Gross takes the gold at Eufaula

Gross Takes the Gold at Eufaula

EUFAULA, Ala. — After a week of constant adjustments, everything came together perfectly for Buddy Gross on Championship Saturday.

The Bassmaster Elite Series rookie, fishing only his second event on the trail, caught a tournament-best five-bass limit that weighed 27 pounds, 11 ounces and sprang from 10th place to a victory in the DEWALT Bassmaster Elite at Lake Eufaula with a four-day total of 84-8. He earned $100,000 and one of the coveted blue trophies that comes with every Elite Series win.

Instead of the usual routine of being handed the trophy by Elite Series Tournament Director Trip Weldon, Gross received the prize onstage from his family due to strict social distancing measures in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Gross said. “This is something you dream of as a kid because B.A.S.S. is the epitome of fishing — just the staple of the fishing world. To dream about something like this, and then for it to happen so early in my career, is amazing.”

Gross, who lives in Chickamauga, Ga., made two scouting trips to Lake Eufaula before the event. Each trip, the weather was so rough that he spent all of his time just idling around and marking brushpiles.

During those two trips, he said he marked over 300 of the man-made structures that are so prominent on the fishery.

But when he showed up for the official practice period on Sunday, some of the brush he had marked was gone — presumably washed away by flooding in the area. However, Gross said new brushpiles had already been put in place since his most recent visit.

“I didn’t want to spend time fishing phantom waypoints,” Gross said. “So, I had to start marking those places off the list where brushpiles had washed away. Then as I was doing that, I found brushpiles in places where there weren’t any back before the off-limits period just 35 or 40 days ago.

“The people in this town must be part beaver or something. I’ve never been to a place with so many brushpiles.”

Gross started his week probing the brush with a Zoom Swimmer in the Tennessee shad color and a 5-inch Natural Light Scottsboro Swimmer. That netted him just 16-14 on Day 1 and left him in 43rd place.

The next day, he made possibly his most important adjustment of the week.

“On the second day of the tournament, I switched over to a jig,” he said. “First cast, I got bit. Second cast, I got bit. It was just consecutive. Every brushpile I went to it probably increased my bites by 50 or 60 percent.”

The magic lure was a prototype bullethead jig from Nichols Lures with a green pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk trailer. It allowed him to catch 20-7 on Day 2, 19-8 on Day 3 and then the monster bag of 27-11 during Saturday’s final round.

On Saturday, another slight logistical adjustment was necessary for him to find the quality of fish he needed to jump from 10th place and surpass Alabama pro Scott Canterbury who entered the day with more than a 4-pound lead.

“I had started off fishing new brush this morning, just places I hadn’t fished,” Gross said. “On the deeper ones, I just didn’t get bit.”

Then he moved to an area with shallower brush in Pataula Creek.

“On the first shallow brushpile I fished, I hung one and lost it,” he said. “Then on the second one, I caught a 6-13 that was my biggest fish of the day. I said right then, ‘This is gonna be the deal all day.’

“My best brushpiles today were the ones in 5 1/2 to 6 feet.”

The season has been one of ironic twists for Gross.

Considered one of the best anglers on Lake Chickamauga, he was deeply disappointed when Elite Series tournaments scheduled for that fishery were cancelled in February and then again in April. He thought that might be his best chance for a win this season, but Eufaula helped take the sting out of those two curves thrown to the professional fishing world — first by flooding on the Tennessee River and then by the COVID-19 outbreak.

This week, Gross wouldn’t have even qualified for Saturday’s final Top 10 if North Carolina pro Shane LeHew hadn’t been penalized several ounces for weighing in dead fish and then 2 pounds for accidentally making a cast with six bass in his livewell.

Crazy things also happened to Gross on the water.

“The first day of the tournament, I was running brushpiles so fast that I was fishing with my lifejacket on,” he said. “I had a 7-pounder at the boat, and I reeled my lanyard up into my reel. That fish was out there jumping, so I tried to just muscle through it. All that did was make it worse.

