My name is Steve Allard and I represented Pennsylvania as the Co-Angler in the 2009 TBF National Championship presented by the National Guard on Bull Shoals Lake, March 12-14. It was an honor and a privilege to fish this tournament and represent Pennsylvania.
FLW Outdoors, The Bass Federation, Sponsors, Workers and Volunteers rolled out the red carpet for all the state anglers fishing this event and it was awesome. The anglers were treated like royalty with no worries but to go fishing and have fun. I will give a brief re-cap of the events for all of you and an insight into the tournament we all strive to qualify for.
Pre- Practice: Feb 21-22
Brent McNeal the boater representative from Pa and myself travelled to Bull Shoals on the last week before the cutoff to practice. I have never been to Bull Shoals and was overwhelmed by the size of the lake. It has miles and miles of cuts, coves, creeks, bluff walls and rocks and they all look similar. The lake is very deep and you can find water color from clear to muddy. The main structures were rocks due to the water level as most wood structure was out of the water. The lake is loaded with fish and is a place where you can catch a lunker largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in the same day. There is a 15” size limit on largemouth and smallmouth and a 12” limit on spotted bass. The basic pattern we found was beating the banks and points with jerk baits and crank baits because the water was still cold with temperatures in the upper 30’s to low 40’s. We both caught lots of fish and had a great time exploring a new lake. I looked forward to the upcoming adventure.
Tuesday March 10: Registration and Orientation
All state anglers registered, went over the tournament rules and some of the FLW/ TBF programs and were given a boat orientation at the Branson Hilton Convention Center. The boats provided were brand new Ranger Comanche Z520 equipped with a 250HP Yamaha or Evinrude Motor, Lowrance Electronics and Minn Kota trolling motors and towed with Chevy trucks. WHAT A RIDE!!!!!
A plate dinner was provided and unbeknownst to me at the time, my wife Judy and I sat with the soon to be crowned National Champion Robert Harkness and his wife from West Virginia of the Mid-Atlantic division. I recall asking Robert “What would you do if you won the Living the Dream package?” WOW!!! What irony of the events that were about to unfold for Robert.
Wednesday March 11: Official Practice Day
I was paired with the boater from Washington and he would also be my Day 1 tournament partner. Practice was similar to a tournament with two flights and check in time at 3:00 and 3:30 PM. We were driven to the K dock ramp about 15 minutes away from the hotel by a driver and upon arrival we got into the boat and prepared to go fishing. When the fishing day was done we got back in the truck and were driven back to the hotel. All the workers and volunteers took care of everything else with the boats and no worries for the anglers except there own fishing gear. This was repeated for all the fishing days. I really appreciated this and give a lot of thanks to all the workers and volunteers that made this entire tournament special. Fishing was good on this day but I felt with the cold front that set in the fishing would change. The temperature changed from near 80 on Tuesday to the 30’s by Wednesday. I thought I was back in Pa. ice fishing! It was cold! The bait of choice was jerk baits and crank baits thrown at the bank and points. The water temps were in the upper 40’s and water levels similar to pre-practice.
Thursday March 12: Day 1
Two fish for 3lbs 10 oz – 4th Place Mid-Atlantic Division
Very very cold with temps in the low 30’s at the start. Fish seemed scattered with each spot giving up one good fish. Boater got a 5 fish limit that included a 5lbs 8oz toad largemouth. My fish came on a Wiggle Wart crank bait and a Megabass jerk bait.
Lost a good fish first thing in the morning on the crank bait which was not a good start to the tournament. Fishing seemed good in the early morning but struggled in the afternoon with a lot of non-keeper fish. Weigh in stage was incredible and was set up the same as done for the professionals. Each angler was interviewed on stage and made to feel like a professional and I was honored. Some of my family members arrived on this day to share the experience.
Friday March 13: Day 2 Cut Day
Two fish for 5lbs Total Weight 8lbs 10oz
3rd Place Mid Atlantic Division and 22nd Place overall Co-Angler
Still very cold but sun came out in the afternoon and warmed a bit. I was paired with the boater from Colorado on this day. First spot of the morning produced a good keeper smallmouth for me and two for my boater. I thought this was a good start to make up the 9lbs deficit I had from day 1. Unfortunately the fishing tapered off again as it had done the previous days with lots of non-keeper fish.
Figure It Out Part: Up until this time in all the fishing days we were beating the banks and it seemed the larger fish were dropping off the bank. At 1:00PM I cast to the other side of the boat in 20 ft of water with a shaky head worm and “Bang” caught a keeper smallmouth. It was the first time all week I got a bite on plastics. We started running this pattern on main lake points and the boater added three fish to fill out his five fish limit. But I never caught another keeper. We had to be back at the ramp by 3:00PM and I felt we figured out the pattern but just ran out of time.
Saturday March 14: Final Day / Awards Banquet
I did not make the cut so watched the weigh in. It was a dual weigh in with the TBF Championship and the FLW Pro tournament from Table Rock Lake. It was a great show and the Boater and Co-Angler champions were crowned. The awards banquet was a formal event with another awesome plate dinner. It featured several key speakers including Forrest L. Wood. All anglers received their awards and got pictures taken with Mr. Wood on stage with their trophy.
I would like to thank FLW Outdoors, The Bass Federation, National Guard, PA Bass Federation, District 6 of Pa Bass, Bassmasters of Crawford County, The Event Sponsors, Workers, Volunteers, My family and my wife Judy for all the sponsorship and support.
It was an incredible event and one I will cherish forever. And hopefully I will return.
Thank You: Steve Allard