By Greg McCain

For years, Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation (ABN) fishermen have taken the grassroots route to fishing’s biggest stage, the Bassmaster Classic.

ABN members continued on that path April 17-19 on Lake Guntersville, which hosted the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional out of Lake Guntersville State Park. The tournament represented another step in a process that takes over a year to complete. Swirling rumors that the Classic will return to Alabama as early as next year – Guntersville, Smith, and Lay have all been mentioned as potential destinations – only compounded the intrigue of the regional.

When the final fish was weighed on Guntersville, two ABN competitors remained in contention for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. Keith Glasgow, of Guin and the Winfield Bassmasters, finished third overall in the regional and topped all Alabama boaters in the standings, making him eligible to fish the B.A.S.S. National Championship in November on Lake Hartwell, S.C. The top three finishers in the national championship earn berths in the Classic.

“I think everybody who fishes the B.A.S.S. Nation dreams of fishing the Classic,” Glasgow said. “That’s their ultimate goal. I think about it regularly.”

Also advancing to the national championship was non-boater Aaron Cherry, of Kinsey and the Headland High School bass team. Cherry, a high school junior who won the Alabama state championship as a non-boater last fall on Lake Eufaula, finished fourth overall. The first-place non-boater at the championship competes as a boater on the final day of competition with a berth to the Classic on the line.

“I’m just honored,” Cherry said. “I’m kind of in culture shock really. I didn’t expect to come up here and do as well as I did.”

Glasgow and Cherry could join a long list of competitors who take the B.A.S.S. Nation path to the Classic. In March, Kyle Dorsett (Coosa River Anglers) became the latest ABN angler on the list, finishing 16th on the Tennessee River in Knoxville, TN, after advancing through regional and national competition last year.

Neither Glasgow nor Cherry was certain about the chance to advance after the opening round.

Fishing his first regional after many years of ABN competition, Glasgow said he had located some good fish in practice but only weighed four bass for 11-8 on Wednesday. Cherry found himself deep in the standings with a three-fish limit that weighed 6.8.

“I was on some pretty good fish in practice, but I did not catch one solid fish there,” Glasgow said. “I was in scramble mode I guess you’d call it. I thought (I had lost it) until I saw the weigh-in, and then I knew I wasn’t out of it as far as the team went.”

Added Cherry, “I was thinking I needed a lot more weight if I was going to do anything in the tournament.”

Larry Franks Jr. (Coosa River Rats) actually led Alabama boaters after the first two rounds. Lee Hanvey (Lee County Bass Club), who started strong with a 12-6 catch for second place overall among non-boaters after the opening round, had a one-ounce lead over teammate Chandler Teems (Coosa Valley Bassmasters) after Day Two.

The fortunes for both Glasgow and Cherry pivoted in the second round even though both anglers experienced their share of difficulties.

Glasgow went overboard attempting to land a five-pounder – no nets were allowed in the regional – and kicked a favorite rod into the lake in the process. Despite losing the five-pounder, Glasgow positioned himself well for the final round on Friday. He caught four keepers shallow on a Carolina rig and bladed jig but also began to dial in a deeper crankbait bite in the afternoon. He made some key culls and weighed 16-11, still fourth among Alabama boaters but closer to the top.

Swimming plastic through the grass in North Sauty for most of his catch, Cherry moved up in the standings in similar fashion. His catch of 9-15, including a key 3 ½-pounder late, pushed him well into the top 38 cut and set up the final round although Cherry said he lost a couple of fish in the grass that would have added significant weight to his catch.

(The top 38 boaters and non-boaters automatically advance to Day Three with more fishermen added from states that didn’t qualify anglers in the top 38. The tournament featured 380 anglers from 19 states. ABN members qualified for the state team and the regional via individual tournament wins, through state championship standings, and through angler of the year standings last year.)

For the final round, the ABN featured five boaters and five non-boaters. Aside from Glasgow and Franks, Justin Barnes (University of Montevallo), Cole Burdeshaw (Auburn University Bass Team), and Coby Carden (LA PO Boys) advanced to fish Day Three. On the non-boater side, Cherry, Hanvey, Teems, Jonathan Barnette (Carbon Hill Bass Club), and Francis Beard (Neely Henry Bassmasters) fished a third day.

Glasgow’s final round started in a similar fashion as previous days. Despite rainy, post-front conditions with drastically lower air temperatures after storms pushed through the region overnight, Glasgow milked shallow grass for a small limit, but he eventually weighed only one of those bass. The quality fish, including a 6-7 pre-spawn largemouth, came on a crankbait, and Glasgow brought the day’s biggest overall limit, 21-3, to the scales. Glasgow totaled 49-6 over three days.

The catch vaulted Glasgow past other ABN boaters to the top of the team standings. Cherry also had a great final day, landing one of the biggest strings of a non-boater in the regional. His 13.6 final-day catch and 29-13 total placed him on the hotseat as the co-angler leader for an extended period.

Following Glasgow in the boater standings for the ABN were Barnes (9th, 45-4), Carden (13th, 43-5), Franks (14th, 43-3), and Burdeshaw (20th, 40-9). Other ABN boaters were Jim Barnette (Wiregrass Bassmasters), Justin Marbut (Shotgun Sports Supply), Joe Buchanan (Bluff City B/M of Eufaula), Lee Byrd (Birmingham Bass Club), and Roger Peebles (LA PO Boys).

Following Cherry among ABN non-boaters in the final standings were Teems (18th, 24-6), Beard (21st, 23-13), Barnette (41st, 18-7), and Hanvey (44th, 17-12). Other ABN non-boaters were Chris Curvin (Neely Henry Bassmasters), Brooke Galbraith (Winfield Bassmasters), Eric Howle (Birmingham Bass Club), Lacson Reid (Rumbling Waters Bass Anglers), and Greg McCain (Belgreen Bass Club). Reid caught the Phoenix Boats Big Bass among non-boaters with an 8-0 largemouth on Day Two.

As a team, Alabama finished second overall, trailing only Oklahoma, which featured the runaway boater winner. James Biggs, a Texan fishing for the Oklahoma team, could have skipped the final day and still won the tournament. He caught twin 25-pound limits the first two days and added almost 20 to his total in the final round.

While Glasgow didn’t have a chance to overtake Biggs for the top spot overall, the opportunity to compete in the national championship represents more than just a fishing accomplishment.

“I got on a bad road for several years and got in a bad way,” he said. “I quit fishing and sold my boat. The Lord saw fit to bring me back and have mercy on me. It’s by the grace of God that I’m back here fishing and not dead or in prison.”

Glasgow thanked Hammer Rods and K&S Outdoors, owned by his brother, Kyle Glasgow, for their support throughout the year. Alabama president Eddie Plemons also thanked all sponsors who support the ABN. They include Davis Baits, George Paint and Body, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Airport Marina, Office Partners, Triton Boats, Mercury, Motor Guide, Lowrance, NetBait, Shell, Hammer Rods, Daiwa, Shelby County, StrikeZone Lure Co., and Charlie’s BBQ.

In the national championship, Glasgow and Cherry will compete against B.A.S.S. Nation fishermen from around the world on Lake Hartwell, which has hosted two Bassmaster Classics in recent years.

“I enjoy competition of any type,” Glasgow said. “When it leads to this level and even greater levels later on, it’s just a great opportunity. Just a country boy like me to have a chance to compete and go to the Classic is pretty amazing. Anybody’s got a chance.”

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.