October 6, 2007 by Rob Newell
BRACEY, Va. - Some call him Smiley Wright for the big grin that he always wears whether fishing is good or bad. Others know him as Ranger Wright for his 35 years as a committed customer of the Ranger Boats company.
His real name is David Wright from Lexington, N.C., and when it comes to fishing a crankbait, he is in an elite class of anglers that includes his friends David Fritts and Gerald Beck.
Wright demonstrated exactly what he can do with a crankbait over the last four days when he brought in limits of 15-1, 13-3, 12-14 and 8-6 to win the Stren Series Northern Division event on Lake Gaston with a four-day total of 49 pounds, 8 ounces.
"This is quite an honor," Wright said. "I've been with Ranger Boats since 1973, and in that time I've owned about 45 Rangers - once you find a quality product like that, you tend to stick with it, and that's why I still own one today."
Ranger Boats rewarded Wright for his loyalty today with a Ranger Boat plus another $3,000 from the Ranger Cup program on top of his $25,000 cash for the tournament win.
As Stren Series Tournament Director Ron Lappin pointed out onstage, Wright is renowned for fishing a crankbait, to which Wright replied, "You call it renowned; I call it hard-headed."
Indeed, Wright did use a crankbait all week. He fished mostly in Pea Hill Creek because it had less grass in it than the rest of the lake.
"A crankbait is a hard cover bait," Wright said. "Most of the time crankbaits and grass don't mix. So when I got here, I looked for the area of the lake that had the least grass in it, and that was Pea Hill Creek."
Wright covered a great deal of water in Pea Hill hunting schools of fish.
"Once I found a group of fish, I'd scour that area, looking for stumps that would hold fish even when the school moved."
His best crankbait all week was a 300-E, made by Ed Chambers at Zoom Bait Company. He fished the lure on 10-pound-test Stren in 10 to 12 feet of water.
"I really didn't think I had won with the weight I had today," Wright said. "What concerned me the most was the clouds. Sunshine means everything in crankbait fishing. It gets the shad balled up better on the cover and just makes the fish bite much better. Over the years I've learned that I can survive one cloudy day, like I did yesterday, but two cloudy days in row is a killer for my style of fishing, and you can see how it hurt my weight today."
Though his weight went down today, so did the other competitors' weights that were chasing him, and he ended up winning with a 2-pound margin.
"I guess I got it right this time," he added.
Ott Defoe of Knoxville, Tenn., finished second with a four-day total of 47 pounds, 8 ounces for $11,131.
"I feel really blessed to catch what I caught this week because I only had basically a day of practice," Defoe said. "I don't really like grass, so I tried to fish places out of the grass - docks and lay-downs."
Defoe's key baits were a Zara Spook and a Senko. The Spook was responsible for his biggest catch of the week - 15 pounds, 7 ounces on day one.
He also commended Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line (12-pound-test) for allowing him to wrestle out three big bass from a beaver hut during the week.
"On three different occasions I got a fish hung up so bad in that hut that I had to dunk my head down into the water to free the fish," he said. "That Berkley fluorocarbon kept those fish pinned until I could get to them."
Snickers pro Chris Baumgardner of Gastonia, N.C, finished third with a three-day total of 46 pounds, 10 ounces worth $10,518.
Baumgardner's key bait all week was a white and chartreuse ChatterBait trimmed with a white Zoom Ultravibe Speed Craw fished on Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
He skipped the bait up under docks and "slow rolled" it out under the platforms.
"I think I just ran out of fish today," Baumgardner said. "A couple of my best docks that produced the big ones this week were vacant."
Vic Vatalaro of Kent, Ohio, finished fourth with a four-day total of 44 pounds, 8 ounces worth $4,905.
Vatalaro chose to fish one of the more popular areas of Lake Gaston and outfinesse his competition.
"There were a lot of boats fishing this large, shallow 4-foot flat that had some nice 10- to 12-foot ditches running through it," he said. "I got in there, pulled out my spinning rod loaded with 6-pound-test Gamma and fished a mojo rig featuring a Gambler Sweebo worm in green-pumpkin. I was using a tiny 1/16-ounce weight and just popping it out of the grass for my bites."
Bounty pro Jacob Powroznik of Prince George, Va., finished fifth with a four-day total of 44 pounds, 8 ounces, worth $4,291.
Powroznik sight-fished small "wolf packs" of bass that were hunting bream and shad in the shallows.
"I was skipping and swimming a 3/8-ounce All Terrain jig around docks and overhanging bushes," he said. "A lot of times I could see the fish, and I'd skip the jig in there and try to make it look like a fleeing bream."
The color of Powroznik's jig was brown-purple-watermelon with a watermelon trailer fished on 14-pound-test Gamma fluorocarbon.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the Stren Series Northern Division event on Lake Gaston:
6th: Dustin Wilks of Rocky Mount, N.C., four-day total of 42-11, $3,678
7th: Richard Jenkins of Callaway, Md., four-day total of 40-3, $3,374
8th: Kip Carter of Loganville, Ga., four-day total of, $3,065
9th: Terry Baksay of Easton, Conn., four-day total of $2,758
10th: Joe Balog of Harrison Township, Ohio, four-day total of $2,453
Baumgardner wins Northern Division AOY
Special congratulations to Snickers pro Chris Baumgardner who won the Stren Series Northern Division Angler of the Year with a total of 721 points.