September 28, 2007 by Jennifer Simmons
SEAFORD, Del. - Coming from seemingly out of nowhere, Fabian Rodriguez of Ocean City, Md., busted the heaviest sack of the three-day TBF Mid-Atlantic Divisional on the Nanticoke River to emerge as the overall champion and No. 1 on the Delaware state team. Rodriguez's final-day haul of 13 pounds, 10 ounces not only propelled him to the top but also helped the Delaware team land in first in the all-important race among the teams.
In TBF divisional competition, tournament cash awards are given to the teams that catch the most fish over the course of the tournament's three days, and seven teams competed in this week's event - teams from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
As a team, Delaware led the competition among the seven teams all three days of the event, ultimately catching 161 bass weighing 254 pounds, 1 ounce to best the New Jersey team, which came in second with 238 pounds, 2 ounces of bass over three days. Each of the seven teams sent 12 competitors to this week's divisional, with half their team members competing as boaters, meaning they brought their own boats, and the other six competing as nonboaters. Boaters and nonboaters were randomly paired each day.
Rounding out the team rankings are Pennsylvania in third with 194-3, Virginia in fourth with 192-3, West Virginia in fifth with 191-6, Washington, D.C., in sixth with 176-3 and Maryland in seventh with 168-4.
The 12 anglers on each team were also competing this week against one another, as the No. 1 angler from each team advances to the 2008 TBF National Championship as a boater. Each team's runner-up also earned a championship slot but as a co-angler. The 14 contenders who qualified for the championship this week will join other qualifiers from six other TBF divisionals at next year's nationals. This week's Mid-Atlantic Divisional was the final divisional of the 2007 season.
Rodriguez rebounds to claim overall title
As the overall winner, Rodriguez earned a $500 Wal-Mart gift card as the Castrol Maximum Performer and also landed in the 2008 TBF National Championship as the boater delegate from the Delaware team. As the No. 2 angler on the Delaware team, Larry Taylor Jr. of Seaford advances to the championship as a co-angler.
Rodriguez caught five bass on day one that weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces to sit in fourth on his state team. His weight fell a bit on day two, as he weighed in a 7-pound, 8-ounce limit that bumped him to fifth on his team, nearly 3 pounds behind the leader. But the tides turned for him today in more ways than one, as he weighed in more bass than anyone had at one time all week - his 13-pound, 10-ounce limit - to bring his three-day total to 29 pounds, 9 ounces. That catch propelled him to a 1-pound, 14-ounce Delaware win and a 1-pound, 10-ounce overall win.
"Honestly, I prayed a lot," he said to explain his extreme reversal of fortune. "Even when I missed fish, I didn't get antsy. I did miss a really nice fish this morning, which got me jittered up, so I got my partner to take the front of the boat while I sat down and had something to drink and settled my nerves."
Rodriguez competed this week as a boater, and his primary presentation this week was a topwater bait that he worked a little more aggressively than normal.
"I used a Trophy Series Scum Frog in natural green," he said. "I fished a lot of different areas. I was looking for reaction strikes, and sometimes I was the one reacting. It's a topwater presentation, and most of the time, everybody works it kind of slowly to make it bob up and down. I'm more aggressive. I buy them 50 or 100 at a time because I'll go through 10 of them in a day. I'll rip them out of trees if I have to."
The trick, he says, is to cut the tail of the Scum Frog about 3/4 of an inch, and using braided line and a stiff rod, Rodriguez makes it walk the dog like a Zara Spook.
"It's coming through the trees and overhangs, anything like that," he said. "It's a reaction strike, is what it is."
Rodriguez is Delaware's youth director, and he is also the youth director for his own club's junior chapter. He's hoping his come-from-behind performance this week will inspire the Delaware youth he mentors. Needless to say, he's fired up about his championship berth, particularly with it being so unexpected.
"I am ecstatic to say the least," he said. "I'm surprised. I'd like to thank the Lord above for watching over me. I couldn't have done it without the support of FLW, the TBF and everybody. My voice is starting to get a little shaky now; it's starting to settle in a little bit."
