When the Bassmaster Elite Series finally makes it to Chickamauga Lake for the tournament that has been postponed twice this year and is now scheduled for October in Dayton, Buddy Gross will probably be just as excited about competing on his home water.
Instead of looking for a breakthrough win, though, the Bassmaster Elite rookie from Chickamauga, Georgia, will be looking to add to what is already a very successful first year on the top circuit of B.A.S.S.
In just his second start, Gross won the Bassmaster Elite event that finished Saturday on Lake Eufaula in Alabama, completing a remarkable run that started with him 43rd out of 86 anglers after the first day.
He closed strong, with his daily limit of five keepers weighing in at 27 pounds, 11 ounces, giving him a 20-fish, four-day total of 84-8 — just less than a pound ahead of second-place Scott Canterbury of Odenville, Alabama, the third-round leader and Bassmaster's reigning angler of the year.
Gross, who won $12,000 for his 11th-place finish at the season opener in February in Florida, won $101,000 at Lake Eufaula, with $1,000 of that a bonus for the biggest single catch of the day in the final round, a 6-pound, 13-ounce fish.
As Bassmaster's release pointed out, the Alabama tournament was the first event after the longest unplanned break in series history, and social distancing practices amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak led to Gross being presented his tournament trophy by his family instead of tournament director Trip Weldon.
"It doesn't get much better than that," Gross said in the release. "This is something you dream of as a kid because B.A.S.S. is the epitome of fishing — just the staple of the fishing world. To dream about something like this, and then for it to happen so early in my career is amazing."
While the 47-year-old Gross has several years of experience as a pro angler and earned some big victories on other circuits, including $100,000 wins on the FLW Tour in 2016 and 2019, this one was still surprising for a couple of reasons.
After tallying just 16-14 on the scales Wednesday, Gross rallied with 20-7 on Thursday to move into 19th place and caught 19-8 Friday. That was enough to push him into the coveted top 10 anglers who make the final round — but only, as Bassmaster's release pointed out, after another angler was penalized more than two pounds for tournament infractions.
Gross made his own breaks Saturday, though, rocketing from 10th to first with the tournament's best single-day haul and overcoming Canterbury's lead of more than four pounds. Canterbury's final day produced 19-3 as he finished at 83-9 overall, keeping him ahead of the 82-4 total of third-place Drew Benton of Blakely, Georgia, whose Saturday haul of 24-8 trailed only Gross for the best single-day tally of the tournament.
Lake Eufaula features hundreds of manmade brushpiles that harbor fish — "The people in this town must be part beaver or something," Gross joked. "I've never been to a place with so many brushpiles." — and he made them pay off, despite his early struggles.
"The first day of the tournament, I was running brushpiles so fast that I was fishing with my lifejacket on," he said. "I had a 7-pounder at the boat, and I reeled my lanyard up into my reel. That fish was out there jumping, so I tried to just muscle through it. All that did was make it worse.
"That fish eventually got off — and I thought [for] sure that would cost me a lot. But I guess when something is meant to be, it's meant to be."
Gary Clouse from Winchester, Tennessee, earned $10,000 for his 30th-place finish. He made it through three days of competition, with his 15 fish totaling 49 pounds, 5 ounces.
The Bassmaster Elite Series now heads north for the summer, with three tournaments scheduled for July in New York and an August event in Michigan. With September off, competition resumes the following month, first in South Carolina and then Oct. 16-19 at Chickamauga Lake. The tourney out of Dayton was delayed in February due to flooding and again in March due to coronavirus concerns.
Compiled by Marty Kirkland. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.