By Greg McCain


Top Boater – Coby Carden

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Coby Carden has long proved to be a dominant force not only in Alabama bass fishing but even beyond state tournament boundaries.

Carden, who twice advanced to the Bassmaster Classic through Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation (ABN), regional, and national events, exerted his dominance once more Saturday (March 17) on Lake Eufaula, easily winning the first ABN qualifier of the year.

The long-time tournament competitor (LA PO Boys) overcame back problems that forced him out of the B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional two weeks ago on Toledo Bend in Louisiana to win the Eufaula tournament with a 19.38 bag. He won the same event last year as well en route to making the state team yet again and advancing to the regional.

Carden’s five-fish limit was topped by a 5.54 largemouth, one of many bigger fish weighed in on what otherwise proved to be a tough day of fishing for many participants. Carden also finished as the top Fishin’ 4 A Cure participant.

“Eufuala’s been pretty good to me through the years,” Carden said moments after the scales closed at Lakepoint State Park.

Local competitor Joe Buchanan (Bluff City B/M of Eufaula) only weighed four fish but totaled 17.87 to finish second. Ray Covington (Gilbertown Bass Club) finished third with 17.26.

Covington also teamed with fellow club member Phillip Williams to capture the first-ever Team Trail component of the ABN series. They also won the total boat weight category for the event.

Ryan Wood (Birmingham Bass Club) boated the big fish with an 8.49 largemouth. He caught the big largemouth, the largest he has ever weighed in a tournament, on a swim jig on a clay bank upriver. In addition to big fish money, he also received another cash prize as a Fishin’ 4 A Cure participant.

On the co-angler side, Chandler Teems (Coosa Valley Bassmasters) brought in a three-fish limit that weighed 10.63. Williams (Gilbertown Bass Club) was second with 9.88.

While Carden has traditionally found fish shallow in various stages of the spawn in late-winter events on Eufaula, that potential never developed for him Saturday. He targeted pre-spawn largemouth at 12-14 foot depths “way down river,” catching his fish on an unnamed crankbait and on a football jig.

Carden capitalized on a minimal number of bites.

“I probably had about 10 bites all day,” he said. “I caught all of my fish by 11 o’clock. I thought I might be able to go shallow to get rid of that 2 ½ spot that I weighed in, but I never got a bite in 3 ½ hours of fishing shallow. I’m glad I went and fished kind of a pre-spawn area early.”

He caught his two biggest bass on the crankbait around mid-morning. He said the water temperature had dropped to about 56 degrees in the area he fished after Eufaula water temps had spiked well into the 60s in February and early March.

“Typically, I do well on Eufaula if they are shallow,” Carden said. “I’ve got this one little rocky place where they stage up before the spawn. I guess with this cold front they had pulled back out there.”

The pre-spawn strategy proved effective for several of the top competitors. While much of the field focused on shallow fish, Buchanan boxed three “bigger fish” and one solid keeper to finish second among boaters. His best largemouth weighed 6.83.

He mainly fished Texas- and Carolina-rigged creature baits although he caught a five-pounder on a big spinnerbait. Buchanan said he found the fish on river points and other staging areas in 10-12 feet.

“I fished a lot of spots and would catch nothing,” Buchanan said. “Then I would pull up on a spot and catch a good one.”

Teems, who fished from the back of the boat with Peyton McCord (Auburn University Bass Club), also won the co-angler side with pre-spawn fish.

“We went up shallow and caught a few bucks but couldn’t get anything going,” Teems said. “Peyton made a decision to run out and put the boat in 10-15 feet of water. It was a slow day, but I managed to grab three and Peyton caught three.”

Teems, making only his second trip to Eufaula, and McCord found their fish around brush structure. He caught his fish on a Carolina rig, including a 6.03 largemouth.

Other boaters in the top 10 were Justin Barnes (University of Montevallo, 15.93) , Scott Holmes (Birmingham Bass Club, 15.90), Don Cox (Belgreen Bass Club,14.84), Rick Nishio (Gadsden Bassmasters, 14.48), Shane Powell (Wiregrass Bassmasters, 13.92), Robby Pelt (Wiregrass Bassmasters, 13.71), and Cole Burdeshaw (Auburn University Bass Club, 13.59).

Following Teems and Williams in the co-angler field were Lisa Cox (New Line Bass Club, 8.98), Joel Smith (Winfield Bassmasters, 8.46), Roger Caldwell (New Line Bass Club, 7.97), Lacson Reid (Rumbling Waters Bass Anglers, 6.76), Thomas Atchison (Gilbertown Bass Club, 6.74), Mike Scroggins (Coosa River Rats, 6.65), Hayden Teems (Wiregrass Bassmasters, 6.57), and Francis Beard (Neely Henry Bassmasters, 6.53).

In the Team Trail competition, Covington and Williams easily topped the field of about 40 teams. Other teams who qualified for the state championship, which is scheduled for Eufaula in October, were Wayne Cox and Lisa Cox, Larry Franks Jr. and Larry Franks Sr., and Tony Hogan and Johnny Clark. Those teams will compete for the chance to advance to the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship in late fall. A single angler will emerge from the Team Championship as a qualifier for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic.

ABN president Eddie Plemons notes that various anglers linked together in the tournament but didn’t pay the extra $10 fee to participate in the Team Trail competition. The number of different teams that participate in the Team Trail in qualifying tournaments determines the number of slots available to ABN teams in the championship.

A couple of different events took place within the tournament in addition to the individual and team competitions. Fishin’ 4 A Cure (fishin4acure.com), started about 10 years ago by ABN members, is a fund-raising effort aimed at combating childhood cancer. So far, F4AC has raised over $200,000 earmarked for that fight, and Eufaula participants added to that total Friday night at the pre-tournament meeting.

From a fishing standpoint, Auburn University students were present to collect samples from fish over four pounds. The Swab-A-Hog program is designed to determine the percentage of the stocked Florida strain remaining in the Eufaula largemouth population. The data collected could potentially lead to the stocking of more Florida-strain bass in the lake. Plenty of fish were “swabbed” and DNA collected for the study.

Plemons would like to thank all sponsors for this event and others. Sponsors include Airport Marina, Triton Boats, Mercury, Motor Guide, Lowrance, NetBait, Shell, Hammer Rods, Daiwa, Shelby County, StrikeZone Lure Co., Transducer Shield and Saver, and Charlie’s BBQ. Plemons also thanked Eufaula mayor Jack Tibbs, who fished the tournament, for speaking and welcoming ABN members Friday night and the Eufuala-Barbour County Chamber of Commerce for hosting the event.

The next ABN tournament takes place on Pickwick Lake out of McFarland Park in Florence on April 14 with other qualifiers following on Guntersville in May and on Lay in June. The ABN state championship, open to qualifying individuals and teams, is set for Oct. 19-20 on Eufaula.

Greg McCain is a freelance writer with current credits in Alabama Outdoor News, Great Days Outdoors, Alabama Game & Fish, and CrappieNOW online magazine in addition to producing content and photos for this website. He is a member of the Belgreen Bass Club, an ABN chapter near Russellville.