By Greg McCain
The Natchez Trace Bridge proved to be a key landmark for Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation anglers fishing the Pickwick Lake qualifier Saturday out of McFarland Park in Florence.
The top two strings on the boater side, the top catch among co-anglers, and the big fish all came in the vicinity of the bridge, which is a regular destination for anglers from either end of the lake. Russellville angler Paul Wilcoxson captured the McKinnon Toyota first-place prize with a limit of 21.70 pounds although much of the buzz at the weigh-in involved the 10-pounder that topped the Academy Sports and Outdoors big-fish list.
Dustin Berryman, a member of the Belgreen Bass Club, took the 10.22 largemouth about 1 p.m. on a Carolina-rigged green pumpkin lizard.
Belmont Bass Anglers member Shawn Perrigo took second-place overall with a 20.47 catch, while Koty McCarley, of the Hamilton Bassmasters, took top honors among co-anglers with 10.61 from the back of Perrigo’s boat.
Wilcoxson didn’t find the bass bunched up on the ledges but managed to land the right five, making a key cull of a two-pounder about an hour before weigh-in. Wilcoxson, fishing in the third flight, caught his fish on a chartreuse Strike King 6XD crankbait and a plum-apple Zoom Ol’ Monster worm fished Texas-rigged behind a ½ -ounce tungsten weight.
Wilcoxson said he wasn’t sure what to expect from the tournament but found the fish transitioning back to the ledges after a recent move shallow.
“We’ve been doing fairly well over the last month over here,” he said, “but something happened. The shad fry hatched, and it moved all the fish up shallow. The fish left the ledges, and they only lately started coming back.”
Catching a total of six keepers all day, Wilcoxson only had two smallmouth in the boat at 10 a.m. About that time, he caught his big fish, a largemouth about six pounds. He finished off the day with two more quality largemouth, including the key one that culled late.
Perrigo, a member of the Belmont (Miss.) Bass Anglers, settled on the right fish near the Trace, but both he and McCarley had trouble keeping fish buttoned up.
“I lost one about 10 on a big spoon,” Perrigo said. “That took the wind out of me, and it took a while to recuperate. I was throwing big baits hoping to catch big fish. I just didn’t land the big one.”
Perrigo and McCarley, who combined to win the Total Boat Weight category, took advantage of a shad spawn early with bass schooling on a shallow shell bar.
“It started out pretty decent,” Perrigo said. “We caught them schooling the first couple of hours, but we also lost a few.”
Perrigo finished off his limit with a hair jig and a Strike King 10XD crankbait. McCarley, whose catch included a six-pounder, caught his three-fish limit on a home-made underspin with a shad-colored/chartreuse Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper.
“Shawn put us on some good fish early,” McCarley said, “although I could have had an even bigger limit. I lost a few fish.”
Berryman drew a collective gasp from the crowd when he pulled the 10-pounder out of the bag. The fish, while not unusually long, was exceptionally thick from the head all the way to the tail.
“It jumped completely out of the water three times,” Berryman said. “I was just praying it wouldn’t throw the hook. I didn’t know if it weighed 10, but I knew it was a good one.”
Eulon Lee (Rumbling Waters Bass Anglers, 16.88), who held the big-fish lead for a while with a 7.54 largemouth, took third place and also held the Fishing for a Cure top spot. Robby LaMar (Tennessee Valley Bass Club, 16.22) was fourth.
Kyle Glasgow (Winfield Bassmasters, 16.04) finished fifth and added to his Angler of the Year lead. Rounding out the top 10 were Mitch Mitchell (Tennessee Valley Bass Club, 15.82), Terry Ezzell (Belgreen Bass Club, 15.54), Dave Frogue (Dixieland Bassmasters, 14.81), Jason Blackmon (Fayette Bass Club, 14.44), and Roy Galbraith (Winfield Bassmasters, 14.32).
Among the co-anglers, Francis Beard (Neely Henry Bassmasters, 9.70) finished second followed by Josh Smith (Winfield Bassmasters, 9.66), Michael Restifo (Birmingham Bass Club, 9.50), Clayton Mosley (LA PO Boys, 9.47), and Andrew Cox (Rumbling Waters Bass Anglers, 9.36). Restifo maintained his lead in Co-angler of the Year standings with his catch.
The next tournament among the four Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers is expected to be in September on Millers Ferry out of Camden. An official date for that tournament has not been finalized after the tournament was cancelled due to flooding in February. The schedule concludes with all qualifiers headed to the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation State Championship Oct. 28-29 on Neely Henry.
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.