Weather was unpredictable, practice was hectic, but this week Grand Lake dealt three solid tournament days as 94 anglers from across the US and Canada met for the 2013 Federation National Championship. Each day anglers came across the stage smashing their tournament bests and big fish records, winning or losing by ounces and consistently bagging 20lbs of Grand Lake bass.
Mark Daniels Jr. from Fairfield, Calif., saw his life’s work, his life’s passion validated as he became this year’s Federation National Champion boater and TBF’s “Living the Dream” angler. “I’m just so excited right now; I can’t even really think,” Daniels’s said. “After catching that huge bag on day two I knew I had a shot to win this thing.” Daniels caught 18lbs 6ounces on day one and a 24lb 10ounce bag on day two to sail him into first and the final round. Today, he caught 19lbs 4ounces to make his tournament total 62lbs 4ounces.
“My travel partner, Tom Shimabukuro and I found fish A-Riggin’ in practice that I thought could potentially be winning fish,” Daniels said. “Then, the final day of practice me and Ben went out and we kind of solidified that.” Daniels was paired with Ben Wright from Peru, New York who would go on to be the national champion co-angler. “We found a bunch of areas that looked similar and I went in and pulled a fish off of each one of those spots. I patterned the entire week off that.”
Daniels fished Drowning Creek down on the south end of the lake near the dam the whole week. “I pulled off on practice because I knew I would just come and hit all of those spots during the tournament days. I did that & just capitalized on all those bites; I didn’t lose many fish this week.
Once I mentally understood what I thought the bigger fish were holding on, I just created my own milk run during the day,” Daniels continued. “I probably hit 25 different spots on that creek hitting them 10-25 minutes at the most and then picking up and moving on to another spot.”
This is Daniels’s first time to make it to the national championship. “I’ve been fishing all my life, bass fishing since I was 11 & it’s literally a dream come true,” Daniels said. “To come here and win it, win the living the dream package, a new ranger boat; it’s going to take a week for it to hit me.”
His journey this week seemed to fit like pieces of a puzzle. “I truly believe I have a gift from God to fish, not just me those that compete on the tour and other circuits too. My gift is fishing, this is what I do. It was just my time.”
The Federation National Champion co-angler, Ben Wright from Peru, N.Y., weighed in 15lbs 9ounces making his tournament total 50lbs 13ounces to solidify his win today. Wright was speechless on stage not only because of his win but also with the announcement of TBF’s new “Living the Dream” Co-Angler package. Wright will be the first TBF “Living the Dream” co-angler.
“In fishing there’s a lot of luck, there’s a lot of skill and there’s a lot of luck; this week I had it,” Wright said. “I knew I was only 11ounces behind; I knew I was in a position to win it.” Wright struggled, catching two keepers in his first two days of practice until day three when he got paired with eventual champion boater, Daniels. “We just started to work some things out, put some things together.”
Wright caught all his fish Alabama Riggin’ a 5inch, white, curly-tailed grub. “I seemed to get bit better than my other two boaters just following them in for the second pass on things. They were great fishermen, but I think maybe the fish were keying in on the white. I don’t know, but I got the fish to prove it.”
Both the national champion boater and co-angler fished the third practice day and day one together, it would seem they were on to something big. “I give a lot of credit to Mark, a lot of credit,” Wright said. “If nothing else, what it did is get my head right. I was struggling in practice and it’s tough to go into a big tournament like this struggling. It put my head in a position where I said Okay, things can work. I’m going to catch fish. I just had to go out and execute.”
Both national champion anglers earn coveted spots in the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup and the 2013 BFL All-American, in addition to, cash and prizes. Daniels, the national champion boater, will also receive the $100,000 Living the Dream package. He will literally “live his dream” fishing as an FLW Tour Pro for a year with use of a wrapped Ranger Boat and Chevrolet truck, as well as, travel expenses, sponsor merchandise and prizes.
TBF’s sponsors at Ranger Boats once again went above and beyond this week with their Ranger Cup program. The program awarded the top Ranger Cup qualified boater, Mark Daniels Jr., a new Ranger Z518 boat and trailer, as well as, the top Ranger Cup qualified co-angler, Robert Rikard from Lexington, S.C., $5,000 cash.
The Cabela’s Angler Cash program also proved its value awarding the highest qualified boater, Ben Otto from Pulaski, Wisc., $1,000 in Cabela’s Angler Cash and the highest qualified co-angler, Greg Gizzi from Widefield, Colo., $1,000 in Cabela’s Angler Cash.