur and left a week later. I spent five days in Alabama with my longtime friend, Vic Doumani. We practiced together, covering a much of the lake as we could. We caught plenty of bass; however, we never averaged over a 12lb limit. It seemed our greatest successes came when fishing areas of cover, near deep water and significant current. My best spot during practice was a five mile stretch of Lake Wheeler, located about forty-five miles downriver near the Guntersville Dam. This area featured great cover, clear water and favorable current characteristics. This section of the lake was narrow and possessed numerous lay-downs, reminiscent of the Eastern Shore rivers. I did not return to the lake for three weeks until the two days of official practice that preceded the tournament and decided to fly to avoid the fourteen hour drive from Maryland.
When I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by a shuttle service provided by BASS, which took me directly to my hotel. I then preceded to the boatyard to transfer my equipment into my tournament rig- a brand new Skeeter ZX 200. The boatyard was an amazing sight; fifty plus sparkling bass boats neatly rowed and ready for action, all guarded by police and BASS officials.
The two practice days went fast and were not exceptionally productive. Day one was tough and I only managed three keepers to the boat. I spent day two on the opposite end of the lake, learning the area that I would later use in all three days of the tournament.
I was very confident going into the first day of the tournament despite the fog factor, which lengthened my voyage to my spot to two hours. The best area that I’d found held a series of three large oak lay-downs, which extended forty feet from shore, with the tips of the branches reaching about fifteen feet of water. There was a sunken boat near the trees that held a large school of spotted bass. This area proved very consistent for me. I caught about fifteen bass on day one in this location. During the day one weigh-in I boasted about 13lbs and was the leader in the Mid-Atlantic division. Day two was a bit tougher, certainly the toughest of the three.
After another long, foggy ride I arrived at my best area, only to find that the lake had dropped about three feet. The dam was not generating any water, worsening the situation and making the fish difficult to catch. It took me about four hours to adjust to the conditions and catch my limit. I gave up pitching soft plastics and found success throwing spinnerbaits and deep running crankbaits. I brought an 8lb bag to weigh-in dropping me to third place.
Day three came and with it a cold front which smacked the consistent eighty degree highs down to a meager fifty-two degrees. In addition, it was accompanied by wind, which blew off the shroud of fog we’d been launching in for the past two days. While the weather change had improved my ride to the area, I feared it may shut the fish down. This was not the case at all and day three proved to be my best day on the water. The lake level had risen and the current was ripping. The wind was blowing the opposing direction of the current which made boat handling easy. I caught ten bass on ten consecutive casts when I first arrived at my spot and boated over forty throughout the day. I had about 13lbs in the livewell at the end of day three and was confident that it would bolster my cumulative weight enough to earn me a spot at the Bassmaster Classic. Unfortunately for me, The Zimbabwe representative from my division had a tremendous 16lb bag, which secured his victory, pushing me to second place in the Mid-Atlantic division and eighth place overall, out of the fifty-six competitors. My inability to adjust on day two left me about three pounds shy of making the Classic.
My entire tournament process during 2012 was a dream come true. It was an absolutely awesome experience that will keep me hungry for more. I made a lot of new friends during these events. I hung around Mike Morris from Delaware all week. We had a great time sharing stories and talking strategies. The Maryland Bass Federation was instrumental and very supportive during this entire process. I offer many thanks to Roger Trageser and Jim Kline during these events. I would also like to thank my family and friends for all of your support, phone calls and positive text messages. A few last words of advice for anyone who fishes a tournament of this magnitude: fish to your strengths, find your own areas, and don’t waste time trying to learn new techniques. Don’t depend on anyone else’s information. Use your own instincts and do what you do best. Contact prior Maryland National Qualifiers and pick their brains for what to expect and how to make best use of your time.
-Rick Svoboda MD BASS Federation Champion