By Greg McCain
Many Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation (ABN) competitors were disappointed that stormy weather forced the cancellation of the Pickwick Lake qualifier in April.
The lake was fishing exceptionally well at the time, giving up huge numbers of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. For brothers Jim and Jonathan Barnette, the delayed tournament date worked out perfectly.
Pickwick boater winner Jim Barnette
Pickwick Co-Angler winner Jonathan Barnette
Competing on Pickwick Saturday (July 14), the Barnettes overwhelmed both the boater and co-angler divisions of the ABN tournament with huge catches. Jim Barnette (Wiregrass Bassmasters) won the boater division with a three-fish limit of 18.36, which included the Academy Sports + Outdoors Big Fish that weighed 6.62. His other two fish weighed in the six-pound range as well.
Jonathan Barnette (Carbon Hill Bass Club) easily won the co-angler top prize with a 16.29, three-fish total. His big fish weighed 6.27, and he added two five-pounders to complete his limit.
Pickwick Team Trail winners Jonathan (left) and Jim Barnette
Among boaters, Ferlin Weeks (Belgreen Bass Club) took second with 12.87, and Austin Weaver (Tennessee Valley Bass Club) was third with 12.68. Tyler Weeks (Belgreen Bass Club), fishing with his father, Ferlin, claimed second with 10.67.
Pickwick boater 2nd place Ferlin Weeks
Pickwick co angler 2nd place Tyler Weeks
Pickwick Boater 3rd place Austin Weaver
The tournament was staged out of McFarland Park in Florence.
“I actually wanted to go to the dam the first thing this morning,” Jonathan Barnett said. “I thought we could catch a good fish or two up there and then work our way downriver.
“We got down there and Jim looked at me and said, ‘you really wanted to go to the dam, didn’t you’?” Jim Barnette’s intuition proved accurate, however. He had found quality largemouth near the Natchez Trace Bridge, about a 20-minute run from the launch, while practicing on Friday and anticipated the fish still being there Saturday morning.
The Barnettes worked a shallow area “not quite out to the ledges” in four to 10 feet of water and caught most of the fish they weighed in by about mid-morning. Jonathan Barnette said they caught bass on a variety of baits with a big worm, a squarebill crankbait, and a bladed jig being most productive.
“I found a little spot in practice with a ditch in it and some hydrilla on the edge,” Jim Barnette said. “I caught a pretty good one, left it, and idled up about a 1,000 yards. I caught one about five there. I knew I had found some good fish, so we went down there and started this morning.”
Jim Barnette said in only one other tournament, a 2010 Fishers of Men event on Guntersville, had he ever caught similar fish.
“We caught five fish that day that weighed 33 pounds,” he said. “It was one of those days that don’t happen very often. Today was like that also.”
“It was one of those dream days,” Jonathan Barnette said. “We fished one spot until about 12 o’clock, and we came in early and weighed in because our fish starting dying.”
The Weeks team also fished downriver near the Trace bridge, mainly working a scrounger head with a fluke-style trailer over water at least 14 feet deep. They also landed keeper fish on a shaky head.
Other competitors in the top 10 on the boater side were Matthew Lawler (Shoals Fishers of Men, 12.20); Mitch Mitchell (Tennessee Valley Bass Club, 12.07); Lee Byrd (Birmingham Bass Club, 9.75); Shawn Perrigo (Belmont Bass Anglers, 9.61); Ed Payne (Winfield Bassmasters, 8.96); Michael Restifo (Birmingham Bass Club, 8.86); and Justin Barnes (University of Montevallo, 8.74).
On the co-angler side, Joe Dudewicz (Bluff City Bassmasters, 9.61) finished third followed in the standings by Lee Johnson (Neely Henry Bassmasters, 9.16); Chris Thigpen (Wiregrass Bassmasters, 9.09); McCain Merchant (Winfield Bassmasters, 8.89); Chandler Young (Belmont Bass Anglers (8.54); Barry Quillen (Wiregrass Bassmasters, 8.02); Francis Beard (Neely Henry Bassmasters, 7.84); and Charles Rosato (Birmingham Bass Club, 7.35).
With 50 boaters and 46 co-anglers competing, the tournament paid the top 10 finishers in each division, ABN president Eddie Plemons said.
In the Team Trail competition, the Barnette brothers easily topped the field. With a 34.65 total, they qualified for the state championship on Eufaula later this year along with the teams of Ferlin Weeks and Tyler Weeks (23.54) and Lawler and Clay Birdyshaw (Shoals Fishers of Men, 17.78). Weeks and Weeks were also Airport Marine Fishing 4 A Cure winners as well.
The teams that qualify for the state championship 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.
Sponsors who support ABN events include Academy, Airport Marina, Office Partners, Triton Boats, Mercury, Motor Guide, Lowrance, NetBait, Shell, Hammer Rods, Daiwa, Shelby County, StrikeZone Lure Co., Transducer Shield and Saver, and Charlie’s BBQ.
The tournament was the final of four qualifiers in the ABN season with previous tournaments held earlier this year on Eufaula, Guntersville, and Lay. The ABN state championship, open to qualifying individuals and teams, returns to Lake Eufaula Oct. 19-20.
At Eufaula, a state champion will be crowned in both boater and co-angler divisions, anglers of the year will be determined, the state team will be finalized, and team trail qualifiers will compete for entry in the national tournament.
At Pickwick, Barnes moved into the top spot in the boater angler of the year race, and Beard, who won angler of the year among co-anglers last year, returned to the top in that division. Coby Carden, who had won the first three ABN tournaments of the year, did not compete on Pickwick.
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.