“That fish eventually got off — and I thought [for] sure that would cost me a lot. But I guess when something is meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

Bryan College angler Victorious in Carhartt Bassmaster Classic Bracket

JACOB FOUTZ VICTORIOUS IN CARHARTT BASSMASTER CLASSIC BRACKET

Deerwood, Minn. – Just days ago, it was the duo of Jacob Foutz (SO/Charleston, Tenn.) and Jake Lee (SO/Knoxville, Tenn.) who hoisted the hardware for the Bryan College Lions Fishing Team as they were crowned the 2017 Carhartt Bassmaster National Champions, presented by Bass Pro Shops, outlasting some of the best collegiate anglers in the nation on Lake Bemidji in Bemidji, Minn. Foutz and Lee did their best to let the feeling of national champs sink in, but they knew they had their work cut out for them as they headed to Serpent Lake to test their individual skill on the water in a head-to-head matchup with the other top-3 teams from Bemidji running from Monday through Wednesday (Aug. 14-16).

Despite the Lion’s rivals from Bethel University (Tenn.) having two teams, four anglers, make it into the Classic Bracket, only one Wildcat made it to day two. Foutz bettered Bethel’s Brian Pahl, Lee retired reigning Classic Bracket Champion John Garrett of Bethel, Chico State’s (Calif.) Chad Sweitzer put an end to Bethel’s Carter McNeil, and lone Wildcat Cole Floyd downed Tyler Firebaugh of Chico State to wrap up round one.

There was no stopping the Lions in round two as they roared their way to the final with Foutz overwhelming Sweitzer and Lee outlasting Floyd, making a place for themselves in the Bassmaster record books. Not only has an individual from the Bassmaster National Championship team never taken home the Classic Bracket honor, but also it is the first time since the Bracket’s creation that a college freshman has qualified for the Bassmaster Classic, also referred to as the “Super Bowl” of bass fishing. Lee and Foutz are the third set of teammates to make it through the eight-angler fish-off and meet in the championship round. The last occurrence was when Auburn University’s Matt Lee and Jordan Lee did so in 2012. To explain the importance of the Classic Bracket for the collegiate anglers, it should be known that both Lee brothers are currently Bassmaster Elite Series pro with Jordan being the reigning Bassmaster Classic champion. As the Classic Bracket winner, the individual gets a shot at the professional level with the Classic berth and paid entry into all nine Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens next year.

Ahead of Wednesday’s final, Foutz explained that he’d have to turn in some of his best fishing if he were to top fellow teammate Lee, and that’s exactly what he did. With a total weight of 16 pounds 5 ounces, Foutz weighed in the biggest bag of the bracket week, claiming the Classic Bracket title. Lee’s efforts gave way to 10 pounds 12 ounces.

Ultimately it was Foutz’ adaptability to the two different bodies of water and separate styles on each that led to success on Bemidji and then Serpent. Foutz and Lee went after largemouth bass while vying for the national championship, and then Foutz turned his attention to smallmouth bass when hitting the water on Serpent. His decision paid off after consistently producing impressive bags through the Classic Bracket.

Foutz, a native of Charleston, Tenn., has longed for the opportunity that almost all anglers dream of—to fish the Bassmaster Classic. “It’s an unbelievable feeling, one that is hard to describe unless you live it,” Foutz said. “I’ve been fishing ever since I could crawl, and as long as I can remember I wanted to fish the Bassmaster Classic. I’m fortunate enough to have fulfilled a lifelong dream.”

In the past week, the Lions have added a national championship and a victory in the Classic Bracket to their already notable achievement of Cabela’s School of the Year, which is a testament to the talent the young three-year program possesses.

“There are a bunch of unbelievable anglers at Bryan College,” explained Foutz. “They push Jake (Lee) and myself to be the best we can be. I look forward to representing college fishing this next year.”

The crucial moment for Foutz was when he landed a 4-pound smallmouth after an extremely slow start to the day. “When I caught that 4-0 I felt like I gave myself a shot to win,” Foutz said. “I kept culling up throughout the day and when I hit the 16-pound mark I was pretty certain I won.”

In addition to the Classic berth and entry fees waived for the opens, Foutz will receive a fully rigged and wrapped Toyota Tundra and Nitro Z20 bass boat with a 225 Mercury Pro XS equipped with Power-Pole shallow-water anchors, Humminbird electronics, and a Minn Kota trolling motor. Carhartt awarded him with $7,500 in prize money to help with travel expenses as he sets his sights on the professional events ahead.

