I recently had the pleasure of being asked by the Hemphill Sabine County Reporter newspaper to cover the 2012 Bassmaster Classic, and in particular to feature our local angler Andrew Upshaw. The following is what took place.
Living A Dream
Twenty-five year old Andrew Upshaw of Hemphill, Texas is living the life that most anglers only dream about. Upshaw may have been an all-conference tight end at Hemphill High School but his real passion has always been bass fishing. Upshaw recently graduated with a degree in marketing and has his goals set high, And that is certainly what makes dreams come true.
On February 24-26th Upshaw launched his boat on the Red River and competed head to head with the super stars of the fishing world as they did battle in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Upshaws story is made for the movies and here is how it all came together.
In October 2010, the B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) organization officially unveiled their qualifying structure for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. For the first time in history, a collegiate angler would earn a coventated spot in the prestigious Bassmaster Classic tournament that would be held on the Red River near Shreveport, Louisiana. For those of you not familiar with the collegiate series, it is a test of the best college anglers in the nation, and can be the stepping stone for a career as a professional bass angler.
After competing in a series of club and Super Regional qualifying tournaments, 36 of the top collegiate teams in the nation earned a berth in the College B.A.S.S. National Championship that was held July 7-10th in Little Rock, Arkansas. The elite field of college anglers competed one day on the Arkansas River and then one day on Lake Maumelle. The Top 5 teams then advanced to Beaverfork Lake in Conway Arkansas, and there a National Champion was crowned.
To make a long story short, Andrew Upshaw and his teammate Ryan Watkins of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, won this prestidigious event and were crowned the College B.A.S.S. National Champions. But the drama was not over with yet. On the following day the two winning teammates had to go head-to-head in separate boats and duel it out on a small body of private water, with the winner earning a spot in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
That had to be one of the toughest and most grueling fishing days that each of these young men have ever gone through. At the end of the competition Upshaw beat his good friend and collegiate teammate by less than a pound and won the right to represent Mercury College B.A.S.S. at the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. WOW!
Although Upshaw is young in age he is a veteran of many bass events. He began this journey by fishing Bass Fishing League (BFL) tournaments where he not only won a fair amount of cash but also the 2009 overall point title honors for the BFL Louisiana/Texas Division. Since that time he has been a regular in the EverStart Texas Division tournaments, and finished in the Top 25 on Toledo Bend Lake in both 2007 and 2010.
Upshaw also competed in the B.A.S.S. Weekend Series and matched casts with pros in the Bassmaster Open events where he finished 34th at the 2009 Toledo Bend Central Open. He and his partner Richard Weeks also finished 2nd in the Bass Champs Tournament Trail points and had the privlidge of representing Team USA in the International Challenge Cup on Lake Guerrero in Mexico. Needless to say Upshaw keeps his line wet.
This years Bassmaster Classic featured 49 anglers from five circuits and 22 states, six former Classic winners with a total of nine Classic championships, seven former Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Anglers of Year with a total of 14 titles and all of last year’s event winners. It was definitely the cream of the crop of bass fishermen.
Alabama had bragging rights at this year’s event with 10 entries and Texas boasted seven qualifiers. Florida, Oklahoma (host state of the 2013 Classic) and South Carolina each had three. Seventeen other states had either one or two anglers represented.
Early February – I visited with Andrew prior to the Classic and he knew that going heads-up with pro anglers such as Bassmaster Classic defending champion Kevin Van Dam, Greg Hackney and Todd Faircloth would not only test his abilities to the limit but also give him a chance to demonstrate his own fishing skills. Just to be a contender in the Bassmaster Classic is a major accomplishment in an angler’s life and will open up many doors. Winning the 42nd edition of the Bassmaster Classic could definitely be a career changing event. Here are a few of Andrew’s thoughts in mid-February.
Sabine County Reporter – Well the days are clicking down. How are you preparing for the Classic during this “off-limits” period?
Upshaw – I am making sure that all of my tackle and baits are organized, any supplies I need are purchased and getting items in the boat checked out such as livewell aerators, lights, oil, etc.
Sabine County Reporter – Have you pretty well zero-d in on what you will do during practice?
Upshaw – I have already put a three-day game plan together and most of my fishing will be in Lock #5. I do however have three areas in Lock #4 – just in case. I am hoping that the weather will be stable and the bass are biting really well.
Sabine County Reporter – Are you starting to feel any pressure as the Classic gets closer and closer?
Upshaw – The only pressure I am really feeling is that associated with getting all of the details completed. This would include putting new line on the reels, making sure that all of my rods are ready, waypoints are reviewed and being sure that I have all of the equipment available that I intend to use.
