“I’ve fished in bass tournaments for more than 40 years, but this one was the most fantastic event of them all.”
Leonard Willhite of Los Osos was referring to the trip he and longtime companion Joyce Leage attended at Lake Sam Rayburn, Texas, in April. It was the 25th anniversary McDonald’s Big Bass Splash Tournament, an event with a guaranteed $1 million payout. It was advertised as “The Largest Amateur Big Bass Fishing Tournament in history.”
Willhite was enticed to make the 4,370-mile round trip because it sounded like fun and it was a vacation, too. Probably, the excitement of hourly prizes for all eight hours of each day’s competition had something to do with his decision also.
Undoubtedly, the three-day tournament would be a Guinness World Book record had the sponsors, Sealy Outdoors of Jasper, Texas, applied for recognition. They didn’t.
“We had 7,551 anglers entered,” Nicole Sealy, daughter of the owner, said in a telephone interview. “There were participants from 42 states and five foreign countries.”
She said to qualify as an amateur each angler could not have competed in more than five tournaments with a $750 entry fee.
Willhite, 64, has owned and operated Beach Bucket Taffy in Morro Bay for 14 years. It was formerly a fishing tackle business.
Mad dashes to the weigh-in scales highlighted each hour of the tournament. An “exact weight” segment added additional sparkle and excitement to the event. The first anglers each day to weigh bass weighing exactly 3, 4 or 5 pounds bass won Triton bass boats.
On day one, Willhite had the fifth-heaviest bass from 10 to 11 a.m.. It was worth $1,200. Only two Californians earned checks.
The heaviest fish of the tournament, 10.90 pounds was caught Saturday. Larry McNeese of College Station, Texas, won a Grand Star motorhome, Dodge Ram pickup, Triton boat with a 225 Pro XS Mercury motor, Lowrance and MinnKota, electronics and a Stealth 4x4 ATV.
“The same day I had an 11-pound fish on,” Willhite said. “It came up at the stern of the boat. My net got caught on the edge of the prop and cut the line. That fish would have won $2,500 for that hour’s competition.
“It was such a wonderful experience, we’re going back to Sam Rayburn in April. The people are great and the fishing is fantastic. I wish California had a lake like that.”
The final overnight trip of the season departs at 3 p.m. Saturday and returns between 4 and 6 p.m. Sunday. Space is available. Call 772-1222 for reservations.
Andrew Harmer of San Luis Obispo had the big fish of last week, a 10-pound lingcod. Other jackpot winners included Frank Garibay, Santa Maria, 8-pound lingcod, Don Russell, Morro Bay, 7-pound bocaccio, Hector Rivera, Bakersfield, 7-pound red rockcod, John Fuscher, Oakdale, 4-pound bolina.
There’s a new second-place occupant in the fifth-annual Lingcod Contest. Sean Grauel of San Luis Obispo caught a 16-pound, 12-ounce lingcod Tuesday to drop Leo Davis to third place.
Dennis Hyde of Bakersfield is the leader with a 17-10 ling. Prizes are $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 for the top three anglers. The contest ends Nov. 15.
Last week’s jackpot winners included Jim Blackburn, Paso Robles, 14-pound ling, Lanny Beasley, Bakersfield, 12-4 ling, Josh Turner, Fresno, 7-pound barracuda, Erik Jacobson, Gilroy, and George Sanchez, Bakersfield, both 3-pound red rockcod.
Port San Luis Boatyard
Tom Rademacher of Atascadero earned Whopper of the Week honors with the catch of a 22.2-pound lingcod Sunday.Only 45 boats were launched last week.
Santa Margarita Lake
Steve Goldman of Santa Margarita rented Lucky Boat No. 16 on Oct. 29 and caught and released a 12-9-pound catfish on 4-pound test line. On Friday, six catfish up to five pounds were caught on red worms by Pismo Beach anglers Lynn Austin and Bill Alexander.
Ryan Wilson of Arroyo Grande caught a five-pound largemouth bass on a white spinnerbait while fishing Monday at Strawberry Flat.
Saturday is Old Fashioned Fishing Day. Kids ages 5-15 are invited to fish for rainbow trout with cane poles and bobbers in the park’s swimming pool. The event begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m. Experienced fishermen will be on hand to assist young anglers.
Kids must use the equipment provided. Licensed older fishermen may fish from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. using cane poles and bobbers.
A number of Central Coast qualifiers from the Pacific and Central Coast Regions will be competing in the American Bass North Classic at Clear Lake on Friday and Saturday.
Jim Reyes, U.S. Angler’s Choice Central Coast tournament director, announced that event No.1 on the 2009-10 schedule will be contested Dec. 5 at Nacimiento Lake.
There were more trout caught last week than anytime since the last weekend in April. That would be three fish.
Rob Chang caught a pair of 15-inchers on a Thomas Buoyant lure while Jeremy Harkin used a lure to catch a 14-inch trout.
Five trout were caught from April 29 to May 3 and three fish taken April 25-26.
The reservoir is open for fishing Wednesdays through Sundays. The season ends Nov. 15.