Sancho wins New Jersey by 3 ounces
Coming in second on the overall list is Joseph Sancho of New Windsor, N.Y., whose three-day catch of 27 pounds, 15 ounces handed him the New Jersey victory by only 3 ounces. He is followed on the New Jersey team by Ron Schneider, who advances to the national championship as a co-angler.
Sancho caught a solid 10 pounds on day one and followed that up yesterday with 10-11 that put him in the New Jersey lead. His weight fell today to 7 pounds, 4 ounces, but it was still enough to keep him on top.
"Basically, I had seven bites today, and I lost two decent fish that would have given me close to 9 pounds," Sancho said. "It was just a slower bite today; the fish just weren't there."
Sancho was flipping a jig with a Bear Paw trailer, which he said was key to his success this week.
"Bear Paw puts Mega Strike in their plastics, and I think the fish were really keying on that," he said. "It makes a difference. The fish were biting funny. They would bite and jump into the tide, and you'd have a hard time reeling up and catching them because they were coming toward you. But with that Mega Strike on there, I think they held the bait a little longer, and that let me catch a couple of them."
Sancho will be competing in his first national championship, and to say he is looking forward to it would be an understatement.
"I'm really happy," he said. "There are so many feelings. This is the first time, and I'm really pumped up. This show here is just amazing. The way everybody runs it, it's really impressive."
Mahan goes wire to wire, scores huge Maryland win
Winning the Maryland team by an eye-popping 8 pounds is the man who led that team all week - Howard Mahan of Oxford, Pa., with a three-day catch of 27 pounds, 6 ounces. That beat Richard Martin Jr.'s combined catch of 19 pounds, 6 ounces and sent Mahan and Martin to the 2008 nationals as a boater and co-angler, respectively.
Mahan was a steady force all week, as he caught 8-12 on the first day to lead and improved that a little on the second day with 9-12. Today he caught a limit weighing 9-1 to secure his slot in the championship.
"It was pretty much the same," he said of the final day. "I struggled a little bit more today because of the tide. The bite was late, but it was pretty much the same; I just needed the low tide."
Mahan was fishing a 1/4-ounce green pumpkin homemade jig with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer to land the majority of his bass.
"Most of the fish came on a jig, and most of the fish were tight and shallow," he said. "We did catch a few on a Senko. My (nonboater partners) caught fish on Senkos all week, but the better fish came on the jig."
Mahan too will be competing in his first-ever national championship.
"I'm pretty excited," he said. "It's something new for me; I don't know what to expect. I look forward to it."
Hanshaw dominates West Virginia
Leading the West Virginia team all three days is Charlie Hanshaw of Sissonville, W. Va., who ultimately took the win and the West Virginia championship boater slot with a three-day total catch of 26 pounds, 7 ounces. Behind him in second and thus advancing to the nationals as a co-angler is Robert Harkness of Elizabeth, W. Va., with a combined catch of 23 pounds, 12 ounces.
Hanshaw led his team despite falling weights each day and mechanical trouble on day two. Nevertheless, he did weigh in a five-bass limit each day and ultimately won his team by a 2-pound, 11-ounce margin.
"I was mostly flipping and pitching a jig and Senkos close to wood and rock or any kind of hard target," Hanshaw, a boater, said of his winning methods. "It got tougher every day for me. I think my weights went down a pound each day. There was more pressure, and it just got tougher and tougher."
That fishing pressure Hanshaw referenced is likely responsible for the type of bites he found himself catching today.
"Today I caught more fish, but they were smaller," he said. "I wasn't able to get any quality bites versus the other days, when I was able to get a couple of quality bites."
Quality bites or not, Hanshaw did manage to weigh in five today that totaled 7 pounds, 12 ounces, the heaviest day-three catch of any West Virginia angler.
"It was a great time coming up here and meeting people and being with a group of guys from West Virginia and getting to know them better," he said. "It was a good experience overall. A club is the best route to get going - it pays off."