Sabine County Reporter – Realistically, how many pounds of bass would you feel good about when you step on the stage that first day of the Classic?
Upshaw – I think a bag weighing 17- to 18 pounds would be great, however it sure would be nice to get above that 20-pound mark. There are so many good anglers in this event that regardless of the weather or fishing conditions, someone will figure out the right pattern and will bring in a bunch.
Sabine County Reporter – Other than yourself, who do you think has the best chance of winning the Classic?
Upshaw – As you know, this field of anglers is the best of the best. I believe that Dean Rojas is due and you certainly can’t count Mike Iaconelli out. Both are really great fishermen, know the river well and can get on bass patterns fast.
Sabine County Reporter – So what would winning the Bassmaster Classic mean to you?
Upshaw – Oh Man! Wouldn’t that be something? Right now I am just trying to enjoy the moment and if the good Lord says that it is my time to win – then that is what will happen. I just hope to make good decisions at the tournament that will put me in a position to win. It should be a great event and lots of fun.
One thing is for sure, Upshaw, one of 12 Classic rookies, is ready to give it a shot. He is familiar with the fishery and will be well prepared when his boat is launched. He will not only be representing the many fishermen in our East Texas/Louisiana area but also the entire family of college fishermen.
Practice Days, the Red River and the Weather – (Feb 19th) The Red River has been off-limits for about two months and now the 49 Classic qualifiers will have four full days of practice. Those that have fished this river system before are hoping for moderate air and water temperatures with water levels that are stable and a moderate rate of water flow. With a $500,000 first-place prize up for grabs no one wants a series of bad storms that can dump cold water and muddy up the prime fishing areas. If this should happen the high, muddy water will restrict the areas that anglers can fish and also tend to bunch the anglers together. The muddy water and stump fields can also cause anglers to take quite a bit of time getting to and from their fishing areas. The stumps are plentiful and will also take a toll on the boats and props. Then there will be the half hour or longer that it takes for the anglers to lock through from one river pool to the next. And in the back of each anglers mind there will always be the thought that commercial barge traffic usually gets priority lock access from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the system.
I looked at the long-range Shreveport area weather forecast for Classic time and it calls for daily highs in the high 50s and lows in the upper 30’s. There will be partly cloudy days with a mixiture of scattered rain and winds in the 10-to 15mph range. If heavy fog should occur and delay the
morning start it will take fishing time away from those anglers that plan to lock into the Red River’s lower pools. All in all for the pro bass anglers it’s – “Business as usual”.
The Show Begins –(Friday – February 24th)
3:30am – I usually only get up this early to go to the bathroom. My day started each morning at this time as I met other media representatives at the Shreveport downtown Hilton Hotel where we were then shuttled at 5:15am to the 7am daily launches held at the Red River South Marina. It was a beautiful sight to see all of the colorful “wrapped” boats take off each day and there was certainly a great deal of excitement in the air. I had made arrangements with Jennifer Domes, B.A.S.S. Media Observers, to be in the media boat as much as possible, and in particular to follow the journey of our local angler Andrew Upshaw.
It’s hard not to be somewhat awe-struck as you look out among the boats and see anglers such as Denny Brauer, Stephen Browning, Todd Faircloth, Matt Reed, Shaw Grigsby and Alton Jones go motoring by. The Red River Waterway Commission sponsored both the launch and hospitality tent, and offered complimentary coffee and doughnuts for all the fans. A tip of the fishing cap to those folks for a job well done!
The weather was c-o-l-d and windy with overcast skies as Andrew and I headed out of the launching area and down into the backwaters of McDade’s in Pool #5. No rain was expected, and that was really good news. Andrew started his fishing at 7:15 am with a new Rick Clunn crankbait in water that was slightly off-color. The wind was bitter cold but the sun was trying to peek through the dense cloud cover.
At 7:46 the first bass came into the boat but it was undersize and had to be released. The first keeper bass (1-lb – 8-oz) was caught at 8:03 on the crankbait followed by a 2 ½-pounder (8:47) and a one pounder (9:15). At 9:30 Andrew was searching for his other crankbait rod and realized that he had probably accidentally kicked it out of the boat when he was boating his last fish – Bummer! A fourth bass (almost 2 pounds) was taken at 9:45 and then the fifth bass to finish out his 5-bass limit came into the boat at 10:20. Now Andrew could look for bigger fish and hopefully cull out some of the smaller bass.
