published Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Slower-paced tour


by Dan Cook
  • photo
    Photo by Dan Cook Scenes like this greet anglers on Old Hickory Lake.

GALLATIN, Tenn. — Some pro bass anglers compete in major tournaments stretched from coast to coast. Many are affiliated with the Forrest L. Wood or Bass Anglers Sportsman Society tours, which have big entry fees and large payouts. Expenses are offset by strong sponsorships for many of the fishermen.

Then there are the closer-to-home types who earn cash prizes but mostly compete for fun and fellowship. They pay most or all of their fees.

Typical of that group is the Senior Bass Anglers organization, an outgrowth of competition that used to focus heavily on Old Hickory Lake. Members are 50 and older, and tournaments are held on Fridays to avoid heavier Saturdays on the lakes.

Darden Nelms, Nashville businessman and SBA member, talked about it recently as we fished together on Old Hickory during the annual conference of the Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association. Great blue herons plucked shallow water minnows and resident geese sternly guarded nests along the shore as we fished.

Nelms said SBA tournaments are within a few hours’ drive from where the members live. Typically those members have retired from one business after 30 years or so and now have a chance for weekend travel. They are expected to carry out a six-stop regular season.

The “classic” for top contenders concludes each SBA year.

Most contestants stay in lodging close to the tournament sites, but Nelms and his wife and at least one other couple travel from place to place in motor homes. All winners in tournaments are subjected to polygraph tests, according to the circuit’s website, where all of the rules are posted.

The SBA purse is not high-dollar like those of the major circuits, but camaraderie is strong, Nelms said.

One angling team won $1,900 in an SBA tourney at Center Hill, helped by a $500 donation from Triton Boats. But that’s about as lucrative as it gets.

There are other tour incentives to this level of fishing. “The Hawg Pot” is a feature supported by sponsor Advanced Hearing Solutions. The firm tosses $50 into the pot each month. The team weighing the largest bass at 8 pounds or better takes home the accumulated loot.

While Percy Priest Lake — like Old Hickory — flows into nearby Nashville, one of the most popular stops on the SBA calendar is downstream from Chattanooga at Lake Guntersville. This year, a record field of 53 duos fished March 28 as they opened the SBA season there.

Raymond Ray and Mark Witherow won with 24.90 pounds. The husband-and-wife team of Carl and Debbie Wood captured the “big fish” prize with a 9.25-pound bass. These were clearly enticements for the anglers to return.

When members were polled about where to hold the classic, Guntersville drew 42 percent of the vote. Kentucky Lake was second with 37 percent. The rest — Barkley, Old Hickory, Priest and Center Hill — each attracted 11 percent or less. The classic will be held Sept. 24 at Guntersville.

Nelms, who fishes the tour with his wife, said SBA is an idea that is growing in popularity.

“We’re starting to get people from across the country looking at it,” he said. “They’re interested in trying something like it.”

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