UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Dale Hollow Lake

Close Calls, Ounces and Missing Bass at Gaston

Close Calls, Ounces and Missing Bass at Gaston
Scott Mooneyham of Fayetteville, N.C., won the April 30 Piedmont Division event on Lake Gaston with a 16-pound, 2-ounce limit to take home nearly $3,000 in prize money.

Scott Mooneyham

(The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.)


When I recently pulled off my first FLW Bass Fishing League win, finishing a single ounce ahead of the second-place finisher on Lake Gaston in late April, a friend posted on Facebook, “You went back and got it. So close last time.”

He wasn’t talking about the previous Piedmont Division tournament on Kerr Lake a month earlier, where I finished near the bottom. Rather, his reference traced back to another BFL tournament on Lake Gaston, though seven years earlier. The story behind that event had become notorious among a few of my fishing buddies. It was the most bizarre tournament fishing day of my life – one filled with joy, agony and regret.

To appreciate the sense of redemption and relief that I felt by winning on Lake Gaston this year, it’s necessary to understand what happened on that day in 2009.

Although I had been fishing team tournaments for years, 2009 was only the second year that I had fished a full BFL division schedule. After two poor showings in the initial Piedmont events that year, I figured the early May tournament on Gaston offered a chance to improve my place in the standings and perhaps to take home a check. I knew of an area that would sometimes hold big bass at that time of year.

I started out with a buzzbait, but the bass showed no interest. When I started fishing a Yamamoto Senko, things changed quickly. First there was a 4-pounder, then a couple of solid keepers, then one that weighed more than 5 pounds. When my co-angler positioned the net under another bass that weighed close to 5 pounds, I blurted out, “There’s the money fish.”

After the bite slowed down toward the middle of the day, we moved on and I pulled up to some brush that ran by a creek-channel swing. Tossing a spinnerbait, I hooked a 2 1/2-pounder on the first cast. That enabled me to cull a 14-inch fish. I found the smallest fish in the livewell quickly, even though I had not been using cull tags. After making another cast or two, and with two hours still left in the tournament day, it occurred to me that it was time to use cull tags. Surely I was going to catch another good bass. I had been doing it all day.

I pulled all the fish out of the livewell so that I could get a good gander at the size of each, and began attaching the cull tags. Then I tossed them back in the livewell. One, two, three, four – where’s my fifth keeper? Panic started to set in. I looked in the livewell. Yep, just four. I reached under a cable cutaway that runs along the side rail to the bilge area on that particular boat. I felt nothing. I looked under everything; still nothing.

After 15 minutes of searching, my co-angler and I reached the only obvious conclusion: My fifth keeper must have somehow flipped out of the boat.

I never caught another keeper that day. At the weigh-in, my four fish – at 16 pounds, 1 ounce – put me in first place. A lot of really good fishermen weighed small limits, and I stayed right there on top for most of the weigh-in. Then it happened. A Virginia angler named Jeff Salmon brought a bag to the scales that weighed 16 pounds, 14 ounces. My “gone girl” (maybe it was a boy; it was the smallest of my remaining keepers) had cost me the tournament.

Agony. Elation. Frustration. It was all there in one feeling. I had done well, but I had also blown it. That feeling only became worse once I got home. On the drive back to Fayetteville, N.C., I couldn’t stop thinking about the lost fish. Was it still in my boat? Once I pulled into the driveway, I grabbed a screwdriver and took apart the back storage compartment on the starboard side. There, wedged neatly under it, was my fifth keeper – 2 pounds of fish.   

What happened that day gnawed at me for years. It also drove me to keep at it, to keep trying to learn and to keep attempting to become a better tournament angler.

When I saw this year’s Piedmont schedule, I recognized immediately that the timing of the Gaston tournament was almost the same. And yes, I fished the same stretch where I caught bass seven years earlier. There I caught three of the keepers that I would take to the weigh-in.

I never figured my weight this year would be enough, but there would be no one coming behind me to weigh a bigger bag this time. When the tournament director, Leroy Hensley, handed me the trophy on the stage, I wore a calm look on my face. Actually, I was kind of numb. I knew that I had made a circular journey back to a place where I had been ounces short of standing seven years earlier.

My weight this time: 16 pounds, 2 ounces. It was 1 ounce more than I weighed in 2009. Once again, 16 pounds, 1 ounce was good enough for second, but not for first.

Tags: bfl  scott-mooneyham  blog 

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