River Bassin’ National Championship – An Angler’s Journal

Eric Boyd ready for bass battle at zero dark thirty. Brrr, looks cold. Photo courtesy Eric Boyd.
Eric Boyd ready for bass battle at zero dark thirty. Brrr, looks cold. Photo courtesy Eric Boyd.

By Eric Boyd

Beautiful Alabama and the famed Coosa River are an ideal setting for the River Bassin' National Championship. The overall experience is literally breathtaking. With the fall colors painting Talladega National Forest and areas further south down to Wetumpka, AL, it is hard to think of any better place to fish for the state's most noted species – the spotted bass. The beauty of Alabama can only be surpassed by one thing – the overall quality of the fish that the state produces.

Competitors may fish within a 2-hour radius of Wetumpka. Whether fishing tributaries of the Coosa or the Coosa River itself, enormous spots might be caught by many competitors – many of whom have never fished Alabama. My day will be spent on a small tributary feeding the mighty Coosa River.

I remember stories of magnum spots pulled from the creeks of Alabama; but, my overall mood is shaky. One minute I feel excited – the next scared. Fishing small, off the grid creeks makes me nervous. Not for fear of injury – but fear of physical assault. It’s 5:20 a.m. It is time to cast off the fear and slide my Jackson Kilroy into the cold creek. With four rods rigged, the paddle upstream begins.

I have my first fish in the net – a 15-inch largemouth – at 6 a.m. By 6:30 a.m. I am patterned in. I stow all of my rods except one. While the air temperature is still below 40°F, the bite is on fire! From 6:30 – 9:00 a.m. I cannot keep them off my black River Series spinnerbait. It is early, but I have 54 inches on the board! All the while, Kentucky's T.J. Strong is putting up a solid stringer on the Coosa River – it will help him nail down River Basser of the Year.

Photo courtesy T.J. Strong.
T.J. Strong, 2014 River Basser of the Year. Photo courtesy T.J. Strong.

A breakoff of a monster spotted bass seems to signal the end of my bite. The sun is high and I have lost my only two black spinnerbaits. I feel as though the world just ended. I try desperately to make do with other baits with limited success, but find nothing to upgrade my stringer. I turn my kayak around, disheartened, to fish back down the creek. Meanwhile, Stewart Venable, from South Carolina, makes one count, a 22-inch Bama spot, big fish of the tournament.

Photo courtesy Stewart Venable.
Stewart Venable with his 22-inch Bama spot, biggest of the tournament. Photo courtesy Stewart Venable.

What had been a 5 hour paddle – or drag – up the creek has turned into a one hour float back down with a few fruitless casts here and there. It is noon. I am exhausted and out of water to fish. With the truck packed up I make the 1 hour, 49 minute drive to Southern Trails in Wetumpka for check-in.

It's 2:30 and time to upload my catch. Live scoring for the RiverBassin’ events is both a blessing and a curse. I do not upload photos while on the water; I don't want to look at the leader board. I want to stay focused and fish. I upload my photos back at Southern Trails and for a while I am in third place. I know this will not hold up as there are too many other anglers still on the water. The wait for everyone to return is excruciatingly long.

It happens that some monster fish are posted in the last hour, and still other fish cannot be posted due to the famed Coosa River shoals. When all is said and done, I place fifth, sandwiched between two fantastic Alabama river fishermen, my friends. The winner of the RiverBassin' National Championship, Roky Ly, executed a solid plan on the neighboring Chattahoochee River. Rok culled more inches from his stringer of shoal bass than I caught. The other competitors are left in awe.

The awards presentation is over. I say goodbye to friends new and old. It is time to make the sleepy drive home to North Carolina. I can only dream of the next encounter with Alabama spotted bass, but not now, not while driving.

Photo courtesy Roky Ly.
Roky Ly, winner of the RiverBassin' National Championship. Photo courtesy Roky Ly.