By Greg McCain
CAMDEN – The script couldn’t have been written any better for young angler Justin Barnes.
Barnes, who has enjoyed great success as a co-angler in Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation events, chose his home waters of Millers Ferry for his first tournament as a boater. Living a short distance away in Monroeville, Barnes took advantage of the opportunity to practice regularly on the Alabama River impoundment in the weeks leading up to the tournament.
The story had a happy ending as Barnes, a member of the Monroe County Bass Anglers, boated a five-fish limit that weighed 13.66 to win the McKinnon Toyota top spot in the final qualifier of the B.A.S.S. Nation season Saturday.
Donny Davis (Belgreen Bass Club) finished a close second with 13.57 and also claimed top honors among Fishing for a Cure participants. Bruce Sargent (Birmingham Bass Club) took third with 13.34. Auburn University Bass Club member Travis Culbreth took first place on the co-angler side with a three-fish limit weighing 7.50.Ray Covington caught the Academy Sports and Outdoors Big Fish with a 5.34 largemouth.
“It feels great,” Barnes said as he waited for the scales to officially close at the weigh-in at Roland Cooper State Park. “I’ve been wanting to win this tournament so bad. I’ve practiced a good bit. I know one week I was up here four times.”
Barnes will compete for a spot in the Bassmaster Classic in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in November on Lake Conroe in Texas, the result of advancing as the top Alabama co-angler in the Central Regional on Lake Guntersville in April. Barnes had advanced to the regional tournament by winning last year’s co-angler title in the state championship on Pickwick Lake.
He appeared to be as happy Saturday as if he had qualified for the Classic.
“It’s my home lake,” he said. “Things didn’t happen exactly as I thought they might, but I still managed to catch the right fish.”
Barnes had developed a topwater pattern in practice leading up to the tournament, but he had to resort to a variety of presentations when the surface bite disappeared. Barnes weighed one bass caught on a buzzbait but boated his biggest fish, a 3.99 largemouth, flipping a red bug Zoom Speed Worm. He caught other keepers on a crankbait and on a spinnerbait.
“I had some fish located, but I had to run all over the lake to catch them today,” Barnes said.
Davis fished the tournament with little practice time, but a mid-day change produced the bigger fish that boosted his second-place total. Davis said he had five fish in the boat by noon, but he wasn’t happy with the quality.
“I didn’t know if these fish would hit a frog or not, but I knew that the frog usually produces a quality fish,” he said.
The change proved productive as he caught his biggest fish, a 4.39 largemouth, shortly after the switch to a SPRO Bronzeye Popper Frog and then added a spotted bass over three pounds about 20 minutes before weigh-in. Davis caught his fish on the main lake downriver from Roland Cooper.
Rounding out the top 10 on the boater side were Covington (Gilbertown Bass Club; 11.93), Barry Landrum (Butler Bass Club; 11.22), Adam Bain (Coosa River Anglers; 10.97), Scap Cicero (Rumbling Waters Bass Anglers; 10.71), Tony Hogan (New Line Bass Club; 10.40), Don Cox (Belgreen Bass Club; 10.01) and Lee Byrd (Birmingham Bass Club; 10.00).
On the co-angler side, Culbreth punched a Strike King Rodent in doubleheader candy to bag all three fish that he weighed. He fished behind Ray Goodall (Rumbling Waters Bass Anglers). Also in the top five among co-anglers were Eldred Lewis (Westside Bass Club; 5.11), Michael Restifo (Birmingham Bass Club, 4.76), Eddie Cotten (Monroe County Bass Anglers, 4.71) and Larry Franks Sr. (Blue-Eye Bassmasters, 4.55).
The 2016 season comes to an end with the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation State Championship on Neely Henry Lake in Gadsden Oct. 28-29. Qualifying anglers and co-anglers will compete for top prizes in the tournament and Angler of the Year standings and the final spots on next year’s state team in the two-day event staged out of Coosa Landing.
Kyle Glasgow (Winfield Bassmasters), Roy Galbraith (Winfield Bassmasters), and Byrd continue to lead the AOY standings among boaters entering the state championship. Restifo sits atop the non-boater AOY standings.
B.A.S.S. Nation president Eddie Plemons would like to thank the sponsors that support the organization and its tournaments. In addition to McKinnon Toyota, Academy Sports and Outdoors, other sponsors include NetBait, Airport Marine, Triton Boats, Mercury, Lowrance, Shell, Hammer Rods, Livingston Lures, Daiwa, Transducer Shield & Saver, Shelby County (Alabama), StrikeZone, and Alabama Power.