Three-day leader Williams claims Virginia win
Leading the Virginia team wire to wire was Bobby Williams of Washington, D.C., who ultimately claimed the team victory and championship boater slot with a three-day catch of 15 bass weighing 26 pounds. That bested the 25-8 weighed in by William Roberts of Fairfax, Va., who finished second in Virginia and will advance to the nationals as a co-angler.
"I caught all my fish on Senkos today," said Williams, adding that he used crankbaits and spinnerbaits in addition to his Senko on the tournament's first two days. The 5-inch, red-and-black-flake Senko was weightless, rigged wacky-style.
Williams had his toughest day yet today, bringing in only 6-9 after weighing in limits worth 9-5 and 10-2 the first two days. He credits good partners, including his day-two nonboater Brian Barnes of Delaware, with his championship-caliber success.
"Words can't describe it," he said of his boater slot in the '08 nationals. "It's great. None of this is possible without good partners and teamwork in the boat. Brian Barnes, a local here, put me on fish yesterday and allowed me to fish those same fish today. Without his help and a lot of others', I wouldn't be here."
Shanz busts big sack to win D.C. team
On days one and two, Danny Shanz of Adamstown, Md., sat in fourth place on the Washington, D.C., team, but he leapt to the top today with a personal-best catch of 10 pounds, 15 ounces that raised his combined total to 24-14, enough to win the D.C. title by 2 pounds. With the win Shanz advances to the 2008 TBF National Championship as a boater alongside No. 2 D.C. angler Peter O'Donnell, who advances as a co-angler.
For Shanz, a buzzbait and a Senko the first two days kept him in relative contention, but a Senko and a Baby Brush Hog were the ticket today, as he was flipping and skipping into brush that was on the bank. He said he fished four areas and remained unaffected by the Nanticoke tides.
"No water is too shallow to catch these fish, especially on tidal water," he said. "I caught fish today in 8 inches of water. It just blew my mind. I wouldn't think they'd be there, and I'd flip it over there just to see if they were there, and bam, there they were. It was pretty awesome."
Shanz competed as a boater this week and will be making his third national-championship appearance. He finished 10th in the Co-angler Division at this year's TBF National Championship on Lake Wylie.
Belinda emerges as Pennsylvania winner
In TBF divisional competition, ties are first broken by the total number of fish caught, and that rule resulted in a heartbreaking situation for Pennsylvania's Michael Sabbi, who led his team the first two days and the overall field yesterday. Sabbi caught 23 pounds, 2 ounces of bass over three days to tie with Tom Belinda of Hollidaysburg, Pa., but Belinda emerged the victor with 15 total bass caught, compared to Sabbi's 11. As a result, Belinda advances to the 2008 nationals as a boater while Sabbi advances as a co-angler.
"I feel bad for my co-angler who's going with me, because we tied," Belinda said. "Hats off to Mike Sabbi."
Belinda won the title fair and square, though, hauling in catches of 6-6, 8-9 and 8-3 over the tournament's three days to claim the victory and his first national-championship slot.
"I can't wait," he said. "I just want to thank the Lord for everything. If it weren't for him, none of this would be possible."
Like many, Belinda found a jig to be most useful this week on the Nanticoke tides, though a slight change today seemed to be the ticket.
"I was catching them on a jig all week, but (today) I couldn't get bit, and I ended up throwing a Smallie Beaver," he said. "I fished the same area all three days, up in Broad Creek."
The 14 anglers who advanced to the 2008 TBF National Championship from the Mid-Atlantic Divisional await the announcement of that tournament's host site. They will join contenders from the Central, Eastern, Northern, Southern and Western divisionals for the top national awards, which include the "Living the Dream" package for the winning boater. 2007 national champion Dave Andrews earned paid entry into either the 2008 Wal-Mart FLW Tour or FLW Series, and he also competed in the 2007 Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American and the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup, bass fishing's premiere event. He also earned a cool $10,000 for winning the TBF National Championship. The 2008 event will be held sometime next year at a site to be announced.