Former Champions Offer Advice To Competitors
Chris D. Baumgardner scored a wire-to-wire victory by landing his biggest bag on the last day of the tournament to win the 2021 Ray Scott Championship, held on Lake Chickamauga near Dayton, Tenn.
In that event, the angler from Gastonia, N.C. landed four straight 5-bass tournament limits to win the Boater Division with 78.70 pounds, more than 10 pounds heavier than his nearest competition. Previously, he fished various professional tournament trails for years and competed in four Bassmaster Classics.
“At Lake Chickamauga, I fished one arm for a couple days,” Baumgardner recalled. “I was catching fish, but not what I thought I needed. I went to another arm and started catching bigger fish. The fish just came to me. They were moving in to spawn. I found an area that wasn’t getting a lot of pressure and everything worked out.”
This year, Baumgardner looks forward to defending his title during the 2022 Ray Scott Championship, slated for April 6-9 at Lake Eufaula on the Alabama-Georgia line. The tournament runs out of Lakepoint Resort State Park, located at 104 Lakepoint Drive near the town of Eufaula, Ala. Officially named Walter F. George Reservoir, Lake Eufaula spreads along 45,181 acres along the Chattahoochee River marking the boundary between Alabama and Georgia.
“I’ve fished a few tournaments at Eufaula over about 20 years with varying degrees of luck. Fishing a big event like the Ray Scott Championship feels great with a good payout for the anglers. It’s a tough competition. Everyone there can catch fish. Everything must go just right to win against that kind of competition. I’m looking forward to fishing it and catching some big fish.”
Sometimes called the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World,” Lake Eufaula produced numerous double-digit largemouths and excellent numbers of bass in the 2- to 8-pound range over the years with some exceeding 12 pounds. The bass spawn usually peaks in March or April, depending upon the weather.
“Lake Eufaula is a good fishery with a lot of big bass in it,” Baumgardner advised. “I think the fish will be up shallow with many spawning. I usually fish shallow. I hope there will be enough fish up shallow so I can do well.”
The riverine impoundment contains an abundant population of baitfish, both threadfin and gizzard shad plus other forage species. Competitors might see a shad spawn during the tournament. At a shad spawn, anglers could possibly win a tournament in five casts.
“To find a shad spawn, the first thing someone needs to do is look for the wading birds like white egrets and great blue herons,” Baumgardner explained. “When someone spots several of those kinds of birds close together along a shoreline, that’s a good indication that the shad are spawning on that bank. When I find a shad spawn, I like to throw a swim jig or a ChatterBait, something that looks like a shad. I might also try some topwater baits if the conditions are right.”
The winner of the Boater Division in the 2022 Ray Scott Championship will take home $50,000 in cash plus a new fully-equipped Caymas CX 20 20-foot boat powered by a 200-horsepower Mercury outboard on a Caymas trailer. The package comes with two Garmin electronics units, a Garmin trolling motor, Optima batteries and other items. It retails for about $70,000 to give the new champion a package totaling $120,000.
The Ray Scott Championship features a two-tier competition with about 200 boaters and co-anglers participating. Each angler earned an opportunity to fish the championship by doing well in divisions across the country throughout the 2021 season. Boaters and co-anglers share the same boats, but they do not participate as a team. Each competes in his or her own division.
Phillip J. Johnson of Griffin, Ga. won the Co-Angler Division in the 2021 Ray Scott Championship. He led three out of four days, landing 10 bass going 35.83 pounds with a 7.57-pound kicker. On the final day of that event, he fished with Baumgardner.
“I had some recognition after I won,” Johnson remembers. “It was a ‘bucket list’ thing that I wanted to do. I qualified to fish the Ray Scott Championship for many years and never won before. I probably fished it about 15 times, always as a co-angler. It’s exciting to fish a tournament like that. People come from all over the United States to fish that event.”
The top co-angler in the 2022 Ray Scott Championship will receive a new fully-equipped Caymas CX 18 SS 18-foot boat equipped with a 150-horsepower Mercury outboard on a Caymas trailer. The package comes with Garmin electronics, a MotorGuide trolling motor, Optima batteries and other items. The boat package retails for about $50,000.
“What’s great about being a co-angler is someone without a boat can still compete at a high level,” Johnson said. “Fishing an event like the Ray Scott Championship is a great thing to do for everyone from beginners to people who have fished for a long time. Anyone can learn so much from all these great fishermen with years of experience.”
Living within about three hours of Lake Eufaula, Johnson fished the reservoir many times over the years. He predicts anglers will find excellent fishing all over the lake.
“Lake Eufaula should be on fire in early April,” Johnson predicted. “Fish will be all over the place. Some of the fish have already bedded, but many will be coming and going from the spawning areas. Many will be in the grass. Some will be up shallow and some will be out in the middle of the river on ledges. They’ll be in the back of pockets right up against the banks. People will catch some fish punching through grass mats.”
Although he’s not fishing the championship this year, Johnson offered suggestions on how he would fish if he were competing. He stressed that he would throw baits that covered large tracts of water to search for bass.
“If I was fishing the tournament, I’d throw a spinnerbait and a jerkbait,” he revealed. “In thick grass, I’d throw a weightless Senko or run a shaky head through open spots. Colors would depend upon the water color. If the water is muddy, I’d throw dark colors like black or junebug. In clear water, I’d throw more natural colors, like white or green pumpkin with a tail tipped in chartreuse.”
Johnson, who will turn 65 this year, fished as a co-angler for many years. Being a co-angler, he said, made him a better fisherman because he learned from the best.
“Being a co-angler, I get to fish with some of the best bass fishermen in the nation,” Johnson commented. “That’s one of the main reasons why I enjoy fishing as a co-angler. People who get up in age and can’t get around as well as younger people can still fish and compete. I’ve made so many friends. I’ve been in the boat with some great fishermen and learned so much by fishing with them. Everyone one of them has been gracious to me. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
During the 2022 Ray Scott Championship, the entire field fishes for the first two days of competition. On the third day, only the top 50 percent of boaters and co-anglers compete. For the final day, only the top 25 anglers in each category fish. Besides the prizes for the winners, the top 20 percent of the anglers in each division will receive cash prizes.
For more information about this tournament, call Tournament Director Chris Wayand at (256) 230-5627. For more information about any American Bass Anglers tournament series, visit www.americanbassanglers.com or call (256) 232-0406.
American Bass Anglers is sponsored by Caymas Boats, Mercury Marine, T-H Marine, Garmin Electronics, Power Pole, Lucas Oil, Optima Batteries, Hotel Planner.com, and LurePartsOnline.com.
This story was written by ABA staff writer John N. Felsher. To submit articles of interest email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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