Aaron Yavorsky could have idled inside the Venetian Gardens Marina all day Saturday and still won the 2023 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off.
But instead of taking his foot off the gas after virtually securing the tournament title on Friday, the 17-year-old Yavorsky put the proverbial pedal to the metal. And in doing so, he scrawled his name into the B.A.S.S. history books — with authority.
Following the 30-pound, 7-ounce limit of five bass he weighed on Day 1, Yavorsky caught another limit Saturday, this one weighing 17-13. And though his final bag was the lightest he caught this week, it absolutely was more than enough to secure the Fish-Off title with a two-day weight of 48-4.
It was as commanding a win as one could imagine in a tournament of this magnitude. Second place went to Connor Nimrod of the Media Bass Trail in north Louisiana, who caught 25-14 over two days, more than 22 pounds behind Yavorsky.
The decisive victory earned Yavorsky the final berth into the 2024 Bassmaster Classic, which will be held March 22-24 on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. He is the youngest person to ever qualify for the Classic, a distinction previously owned by David Brind of New York, who was 18 when he worked his way through the former B.A.S.S. Federation (now the B.A.S.S. Nation) to land a spot in the 1979 Classic on Lake Texoma.
Yavorsky will turn 18 on March 15, a week before his sport’s biggest event begins.
“I’ve never been to Oklahoma,” he said. “I’ve never even been to a Classic either, though I’ve watched them on live TV for a long time. I don’t know what to say about making it. I’m kind of speechless right now.”
Yavorsky let his fishing do the talking on the Harris Chain of Lakes instead. He stormed to a nearly 16-pound advantage on Day 1 of the Fish-Off with a 30-7 limit. That whopping bag certainly took some of the pressure off the young Palm Harbor, Fla., resident, but he knew his fellow competitors wouldn’t just hand him the title. He proved twice earlier in the tournament that 30-pound sacks are possible here in central Florida, so resting on his Day 1 success was not an option.
The young Yavorsky was relentless again on Saturday, rocketing out of Venetian Gardens at 7 a.m. and making the 30-minute run to Lake Carlton, where he boated his best bass this week. He worked a shellbar there in about 10 feet of water, throwing a Strike King 5XD crankbait over an area that is about 200 to 300 yards long. He said bait color was not important as long as it closely matched the water clarity in Carlton, not to mention the shad that hefty bass were chomping there.
Saturday wasn’t without challenges. The wind, crucial to his earlier bags, was nowhere to be found early on Day 2. Several spectator boats also were near his top spot when he arrived for what he hoped would be the finishing touches on a championship.
Instead, fate made the teenager wait for his chances. And Yavorsky didn’t blink, putting his first bass in the livewell about noon. When quick catches didn’t follow, though, he left Carlton for Lake Dora to fish grass beds he and his dad, Rodney, worked on Day 1 of the Team Championship portion of the event, which they eventually won. That move proved unsuccessful, so he headed back to Carlton and hunkered down for his limit.
“Nerves played a part,” Aaron said. “We weren’t even launched yet and I couldn’t tie on a lure. A bunch of things ran through my head, especially when I didn’t have a fish until noon. It was really slow … but the wind picked back up in the afternoon and that was big. It got the bait moving.”
Then the bigger bites he enjoyed earlier in the week started again.
“I was burning that 5XD as fast as I could,” he said. “I really had to hit the fish down there. It would knock off of them and they’d get aggravated when it hit them. It was more a reaction bite.”
The Yavorskys, representing the Florida BASS Nation Team Trail, qualified for the Fish-Off portion of this tournament after totaling 51-9 on Wednesday and Thursday to win $25,000 and the Team Championship. That was almost 14 pounds more than the second-place team of Blain Bartley and Rj Graham of Pennsylvania’s Keystone Bass Buddy Circuit, who split $17,000. The tandem of Nimrod and Thomas Soileau from Media Bass finished third overall in the team event and won $12,000.
The Top 3 teams (six anglers in all) advanced to the Fish-Off on Friday and Saturday. Their team weights were zeroed, and each competed individually for a shot at the Classic
From the jump, the Fish-Off belonged to a 17-year-old fishing with skills that defy his age and experience.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, that I’m going to the Bassmaster Classic,” he said.
The Yavorskys left Venetian Gardens not long after Aaron hoisted the Fish-Off championship trophy. They were headed to Lake Okeechobee where Aaron was due to compete in a Florida B.A.S.S. Nation High School event this weekend. There may be some pre-fishing at Grand Lake in his future, too, but the next stop before the Classic is more typical of a young man of 17.
“Economics class is my first thing Monday morning,” he said. “At 7 a.m.”
Rounding out the field of six in the Fish-Off — behind Yavorsky and Nimrod — are third, Graham, 14-15; fourth, Soileau, 10-14; fifth, Bartley, 6-10; and sixth, Rodney Yavorsky, 6-0.
The Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship, held Wednesday and Thursday, featured 248 duos representing 77 different bass trails. In all, anglers came to the Harris Chain from 30 different states and three foreign countries to compete for part of the $125,000 cash purse that was split among the Top 50 teams.
More info at Bassmaster.com.