April 10, 2014 by Dan Johnson
2014 TBF National Championship GROVE, OK-Optimism was running high in the predawn darkness at Wolf Creek Park among the 94 grassroots anglers preparing for take-off on Day 1 of The Bass Federation's 2014 National Championship on legendary Grand Lake. Hailing from 46 U.S. states and the province of Ontario, the anglers earned Boater and Non-Boater championship berths-and a chance to compete for more than $200,000 in cash and prizes-by qualifying through state and regional TBF events. For many, the road to the nationals was a two-year journey. "Most start at the club level to fish the state championship and qualify for their state team, which sends them to the divisional tournament the following year," explained TBF national president Robert Cartlidge. "The top Boater and Non-Boater from each division end up here." All anglers compete the first two days of the TBF championship, after which the top Boater and Non-Boater from each of the seven divisions move on to the final day. As the anglers geared up prior to launch, many predicted fine fishing in the hours ahead. "There's going to be a lot of nice fish caught today," grinned Jerry Hoesli of Hutchinson, Kansas. "The water's warming up and we should see prespawn fish move shallow." David Simmons of Molalla, Oregon, agreed that the weather was extremely promising. "I think we're going to wreck them today," he said. "We had a warming trend during the night, and the wind's going to turn them on even more. The fish have wanted to move up and spawn, and today they're going to do it." Simmons expected a variety of presentations to take fish. "Spinnerbaits, cranks, jigs, Alabama rigs-they're all going to work," he said. However, the strong south wind gusting across the TBF boatyard was not lost on Todd Gentzel of Colorado Springs, Colorado. "It's supposed to pick up even more," he said. "Hopefully we can get into a few key areas and catch our fish before it does." Indeed, the National Weather Service was predicting gusts building to 35 mph during the day, with air temperatures climbing into the 80s. Regardless of how the fishing unfolds, Gary Freeman of Las Vegas, Nevada, was already impressed with the event, which is produced under a partnership between TBF and FLW Outdoors. "The arrangements are awesome," he said. "It's pretty nice to come to a tournament, get to use a brand-new Ranger, and have your hotel and boat gas covered. They even give you lunch!" Mike Cusano of Clay, New York, shared Freeman's feelings about the championship experience. "It's a lot of fun coming down here," he said. "You get to meet a lot of great people. I'm excited about today, and I think we're going to do well." Fellow New Yorker Burnie Haney, of Calcium, was also upbeat, and glad to be enjoying the Oklahoma weather. "I had 10 inches of snow in my front yard when I left home, so I'm really glad to be here," he said. "This is a top-notch event." For Stanton, Michigan's Bill Simpson, the nationals are also about competing against himself. After a challenging appearance at last year's TBF championship, he was ready to improve his finish. "Last time I finished dead last," he said. "This time around I have something to prove, and am hopefully going to take a little revenge on the lake." As the last of the boats roared away into the distance, Cartlidge reflected on the challenges facing Simpson and his fellow competitors. "Today is all about overcoming their nerves and adapting to whatever changes the weather brings," he said, noting that even a decent Day 1 showing could set an angler up to grab the lead on Day 2. "The good thing about Grand Lake is anybody can catch a 20- to 25-pound bag, so everybody's in it through tomorrow," he said. In addition to offering cash and prizes, the event will catapult top finishers into further competitions. Each division winner receives a paid entry into the prestigious BFL All-American Tournament. The overall Boater and Non-Boater champions also receive an invitation to fish the FLW Forrest Wood Cup, and win a coveted TBF Living The Dream Package. The Boater's package includes paid entry fees to the FLW Tour as a touring pro, plus cash, the use of a custom-wrapped Chevy truck and Ranger boat for the year, and a travel stipend for each event. The top Non-Boater will receive fully paid entry fees into the Rayovac Series of choice. Additional cash and prizes up for grabs include a new, fully-rigged Ranger Z 518c to the top Ranger Cup-qualified boater, and $5,000 to the top non-boater in the Ranger Cup Program. Plus, the Grand Lake Extravaganza offers the chance at catching a tagged fish worth $250,000. Along with the thrill of world-class tournament competition, anglers fishing the TBF National Championship are treated to the use of a brand-new, fully-rigged Ranger boat during the event. Plus, all boat gas, oil and lunches are provided free of charge courtesy of TBF and FLW. The TBF National Championship runs April 10-12 on Grand Lake. Take-offs all three days will be held at Wolf Creek Park, beginning at 7 a.m. on Day 1 and Day 2, and 6:45 a.m. on Day 3. Weigh-ins Day 1 and 2 will be held at Wolf Creek beginning at 3 p.m. On Day 3, the 2014 national champions will be crowned on the FLW stage at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers, Arkansas. Held in conjunction with the FLW Tour's Beaver Lake tournament, the final day's festivities include the FLW Expo beginning at noon; TBF weigh-in at 3 p.m.; and FLW Tour weigh-in at 4 p.m. All activities are free and open to the public. The TBF National Championship is produced by a partnership between The Bass Federation and FLW Outdoors. Sponsors include Chevy, Ranger Boats, Evinrude, Cabela's, Solar Bat, Berkley, Lowrance, Power-Pole, Indigo Sky Casino, Grand Lake Association and Travel Oklahoma. For details, visit bassfederation.com, contact TBF National Headquarters at (580) 765-9031.