- Lynn Burkhead
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GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — Hook 'em Bass.
That's what Saturday's third and final round weigh-in of co-anglers fishing in this week's Bluegrass Brawl presented by DieHard Platinum Marine Batteries came down to quite literally.
In the end, Austin, Texas resident and Texas Longhorns fan Michael Ray Bass hooked enough big bass to sit atop the hot seat early and stay there until the end, earning the Bluegrass Brawl co-angler title and the $25,000 check that goes with it.
Bass, a licensed therapist and massage therapist and the husband of Women's Bassmaster Tour pro Lila Bass weighed in five bass at 14 pounds, 9 ounces on Saturday afternoon, good enough for a winning three day tally of 45-0.
In the runner-up spot was Jason Seaton of Martinsville, Ind., who weighed in five bass at 12-13, good enough for a three day tally of 44-1 and a check of $10,000.
In third place was Cadiz, Ky., angler Brian Hickey, who weighed in five bass at 16-14, good enough for a total of 43-14 and a $5,000 check.
Afterward, an emotional and exhilarated Bass explained his first co-angler title in more than a dozen tries.
"I've been looking for this for 15 events and to finally get it done, it feels fantastic," Bass told BASS emcee Keith Alan after claiming his champion's trophy.
"It's incredible, there aren't any words to describe how I feel," he added backstage. "I'm still shocked and I'm sure I'll still be shocked tomorrow."
Riding back to Kentucky Dam Marina on Saturday afternoon with Elite Series pro Dave SmithE, Bass, who started the day with a 1-2 deficit, was unsure if he had enough to leapfrog his way past wire-to-wire leader Matt Hoffman and Jason Seaton in second place.
But he did know that he had met his pre-tournament goal of fishing consistently each day and being in the final day mix.
"I was consistent with an average bag of 15 pounds for three days," Bass said. "That's what I thought it would take to win.
"I just thank God for the opportunity to be here today and for His generosity to me this day."
Bass' angling wife Lila, who cut her WBT practice time short on Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee to drive north to this afternoon's final day co-angler weigh-in, will also benefit, according to her husband.
"Monday is our anniversary and I couldn't think of a better anniversary present than a $25,000 check," Bass laughed, noting that the check will also help with the couple's gasoline bills.
To earn that check, Bass stayed with the same tactics that had kept him near the top all three days.
The Austin angler started off Saturday morning using a ¾ oz. green pumpkin candy Jewel jig, followed up by a 10-inch blue/fleck Power Worm.
And while those worked just fine for him earlier in the day, it was a citrus shad Bomber Fat Free Shad that put him over the top.
"After I got my limit, I switched to the crankbait and was able to cull two fish with it," Bass said.
"My second cull was my big fish for today and it helped because I thought I had more weight than I actually had," he added.
While the crankbait worked late, the jig was Bass' primary go to bait all week.
From the weigh-in stage after his win, he acknowledged the help that fellow Texan and Elite Series pro Matt Reed has given him over the last few years with that lure.
"We were fishing together on Table Rock two years ago," Bass said. "I was hopping my jig around and not being very successful.
"Well, on one cast, I didn't hop it and I caught a fish and said 'Man, maybe I'm not supposed to hop it."
That's when Reed, who had been silent up until that point in time, good naturedly chimed in and said "Man, now you're finally starting to learn something!"
Having practiced with Reed for 13 tournaments over the past few years, Bass has learned the ropes of jig fishing.
But he admitted that he has also picked up other tips from the three pros that he has fished with this week including Smith today.
"I fished a football jig (today) as slowly as I've ever fished it," Bass said.
"Dave hooked some pretty good fish and he was really fishing slow as I watched him. I started getting some big bites after I slowed down.
"And it was the same thing on the Power Worm after I caught my five on the jig."
For Seaton, the jig bite pattern nearly caught him enough bass to win the event himself.
While he had relied on a Strike King Sexy Shad Series 6 crankbait much of this week, Saturday he primarily used a green/purple jig with a purple twin tail trailer.
In fact, his Elite Series pro Scott Rook noticed his jig fishing success early on.
"We pulled up to (the first spot) and I caught my fish first thing (with the jig), something like four or five fish," Seaton said. "He (Rook) turned around and said 'What are you doing?' so I tossed him a jig and he started catching them, too."
Unfortunately for Seaton, his early jig bite success didn't hold up later in the day.
"I executed well, but I just never really could get going (later on)," he said.
"He (Rook) was really stacking them up in the livewell (later in the day) and I just couldn't get on them. He was seeing the bites on his line and I just couldn't see any bites on my line.
