By Greg McCain
Lake Martin has been good to Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation (ABN) veteran Rickie Harp.
A member of the Lake Tuscaloosa Bassmasters, Harp used a tournament win 20 years ago as a springboard to a spot in the Bassmasters Classic. He won another major championship on the lake last fall. Returning to Martin Saturday (Feb. 2) for the first ABN qualifier of the year, Harp put his extensive knowledge of the lake to good use.
Harp, the final angler to weigh in, brought a mixed bag of spotted and largemouth bass to the scales and won the Lake Martin qualifier with a weight of 15.39. Harp bumped local tournament competitior Steven Ingram from the top spot. Ingram, of Kowaliga Bassmasters, led for most of the weigh-in and finished second with 14.11. Don Hogue, also of the Lake Tuscaloosa Bassmasters, finished third with 13.88.
On the co-angler side, McCain Merchant, of the Winfield Bassmasters, took the top spot with 8.54. He also paired with Keith Glasgow to win the Team Competition, and they earned one of the five qualifying slots available at Martin for the state championship in the fall.
Harp said he “knew a little something about the lake” when he left the stained water near the launch at Wind Creek State Park and spent about the last half of the tournament in the clean water on the south end. He had already caught a solid limit of keepers but boated the winning fish when he made the move for the final hours of the tournament. “I hadn’t practiced down there, but I thought I knew a few spots to catch them,” Harp said.
He added the Academy Sports + Outdoors Big Fish, a 4.98 largemouth, and a four-plus spotted bass in the last two hours of competition. Harp said he caught most of his fish, including the big largemouth, on a Davis Bait Co. jig but fooled his best spot with a shaky head.
Harp completed his good day by finishing as the top finisher among Fishin’ 4 A Cure (F4AC) participants. Competitors pay an optional $25 per tournament to F4AC, and the money goes to help combat childhood diseases at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. Airport Marine and Office Partners are the F4AC sponsors.
In finishing second, Ingram went through several limits of fish early and had culled up to most of his weight by mid-morning. He fished deep on the south end for a limit in the opening hours of the tournament and then culled with a jig fished on shallow rock, wood, and docks, adding a couple of more key fish later.
Among the co-anglers, Merchant easily topped the field, catching two of his keepers on a homemade jig and another on a Carolina rig. A pivotal moment for him came he jerked his jig loose from wood structure, and his biggest fish hit immediately. He and Glasgow fished both shallow and deep rocky banks to catch their fish.
William Davis, of Pro Line Bassmasters, finished second among the co-anglers with a three-fish limit that weighed 7.55. Completing the top 10 among boaters were Bill Spicer (Shotgun Sports Supply), 13.66; Marty Giddens (Wiregrass Bassmasters), 12.92; Mark McCaig (River Region Bass Fraternity), 12.44; Jacob George (Birmingham Bass Club), 12.01; Tony Hogan (New Line Bass Club), 11.88; Bruce Sargent (Birmingham Bass Club) 11.72; and Johnathan Stuckey (Wiregrass Bassmasters), 11.64.
Following Merchant and Davis on the co-angler side were Jonathan Barnette (Carbon Hill Bass Club), 7.15; William Wood (Pro Line Bassmasters), 7.05; James Sweazer, (Tiger Bassmasters), 6.95; Avery Ward (Winfield Bassmasters), 6.76; John Fredrick (Coosa Valley Bassmasters), 6.73; Allen Oliver (Pro Line Bassmasters), 6.25; Tim Cornelius (Lake Tuscaloosa Bassmasters), 6.19; and Willis Kennedy (New Line Bass Club), 6.15.
Other teams qualifying for the state championship were Will Davis and William Davis, 18.37; Miles Palmer and William Wood, 17.44; Jonathan Harris and John Fredrick, 17.02; and Jacob George and Brody Anderson, 17.01. The top five team finishers from each tournament will be eligible for the state championship, scheduled for Nov. 1-2 on Lake Guntersville. Last year, the top four teams out of the state championship on Lake Eufaula advanced to the Toyota Bonus Bucks Team Championship.
ABN president Eddie Plemons welcomes a couple of new sponsors to the organization. They are Davis Baits Co., of Sylacauga, and George Paint and Body, of Leeds. Returning sponsors include Academy, Airport Marina, Office Partners, Triton Boats, Mercury, Motor Guide, Lowrance, NetBait, Shell, Hammer Rods, Daiwa, Shelby County, StrikeZone Lure Co., and Charlie’s BBQ.
The ABN heads to the Mobile Delta for its next qualifier, fishing out of Live Oak Landing near Bay Minette on March 16. Other stops include Smith Lake (April) and Lay Lake (May). Qualifiers, both team and individuals, from the four events will be eligible for the state championship on Guntersville.
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.