Some of the top bass pros in the nation crashed and burned after making epic catches during the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate at Ross Barnett Reservoir. Gene Bishop of Ridgeland, Miss., stumbled the first day with less than 9 pounds, only to rocket to the winner’s circle.
Bishop’s stunning 26-pound, 1-ounce limit the second day vaulted him to the lead. He slammed the door on the other anglers who made the Top 12 cut today with a limit that weighed 21 pounds for a total of 55 pounds, 14 ounces.
Local knowledge worked for and against Bishop during the tournament. He stumbled the first day by fishing one of his offshore sweet spots with a Carolina rig.
On the following two days, he fished shallow pad stems that produced his heavy limits.
“I was fishing a Barnett Special,” Bishop said. “Everybody around here knows about it.”
The Barnett Special is an 8-inch Junebug Zoom Lizard. He Texas rigged it with a 4/0 hook and a 1/4 ounce bullet sinker.
“I was barely crawling it back over the pad stems lying on the bottom in 2 feet of water,” Bishop said.
If Bishop fishes the final two Central Opens this year, his Ross Barnett victory will earn him a ticket to the 2016 Bassmaster Classic at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake.
Meanwhile, Bishop is happy to pocket $8,405 and take possession of a Triton 19TrX rigged with a Mercury 200 Pro XS and prop, a Triton tandem axle trailer, a MotorGuide X3 trolling motor and a Lowrance Elite 5 graph.
Jay Brainard of Vinita, Okla., fishing his first Bassmaster Open at age 28, finished a close second with 54 pounds, 8 ounces. While all the other anglers that made the Top 12 cut plied shallow pad stems and reeds, Brainard skipped a 3/8-ounce Strike King spinnerbait under boat docks.
He swapped the original No. 4 blade for a bigger No. 4 1/2 gold blade and slow-rolled the spinnerbait 4 to 5 feet deep.
“If I got a hard strike I couldn’t hook them,” Brainard said. “Even a trailer hook didn’t help. I missed a lot of fish.”
The ones that stayed hooked felt like heavy weight when they inhaled the spinnerbait, he added.
“I love skipping and flipping docks,” Brainard said. “It’s my favorite thing to do.”
Doing his favorite thing earned Brainard $19,963 and 199 points toward qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Oklahoma Elite Series pro Tommy Biffle collected $14,972 for nabbing third place with 52 pounds, 9 ounces. Most anglers would have been tickled with that. However, Biffle had his heart set on winning at Ross Barnett and punching his ticket early to the 2016 Classic on a lake that he knows well.
Although Biffle is famous for working his magic with a Quantum flippin’ stick, he caught his bass this time around with casting presentations. His primary bait was a Carolina rigged Gene Larew Biffle-O Lizard, which he dragged through pad stems.
“I just couldn’t catch them flippin’ in practice,” Biffle said. “They weren’t on the bank.”
On the final day, Biffle moved closer to the bank to catch his 21-pound, 10-ounce limit. The water had warmed to 65 degrees, and the bass were more accommodating near the shoreline than they had been in practice.
Bill Mccoun of Amarillo, Texas, who will be 70 years old in a few months, was the first co-angler to weigh in today. His three-day total of 25 pounds, 7 ounces was never bested.
Mccoun literally sweated out the weigh-in while sitting in the hot seat in bright, warm sunlight. Sunshine was a rare commodity this week. When he accepted his trophy, Mccoun suggested that an air conditioner be installed in the hot seat corner.
After thanking his wife of 50 years, Mccoun praised the pro partners he had fished with throughout the three-day event. He also recommended that anyone that has thought about fishing a Bassmaster Open should do so.
“My partner the first day was Wes Rogers,” Mccoun said. “He gave me the baits that I caught all my fish with. After he caught his limit, he stayed on his fish until I caught mine.”
That bait was a Texas rigged Zoom Brush Hog.
“You had to drag it,” Mccoun said. “They didn’t want it hopping.”
Besides the hefty trophy that Mccoun carried off the stage, he was given the keys to a brand new Triton 179 TrX with a Mercury 115 Pro XS and prop, a Triton single axle trailer, a MotorGuide X3 trolling motor and a Lowrance Mark 5 graph.
Arkansas Elite Series pro Kevin Short weighed an 8-pounder on the first day of the Ross Barnett Open. It proved to be the Bass Pro Shops Big Bass, which was worth $750.
The Bass Pro Shops Big Bass on the co-angler side was a 7-pound, 3-ounce largemouth caught by Gary Sullivan of Woodson, Texas. That heavyweight earned Sullivan $250.
Luke Clausen, a pro from Otis Orchards, Wash., won the $250 Allstate Good Hands, Great Day award for climbing the most points from Day 1 to Day 2.
Joel Ross from of Brandon, Miss., won the Allstate Good Hands, Great Day co-angler award of $150 for leapfrogging from 159th to 43rd place on Day 2.
The Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for the pro side goes to Bishop; Mccaskill will receive a Livingston Lures gift pack valued at $250 for the co-angler side.