"I don't know if I was missing them or what."
After a brief scare with some motor issues late in the day, Seaton wondered as he came in whether or not a lost fish yesterday would cost him the title.
It did as he wound up losing the co-angler tournament by 15 ounces.
"I was trying to get a 3-pounder (in the boat) today," he said.
"Was there one fish that cost me? Yeah, it would have to be that 5-pounder that I missed yesterday, the one that came unbuttoned on the crankbait."
Even so, Seaton said he got exactly what he came for this week.
"I come out here for the experience (of learning from these pros)," Seaton said. "The money is just a bonus."
After a fine week in Kentucky, the angler is hopeful he'll be able to fish the co-angler side again next season.
"I'd hate to see BASS get rid of the co-angler side," Seaton said. "I think it could be one of the worst things that they could do."
Finishing in third place one week after a runner-up performance on Alabama's Wheeler Lake was local angler Brian Hickey.
Despite another bridesmaid type of finish, Hickey was far from disappointed after the last two weeks of tournament action.
"I'm tickled to death (with the results)," he said. "It's no secret that getting the right draw is the key on the co-angler side and I've had great draws.
"(Because of that) I've been able to fish with a 10-inch plastic worm for six straight days."
Even though he came up 1-2 behind the winner, Hickey said he had unbelievable results in the steamy Kentucky summer heat.
"I was using hand-poured Berkley Power Worms and they were just unbelievable," he said. "I've never had fish eat a worm like that, not in a long time."
Fishing with last week's Elite Series Southern Challenge winner Jeremy Starks, Hickey fished his Texas rigged plum Power Worm with a 3/8 oz. weight on ledges in six to seven feet of water.
"We were fishing the sweet spots, the spot on a spot where you find that one little thing that is different," Hickey said. "I also noted that Starks was fishing those spots from a certain angle, one that most other anglers don't fish."
By day's end, Hickey was highly impressed with the skills that the young pro Starks brought to the Kentucky Lake table.
"I've fished on this lake for 34 years and he taught me more today than I've probably learned in the last 20 years," Hickey said, noting that this week marks Starks second visit to Kentucky Lake.
What did Hickey learn from Starks today?
"When you think of drop-shotting, you think of 60 feet of water with clarity of about 15 feet or so on a rocky, highland reservoir," he said.
"This is a lowland reservoir that isn't that clear and he (Starks) just crushed them on the technique.
"I had never fished the technique before in my life and he put one in my hand today, told me how to throw it out and fish it, and I hooked four fish almost right off the bat."
Just as many of the co-anglers have seemed to mention during the past two tournaments, Hickey had nothing but high praise for the various BASS pros that he has fished with in 'Bama and Kentucky.
That was especially true for his pro partner today.
"Jeremy is just amazing with really good instincts," Hickey said. "The kid's going to be around for a long time and will be a star.
"He's just an amazing fisherman, a super awesome guy, and a good old boy from West Virginia like I am from Kentucky."
Matt Hoffman, the Cold Springs, Ky., co-angler who came into the final round with a wire-to-wire lead of 31-9, fell off the pace considerably, weighing in only two bass at 5-4.
Those numbers put him in 17th place with a total of 36-13.
"I caught plenty of fish today, I just couldn't get the big ones that I needed," a disappointed Hoffman said. "The were not pulling water and that hurt me."
Hoffman gave big praise to Elite Series pro Terry "Big Show" Scroggins, his pro partner for the day.
"Terry and I talked on the way out," Hoffman said. "He knew I was leading and he gave me access to all of the water that I wanted to throw at. He wasn't going to shut me out in any way and I want to thank him for his generosity on the water."
Using the same ¾ oz. jig and Paca Craw trailer that had kept him in the lead for two days, Hoffman didn't find the same kind of success today after Scroggin's very long run past Paris, Tenn.
He did try different jig colors and lures, but in the end, despite catching 25 bass today, he couldn't put enough keepers in the boat, with nearly all of his fish measuring under the 15 inch minimum length limit on Kentucky Lake.
"I did have a three pounder come unbuttoned on a crankbait," Hoffman said.
"Even though I didn't win, it was still a great week," he added.
Some 50 co-anglers in the money today would certainly agree with that assessment, none more than the Bluegrass Brawl winner M.R. Bass from the Hill Country of Texas.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Bluegrass Brawl with weigh-in host Keith Alan, June 12–15, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 6:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 5:30 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET, with the final day weigh-in and real-time leaderboard content starting at 6:00 p.m. ET.
Eearns $25,000 check just in time for his anniversary on Monday