Summer officially began last Thursday, and the summertime heat and haze were right on time, making a sticky, humid entrance that sent area residents with a bit of leisure time on their hands searching for pools and lakes this past weekend.
Many families made a beeline for the nearby recreation areas like Jordan Lake’s Ebenezer Point this past Saturday to take a dip in the cool water. Just across the lake at the Farrington Point Wildlife Ramp however, the fish seemed intent enough on making the leap out of the water, if only long enough to lend a bit of weight to angler’s tallies at the 2012 Boats Unlimited Piedmont Bass Classics $10,000 Spring Trail Championship.
Sixty-five two-man teams qualified for the championship, which served as the finale for the local bass-series that included stops this year at Shearon Harris Lake, Jordan Lake, Kerr Lake and Falls Lake.
Saturday’s $10,000 first place prize package reflected the biggest payout in the 28-year history of the Piedmont Bass and Crappie Tournaments.
Taking home the big prize was the Wake County team of Thomas Sheffer and Ken McNeill (21.45 pounds), who also netted the day’s biggest fish (7.58 pounds) for a bonus.
“We caught our fish on plastic (bait),” Sheffer said. “We were catching all day, and we caught our big one — around seven pounds — in the morning.”
The Durham County duo of Mark Herndon and Jay Garrard capped their season with a fourth place in Saturday’s championship and won the season’s points race.
“I’m ecstatic that we won the points championship,” Herndon said. "We didn’t win any event this season; we’ve just finished second, third, or fourth the whole way — just grinding it out.”
Most of Herndon’s and Garrard’s catches Saturday came on shakyhead lures in about 12-14 feet of water, near bridge pilings and rock pilings. “We caught ’em all day long," Herndon said. "We had one about six-and-a-half pounds, but we had another around five.”
Vincent Nettles (Pittsboro)& Jimmie Spencer (Asheboro) earned eighth place with 17.68 pounds, and the Pittsboro team of Roy Blackwood and Butch Williams brought in 17.37 pounds for 10th place.
Piedmont Bass Classics, like most fishing organizations, encourages a catch-and-release policy to return the bass to their native waters. Angling teams Saturday were allowed one dead fish among their five total for weigh-in, with a half-pound penalty on the fish, though such dead fish were rare.
“Some folks will come and weigh two fish in and then come back later with three more. That way they keep them alive," McCarson said, citing a mortality rate of less than 2 percent.”
McCarson added that early tallies were an indication that fishing would be good on the day.
McCarson was expecting big tallies, but not quite as big as those he’d seen at events held at Harris Lake, just to the south.
“Shearon Harris is a trophy lake,” he said. “Back in February at a tournament, there were five weighing 33 pounds.”
N.C. Wildlife Enforcement Master Officer Brian Scruggs noted that the bass made for better fishing than some other food fish at Jordan Lake.
“The bass have been real good,” he said. “The stripers took a beating with the heat last year. … Crappie have been kind of tough; they’re on kind of a down slope right now, running a little bit smaller. They’re always up and down from year to year, though.”
Scruggs added that bass fishermen like those fishing Saturday don’t typically fish bass for food.
“As a general rule, the people that can catch them don’t keep them,” he said.
Durham’s Ridgecrest Baptist Church hosted Saturday’s event with a blast-off prayer at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and, in the afternoon, a traditional southern cookout at Farrington Point for all the participants after the weigh-ins.
Though conditions were muggy, tournament director Phil McCarson was grateful that the previous day’s storms didn’t recur and interrupt the festivities on Saturday. In fact, the cloud cover that did occur early was a blessing, he said.
“The lake was really slick,” McCarson said, “and we had cloud cover up until about one o’clock.”
The next time many of these anglers will be seeing each other may be at a Sportsman’s Banquet on Aug. 4, also hosted by Durham’s Ridgecrest Baptist Church’s Outdoor Ministries program.
“We have this outdoors ministry at our church with a lot of events all year long where we reach out to the community,” Outdoor Ministries director Rod King said.
Ridgecrest’s Sportsman’s Banquet on Aug. 4 features Jase Robertson—the "Duck Commander" from the A&E Channel’s Duck Dynasty — and Mike Maze from WRAL.
"We’ll be having prizes, and we’ll be sharing the love of Jesus," King said.
For more information on the Sportsman’s Banquet, see www.ridgecrest.cc
Further information on Piedmont Bass Classics events can be found at www.piedmontbassclassics.com
The next season starts this Saturday’s JB Custom Rods Piedmont Bass Classics 2012 $5,000 Summer Trail Qualifier at Falls Lake’s Ledge Rock Wildlife Ramp.