The surface water temperature was 59-degrees. From 11:30am until weigh-in time at 3:45 pm Andrew spent most of his time fishing a crankbait, jig-n-trailer and a green pumpkin trick worm. Seventeen bass were caught during the day and his limit weighed in at 12-pounds, 8-ounces.
Daily weigh-ins took place at the beautiful Bossier City CenturyLink Center, and as you can well imagine this area was packed on each of the tournament days.
Saturday – February 25th –
The weather was once again chilly throughout the day but the wind was not nearly as brisk. Do to B.A.S.S. scheduling I was unable to fish with Andrew again
but gave him a special “good luck” as we motored out from the launching area.
I did however have the pleasure of spending the day on the water with Denny Brauer, and even though the fishing was lackluster we had a great time.
Later I met up with Andrew at weigh-in and he posted a 5-bass limit that went 7-pounds, 9-ounces. Only the top 25 anglers fished on Sunday and Andrew had finished the event in 31st place (worth $10,000) with a two-day weight of 20-pounds, 1-ounce.
Sunday – February 26th – Today I spent much of my time before weigh-in at the 2012 Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo which was held at the Shreveport Convention Center and sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods. This is where the manufacture and factory representatives show off all of their new products and it’s a great time to rub shoulders with many well known bass pros.
In 2009, the three-day event attracted 137,000 people to the Expo floor and pumped $24 million into the area economy. This year’s crowds looked equally large. The Expo is a free event with parking and shuttle services available free of charge for spectators.
The Big Stage – “Do or Die Day”
You cannot believe the excitement in the air as the pros made their way into the CenturyLink Center for the final weigh-in of the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. I can only imagine the physical and mental strain that each of the pros have gone through
When all of the smoke had cleared away Chris Lane, a 36-year-old from Guntersville, Alabama, beat his brother Bobby and 47 other anglers to capture the 42nd Bassmaster Classic title and the $500,000 pot of gold that went to the winner. His 3-day limit (5 bass each day) of 51 pounds and six ounces was enough to edge out Greg Vinson for the title by less than three pounds. Vinson, from Wetumpka, Alabama, is a veteran of more than 50 fishing events and two Classics took home $45,000. The group of Keith Poche of Pike Road, Alabama, 2008 champion Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, and Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tennessee, rounded out the top five.
Lane did most of his fishing in in the backwaters of the Sullivan’s area in Pool #4 and upriver in Pool #5. His two best baits were a Luck “E” Strike G4 tube that had a new chartreuse color inner laminate and a Gambler Ugly Otter. He flipped the tube in shallow, stained water and worked the Otter slowly in clearer water.
Greg Vinson used a NetBait Paca Craw in Cajun craw and black shadow colors, a black/neon and watermelon/red NetBait Saltlick, a ¼-ounce Bandit 100 square-bill crankbait in chartreuse-black, and a 5/16-ounce chartreuse/white War Eagle spinnerbait.
Carhartt Big Bass honors went to Poche for his a 6-pound, 13-ounce largemouth on Day One. The bonus is $1,000 for largest bass of the tournament.
Jasper pro Todd Faircloth weighed in 40.15 pounds of bass during the event and finished in a very respectable 9th
place ($20,500). Todd did most of his fishing in the Lock #4 Little Jungle area. Todd is a great fisherman and is seldom out of the winners circle. My congratulations to Todd!
I interviewed defending champ Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., and asked him about his 11th place finished. He made no excuses but expressed that the river system had just been tough for him all week. VanDam is a four-time Classic winner who has qualified for 22 consecutive championships. After winning in 2010 and 2011, VanDam had been trying for a record third consecutive Classic title.
Bobby Lane, wound up in 20th place for a $12,600 payday but had struck a deal early Sunday morning with brother Chris that turned out to be huge. Chris called brother Bobby and propose that if one of the brothers won the Classic, they’d pay the other’s 2012 BASS Elite tournament fees. The end result was that Bobby received $50,000 from his brother. That’s a really good deal!
I would like to thank the B.A.S.S. organization for doing such a great job in coordinating this year’s event. It was certainly not an easy task considering the number of people and events that took place. A complete listing of all winners, weights and payoffs can be seen at www.bassmaster.com.
So there you are, a look at what took place during this years 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Congratulations to winner Chris Lane and to all of the pros that participated in this prestigious event. But most of all, a special congratulations to Andrew Upshaw for not only qualifying for the Classic but for also representing all of us with quality and class. Andrew had many family members and friends cheering him on throughout the event and we are all very proud of him. I have no doubt that great things will happen for Andrew as he continues his fishing career. –Good Fishing – JB