Before dawn broke over Blythe Landing, bass boats were slowly filling up the cove. With only navigational lights to guide them, the teams started lining up for the sunrise start of the Carolinas Bass Challenge on Lake Norman Feb. 14.
Facing temperatures close to 22 degrees the fishermen donned heavy coats, hats and gloves. Many covered their faces, some with cloth and others with full face helmets, for the cold boat ride that awaited them.
Lake Norman native Carroll Queen was seated with a heavy blanket covering his legs as he was buttoning up his second heavy coat to stay warm. “I just like to fish,” said Carroll, “I’m gonna try a crank bait, an Alabama rig or anything I can to get them to bite.”
Crank baits are hard plastic lures that resemble a bait fish with a lip that controls how deep the lure will run during a retrieve while an Alabama rig is a combination of multiple soft plastic baits arranged with spinner baits that looks similar to a swimming school of shad, the bait fish that the bass feed on.
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Queen’s son Jeff said, “We are going to have a lot of fun, whether we catch anything or not,” as he baited up an Alabama rig on the boat deck next to the dock.
Brett Collins, the tournament director, stood on the deck of Chad Pilson’s bass boat, looking down into each team’s live wells – a water filled compartment on the boats designed to hold fish and keep them alive. Collins said this was the coldest tournament he could remember in the four years of the series.
The order of departure was determined by a random drawing. Once the competitors raced across the lake to their spots, the cold weather continued to vex them as they tried to fish.
As the fishermen reeled in their lines, water from the line would ice up the eyelets, or guides, on their rods and reels as they fished. To melt the ice, the fishermen would dip the rod in the water of the lake, which was warmer than the air temperature. They pulled it back out, trying to shake the excess water off, but the icing would just start up again minutes later after being exposed to the cold.
The amateur bass tournament, one of a series covering North and South Carolina, sponsored by Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Outboards, Foothills Marine center in Morganton, Marshall’s Marine center in Lake City, S.C., and Palmetto Marine center in Greenville, S.C., had 184 boats compete as the weather warmed to the lower 50s.
The Queens caught enough fish to make their five-bass limit, weighing 13.84 pounds and placed 23rd. They won $270, $70 more than the entry fee, which meant they made a little money while having fun.
The York, S.C., team of Thomas Hardwick and Tommy Williams won $10,000 for first place with a five fish weight of 18.75 pounds. Because they won in a Skeeter boat, the team won an additional $2,500 in Skeeter bonus money, making their one day total $12,500.
The Concord team of Berry Bost and Will Perry won $1,000 for the biggest fish, weighing 6.56 pounds. Their five fish total weight of 14.24 pounds won the team another $350 for 18th place. making their total $1, 350.
Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.