Tommy McGuff and Bobby Taylor of Alabama won the 33rd Bass Cat Owners Invitational on Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama, topping 224 other teams to take the first-place prize boat, a new Bass Cat Sabre FTD and Bass Cat Trailer. They were in second place after Day One with 13.68 pounds, just a tenth of a pound behind the leaders, but made a charge on Day Two with 12.57 to claim the victory by a razor-thin margin of 0.62 pounds.
First Place – “I bought a Bass Cat so that I could be first, not last,” McGuff said, and indeed his 2010 Puma FTD led the pair to victory, a day before his 41st birthday. They fish Smith frequently, but McGuff noted that “sometimes the hardest lakes to fish are the ones that are close to you.”
They burned substantial amounts of gas during practice, running history and new water until they found a single pocket holding a substantial amount of herring. “As the week went on, they weren’t spawning yet, but they were moving in the pocket getting ready,” McGuff explained. “The herring were in the exact same spot every time we went in there.”
It was an early morning bite, and the lengthy fog delay on Day One hurt them. They had to scramble to some main lake areas to fill out a limit, but on Day Two the herring paid off and they had four of their keepers in the livewell in the first hour. After that they could “hunt for one good fish.”
Their key bait was the same one that Bass Cat pro Hank Cherry used last week to win the 50th Bassmaster Classic, a Megabass Ito Vision 110+1 jerkbait, except they used a different color: M-Shad.
“That bait was the key,” McGuff said. “We were fishing in 6 to 8 feet of water, and not only can you make long casts with it, but it digs deeper than most jerkbaits. You can get down in that range with many crankbaits, but not many jerkbaits. We’d crank it down to get it to the bottom, and then when we’d get it there we wouldn’t jerk it hard. We just made very soft jerks with pauses.”
McGuff said that he wouldn’t have any other boat than a Bass Cat, and now he has two of them.
“I feel like Bass Cat is the best of all worlds,” he said. “I love the performance of it, and if you ever have a problem with it, they go above and beyond to help everybody out.
Second Place – Alex Barbour and Paul Driscoll made the long drive from northern Illinois to fish not only their first Owners Invitational, but also their first event on Smith.
“It set up completely different from what we find on the lakes we fish at home, mostly in southern Wisconsin,” Barbour said. “We weren’t on much of anything all week.”
Early in practice, they caught 12 short fish for every keeper, but gradually they worked up a shallow water bite with bladed jigs and spinnerbaits around flooded bushes. While the fog delay didn’t help them, it forced them to commit to one key bank, and even though the water was falling out of the bushes, the fish remained. On the first day they caught a limit relatively quickly and culled, but on Day Two they found a boat camped on their best stretch. They scrambled to catch one keeper nearly before moving onto similar spots to add several more. When they came back to their best pocket late in the day, they were able to cull twice, but ultimately fell less than a pound short of the win.
Their key baits were a Z-Man Jack Hammer and a War Eagle spinnerbait. Barbour fished a chartreuse and white Jack Hammer with a white Reaction Innovations Little Dipper, and Driscoll fished a black and orange Jack Hammer with a matching Yamamoto Zako.
Barbour’s 2016 Cougar FTD is his first Bass Cat, and he loves the way it rides and appreciates “the incredibly stable platform.”
Third Place – Veteran touring pro Bill Chapman of West Virginia and partner Ryan Bowman suffered through a tough practice before switching gears and ending up 3rd overall with 22.91.
“We burned a lot of gas looking,” Chapman said. “And we ended up finding some big spots deep on the main lake, but then on Thursday afternoon we hit some shallow, dirty water and I caught a 5 and a 6 in just a few minutes.” With the short day on Friday, they chose the shallow option where they could cover water more quickly, and that carried them through the tournament.
Their key technique was flipping a Missile Baits D-Bomb, developed by fellow BCB pro John Crews.
“On the first day, I was using the Bruiser color,” Chapman said. “On Day two I caught one on that, and then the rest on green pumpkin with a little bit of orange. That was the color of the jig I was using for those big spots.”
Chapman estimates that he’s had “10 or 11” Bass Cats in his career, but for the first time in many years he didn’t change boats this year, instead electing to keep his 2019 Lynx.
“For me it’s the perfect boat,” he explained. “It’s a wider body. I absolutely love the width of it.”
Top-10 teams on Smith Lake
Grand Prize – Mitchell Kriger of Muskegon, Michigan won the grand prize of a fully rigged Puma FTD in the random drawing. He and his father-in-law, Peter Zykstra, fishing out of the latter’s 1998 Jaguar, finished 32nd overall in the event, but still took home the biggest prize.
“I don’t know what to say,” Kriger said. “I’d never fished down there before and never won anything like that before. It didn’t really hit me until I pulled into the driveway. I still can’t believe it.”
Peter Zykstra & Mitchell Kriger – Grand Prize Winners – Puma FTD SP
- The overall payout amounted to an amazing 527% of entry fees.
- The 6.51-pound big bass of the tournament was weighed in on Day Two by the 7th place team of Randall Kramer and Tanner Huckstep.
- The 1.70-pound big crappie of the tournament was weighed in on Day Two by the team of Michael Haley and Daniel Brown.
- The 17.50-pound big striped bass of the tournament was weighed in on Day Two by the team of Kyle Carden and Joe Laseter.
- Lee Black won the lucky rubber duck drawing and received a Mercury 150HP outboard.
Sponsors – The Walker County Chamber of Commerce, Mercury Marine, Strike King Lures and Tour Line, Lew’s Rods and Reels, Minn Kota Trolling Motors, Humminbird, Attwood and Siren Marine
Bass Cat President, Rick Pierce, expressed appreciation for the continuing support of the anglers, the sponsors and the host Chamber of Commerce for their continuing support and hospitality despite the concerns caused by the coronavirus.
“Once again, the Bass Cat family showed their true colors by showing up in numbers and adhering to several unusual practices to promote good health and hygiene,” he said. “Our sponsors including Strike King, Lew’s and Mercury never wavered in their support, and the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County really rolled out the red carpet, despite everyone’s questions. They made sure we could have a top-notch event while still ensuring safety and for that we are exceptionally thankful.”