OCEANSIDE, Calif.– Watts Bar Lake is known for having of ton of largemouth and smallmouth bass, plus some spotted bass as well. Last weekend it was also known for bringing the cold. With temperatures dipping below 20 degrees as 94 elite kayak anglers launched for the two-day Hobie® B.O.S. Series Anchored by Power-Pole® event on Saturday morning, there was a communal sense the fishing would be challenging. That certainly proved the case, but in a testament to the amazing skill level and competitiveness of the participants, 251 bass were still photographed, measured and released.
“I’m proud of the performance our competitors turned in this weekend,” said tournament director, A.J. McWhorter. “Many drove though serious ice and snow just to get here. When they arrived, they were met with miserable conditions on the water and they still fished hard. But that’s what these high-level competitions are about: taking on whatever Mother Nature throws at you and finding a way to finish in the top ten percent. Whether it’s mid-summer heat or late-winter cold, these anglers lay it all on the line.”
That’s for sure, and no one accomplished more than Hobie T.O.C. Reigning Grand Champion, Ryan Lambert. With a 74-inch haul of largemouth bass on Day 1, followed by 77 inches of bass on Day 2, the Jasper, Tennessee, resident filled his daily limits to edge out runner-up Ewing Minor of Charlottesville, Virginia, 151 inches to 149.25 inches. Kurt Smits from Cincinnati, Ohio, drilled 148-inches of bass to take the third slot. All three anglers filled their limits both days, the only anglers to do so in the tournament. For Lambert, this was win number two against no losses in national-level bass fishing competition in the Knoxville area as he won the 2020 T.O.C. last November just a few miles upstream on the Tennessee River. Interestingly, it was only his second time fishing at Watts Bar Lake, the first being a one-day visit six years ago.
“I haven’t been on this lake much and between work and the weather, I managed only an hour of practice on Friday,” confirmed Lambert. “I pulled up to the lake at Watts Bar Dam and there was bait floating everywhere from a big shad kill. I decided right there that I wasn’t’ fishing the main lake. So, I spoke with fellow Tennessee kayak bass angler Eric Thomason and he suggested we do a river float. Good thing I agreed because I stumbled onto a grassy stretch up a tributary that had a few fish and I worked that spot both days.”
Lambert balanced out a Ned rig with a Z-Man Jackhammer to draw his strikes. The Ned rig enticed most of his fish on Saturday when he finished in seventh place. On Sunday, he pulled a couple more bass on the Ned, then dropped the hammer as the wind died down. With two hours to go, Lambert could see on the leader board that Ewing was having a good day. Doing some quick math in his head, Lambert concluded he would need a 19-inch bass to stay in the game. By then, he had moved about a mile down-river to work a spot he hoped would hold a big fish or two. Coming up empty, he decided to head back to the grassy area.
“Just before I hit that grass again, I drilled the 19-incher I needed, then culled up another two inches when I reached my sweet spot – and here we are talking about winning. I’ve got to say, I love watching the leader board. It just makes things so exciting. I could see Ewing smashing the fish on Sunday and that really pushed me to keep working hard despite the cold. This was definitely the toughest tournament conditions I’ve ever faced.”
Minor, of course, never gave in. After finishing ninth on Day 1 with 68.50 inches of bass, he led the leader board on Day 2 with 80.75 inches. The 18-year old Carson Newman University freshman from Charlottesville, Virginia has fished Watts Bar before, and he used his knowledge of the waters to stay in contention for the top prize.
“I didn’t have much of a commute since my dorm is just an hour away,” explained Minor. “Usually I target stripers here, but I also catch some nice largemouths in the process, so I figured I should give it a try.”
That turned out to be a great choice. Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Minor, as he had to borrow a kayak from Hobie tourney regular Jamie Koza, and ask a friend for transportation.
“That Hobie really made a difference for me,” continued Minor. “I usually fish from a paddle kayak but the PA14 with 180 MirageDrive was a big improvement. Jamie already had it rigged with a fish-finder so I could locate submerged brush piles, grassy stakes and timber. Being able to use the MirageDrive propulsion system to keep the ‘yak positioned in the wind and current made it easier to stay on the fish once I found them up inside a muddy creek.”
Minor threw a lipless crankbait early on Saturday before picking up his last two bass on a square bill. On Sunday, rising water pushed the muddiness further back into the creek. With clearer water available, Minor switched to Jackall Rerange and Megabass Vision 110 jerkbaits and hit some solid fish to push Lambert through his very last cast. Slowing down the twitch rate on his jerkbait improved his strike ratio, he noted.
“I had my shot on Sunday morning,” added Minor, reflecting on a missed opportunity. “I set up on a five-pounder but she wrapped me up. Before I could reach her, she tried to jump but couldn’t get out of the water and the hooks ripped free. That hurt, but I’ve got no complaints.”
Smits, meanwhile, finished in eighth on Day 1 with 73.75” of bass and followed that with a 68”, fifth-place performance on Day 2. He found his fish in a creek channel that ran right up to the flats. While he never had the feeling there were big fish in that school, there were enough willing to bite to for him to keep throwing a small, white swimbait he normally uses to target white bass.
“I’m thrilled to take third but it sure wasn’t easy,” said Smits. “I had to shovel my driveway just to get on the road, drive through wintery conditions the entire way, and then keep waking the fish up when all they wanted to do was shut down. The cold didn’t bother me too much, though. I fish year-‘round so I’m used to bundling-up. Still, everyone who participated in this tourney earned my respect this weekend. That includes the staff who somehow had everything running smoothly and really helped keep our spirits up. Terrific job!”
Lambert took home $5250 for his first-place finish, Minor pocketed $3000, and Smits collected $2000 as payouts totaled $18,000. Additionally, Collin Lamkin, from Chicago, Illinois, collected $400 for the Bassin’ Magazine Big Bass with a 21-inch lunker decked on Saturday. Both Minor and Smits secured spots in the 2021 Tournament of Champions at Lake Eufaula, Alabama, November 12–14. Lambert, by virtue of his 2020 T.O.C. victory, was already qualified. All three also scored valuable points towards the BOS Angler of the Year award presented by Farwide, The Outdoor Access App. Lawrence Mellinger of Virginia Beach, Virginia, earned the Dakota Lithium Power Move award by improving his position 26 places on Sunday to finish 24th. For his efforts he received a Dakota Power Box with 10-amp lithium battery.
Next up on the Hobie® B.O.S. Series Anchored by Power-Pole® schedule is Broken Bow Lake in Oklahoma. This bass haven features a unique fishery with some real lunker possibilities and good numbers as well. Check out the event info and sign-up at https://hobiebos.com/events/