Bryan College will be hosting an event to celebrate the national champions as they return home. The welcoming will begin at 12pm on Friday (Aug. 18) at the bottom of the new Bryan College entrance on Landes Way as the anglers make their way back to campus. Directly following the parade to usher in the national champions will be a media day in Summers Gymnasium, including a chance to hear from Bryan Fishing Head Coach Mike Keenand a Q&A time with Lee and Foutz. Invite your friends and family to help give the victors a warm Rhea County welcome back home!

For a look at how the Classic Bracket unfolded, visit bassmaster.com.

For photos from the Classic Bracket, click here.

For a look at the Classic Bracket weigh-ins, click here.

Andy Morgan Wins Third AOY Title

(Editor’s Note: This story courtesy Curtis Niedermier, www.FLWOutdoors.com)

There’s no established benchmark for what is a dynasty in professional sports. It’s a subjective term.

What the pundits can agree on is that a dynasty requires multiple championships over the course of several seasons. How many championships we can all debate, but in the case of Andy Morgan’s performance over the last four seasons, the case could be made that he’s established a dynasty on the Walmart FLW Tour.

Today at Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, N.Y., Morgan won his third Angler of the Year title and its $100,000 prize. He’s not the first to win three, but Morgan is the first in FLW Tour history to win three in four years.

The first came in 2013. Then Morgan went back to back with his second in 2014. Last season, Morgan “slipped” with a ninth-place finish in the standings – what would be a career best for many other anglers – and he’s now back on top in 2016.

Generally, dynasties are contingent on winning year-end championships, but in professional fishing we can argue that AOY is the more challenging title to win. It rewards consistency over the course of a season. And Morgan’s year defines consistency.

He made the top-20 cut this week at Champlain, so his final place hasn’t been recorded, but he’s going to average at least a 22nd-place finish for the season. He took 40th at the opener on Okeechobee then had his worst finish of 42nd place at Lake Hartwell. Morgan made the top 10 at Beaver Lake and Kentucky Lake and finished 11th at Pickwick.

“My first two tournaments were not that great,” Morgan says. “I got checks, and I was proud of that. But to win AOY it wasn’t the kind of checks you need to get. The last four tournaments I put it together, and it just worked out well. It was a blessing to do well.”

Remarkably, Morgan never really had a bad day over that span. He’s caught a limit every day of the season so far and attributes that kind of consistency to both willingness to gamble and his unwillingness to relent on the tough days.

“After you do well for a little while you get a little fearless,” he says. “You kind of get the preconceived stuff out of the way. You have a game plan, but you’re not afraid to scrap it sometimes when it all goes bad. And it usually does. In practice and the tournaments, sometimes it’s totally different, right and left. But you get fearless, and you just go fishing. You treat it like a normal day. That sounds simple, but it’s not easy to do when you pay the big entry fee and it’s all on the line.”

Morgan overtook Jeff Sprague for the AOY lead at stop No. 5 on Kentucky Lake in early June, but his biggest hurdle was the finale here on Champlain. It’s a place where smallmouths are in play, and Morgan has never been shy about his distaste for Northern smallmouths. It’s also a place where everybody catches fish. A scrapper who cashes a lot of checks with a spinning rod in hand, Morgan says he’d have preferred that the AOY title be settled in a tough event.

“I’m just not comfortable up here,” he says of Champlain. “It’s not a good feeling to come here in a slugfest and have to catch them. I think this is my fifth time here, and every time everybody catches them.”

Adding to the drama was a pair of dead fish in Morgan’s limit today – his first dead fish, he says, in “I don’t know how long.” It appeared early on in the weigh-in that the resulting 8-ounce penalty might open the door for Sprague or one of the other contenders to take away Morgan’s lead. It didn’t happen. He weighed 16 pounds, 14 ounces, and one by one the rest of the AOY contenders fell short.

It wasn’t a dominating performance that sealed the deal. His wasn’t a season-long display of big limits and contending for tournament wins. It was more a collection of scrappy, blue-collar performances that allowed him to survive the tough days and gradually build momentum throughout the season. It was a hard-working AOY win, says Morgan. And if anything, that’s the definition of the Andy Morgan dynasty.

“I’ve always said it just takes a good rain coat and some sunscreen to get out here and compete. That kind of grinding, and that kind of mentality that you’re not going to beat me is what it takes,” he says. “You have to learn to work. You learn to get up early and put in whatever it takes to compete and stay competitive. I’m 44 years old. You can see the gray in my beard. But I still know how to work. It’s all about the hustle.”