Final Leg Of 2017 TBF National Championship Underway On Table Rock Lake
By Dan Johnson
Phase two of The Bass Federation’s 2017 National Championship kicked off today on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake. Running April 3-8 out of Kimberling City, the event is the largest and richest title showdown in Federation history.
The action began Monday and Tuesday, with 204 anglers from across the continent battling for the top two-day weight for their respective state or province.
Competitors qualified through the TBF’s traditional divisional format and the organization’s new National Semi-Final system. Comprised of 22 district competitions, that framework is designed to make it more cost effective for TBF grassroots anglers to fish premier events by minimizing travel time and expenses while increasing payouts across the board.
On Tuesday afternoon, the field narrowed to the top 49 boaters and 49 co-anglers. Anglers making the cut practiced on Wednesday before heading into the championship’s final three-day stretch Thursday through Saturday. The field fished in their own boats the first two days, then settled into state-of-the-art Evinrude-powered Ranger Boats for the remainder of the event.
Overall, a mix of cool, rainy and windy conditions challenged the field to find bass over 15 inches during the first two days of the tournament. New York’s Brad Brodnicki paced the boater division with 10 bass for 28-10 pounds, followed by Wisconsin’s Larry Hildebrandt and Arizona’s Jon Griffith with 24-08.
“Weights are zeroed today, however, so everything starts over,” explained TBF senior tournament director Randy Sullivan. “Cumulative weights from the next two days will determine who makes the cut for Saturday, when the top boater and co-angler from each of the TBF’s seven divisions advance to the finals.”
All 14 finalists will advance to the 2017 BFL All-American. The National Champion boater also advances to the world championship of bass fishing, the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup, for a shot at winning the biggest payday in bass fishing.
The winning boater will also receive the $100,000 “Living the Dream” package to include a cash prize, fully paid entry fees on the 2018 FLW Tour as a pro, travel expense stipends for each event and use of a “Living the Dream”-wrapped Ranger boat with Evinrude outboard for the year. The top co-angler will also receive a $20,000 prize package including $10,000 cash and fully paid entry fees into the FLW Series division of choice as well as other prizes.
Optimism Runs High
With warmer weather in the forecast and the leaderboard a clean slate, optimism was running high among the anglers at Thursday’s take-off. “It’s a brand-new tournament,” grinned Ontario’s Justin Fung. “I’m excited to get things started and proud to represent Canada down here.”
Fung said a few bass were moving shallow earlier in the week. “Some smaller fish were making nests, but with yesterday’s cold they pulled out,” he said. Given the forecast for warmer, sunnier weather the remainder of the tournament, he expects to see more fish move back shallow, and predicts weights will improve accordingly. “I think we’ll see more 4- to 5-pounders caught, and a few bags north of 15 pounds every day,” he said.
Colorado’s Greg Gizzi was likewise hopeful. “The water temperature is 54 degrees this morning, so we lost a few degrees from yesterday,” he said. “But with the sun coming out I think it’s going to put the fish right where we want them.”
Gizzi landed a limit each of the first two days and finished seventh among the boaters with 23-03. “A lot of the lakes back home are rocky and deep like this, so I’m comfortable here on Table Rock,” he said. “Weights start over today, though, so we gotta go catch them again. I think 13 to 14 pounds a day will be key to getting it done.”
With three days of competition remaining, anglers were understandably tight-lipped about their presentations. Sullivan said a mix of tactics produced fish earlier in the week. “Seeking baits like small squarebill cranks and spinnerbaits were key when anglers couldn’t see the bass, but I think sight-fishing is going to pick up as fish move shallow toward the beds,” he said.
Sullivan also noted that some anglers tapped a wildcard pattern in deeper water. “Some of the guys figured out how to catch spotted bass in 18 to 20 feet of water on small Carolina rigs and dropshot setups,” he said. “We saw some really big spots.”
Whether that bite will play a role in grand finale remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt TBF anglers will pull out all the stops in a bid for the most coveted crown in grassroots bass fishing.
Coverage of the TBF National Championship will be broadcast nationally in high-definition on the Pursuit Channel and streamed live daily on bassfederation.com.
The Bass Federation is a proud “Partner in Fishing” with FLW, which helps support this annual event along with other industry-leading TBF sponsors including Ranger Boats, Evinrude, Cabela’s, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Berkley, Lowrance and Power Pole.
Dates: April 3-8
Host: Table Rock Lake Chamber of Commerce
Takeoff times: 7 a.m.
Takeoff location: Port of Kimberling, 72 Marina Way, Kimberling City, MO
Weigh-in times: 3 p.m.
Weigh-in location: Port of Kimberling Marina & Resort