For the seventh annual Bass Cat National Team Championship, company President Rick Pierce once again pieced together a novel format, but the results were very much similar to those of years past. For the fourth time in five years, there was an angler named Cook in the winner’s circle, and for the third time in four years, there were two of them. The father/son team of Roger and Corey Cook of Missouri used a massive rally on the afternoon of Day Two to turn a slight deficit into a nearly 10 pound margin of victory, ending the tournament with a total of 37.57 pounds. They will be going to Mexico’s Lake Comedero with Ron Speed Adventures as their prize.
“We work so hard every year to qualify,” Roger said. “The win makes it that much sweeter. It never gets old and we absolutely have a ball every year.”
The format, utilizing four different ramps on three different lakes, challenged the competitors, and also allowed for trout and walleye to be weighed in during three of the four sessions.
“One competitor lost two big 30-inch German browns on stage one that would have set a different pace,” Pierce said. “The teams really enjoyed the set-up this year.”
The Winners’ Story
The Cooks didn’t even get a chance to practice, because they had another circuit’s championship on Lake of the Ozarks Saturday and Sunday, which had them rolling into their hotel around midnight. It was worth it, though, because they won a boat in what would turn out to be a very profitable week.
In the first session on the White River, they put down the trolling motor and “ran the entire river,” focusing on isolated patches of grass next to current seams, and using a swim jig. The goal was to catch a limit, and they accomplished that with “five squeakers,” but they felt they could make up any ground at the second stop. That was on 600-acre Crown Lake, where they had more experience than the rest of the field. “I wasn’t too worried about it, but it turned out to be our worst round,” Roger said. “We fished history and it was all dead water.” They scrambled to catch three keepers and lost two more that weren’t large, but would have helped.
Norfork is where the Cooks made their move, and in the Tuesday morning session they caught 40 fish total, including 15 keepers. That put them just over half a pound behind the Arkansas team of Greg Johnston and Joe Dickey. That afternoon the field did not move to an entirely new body of water, but rather just up over the ridge on Norfork. The Cooks ran 15 miles down and snatched a quick limit of about 9 pounds, then made the run back up to try to cull. That move proved prophetic, because “the dirty water was on.” They used a half-ounce black and blue jig in water less than 3 feet dip to amass a best five weighing 14.27 pounds.
Roger credited his son for their ability to adapt: “He’s young and ambitious and I’m old so I’m kind of stubborn. It was a good decision on his part.”
Second Place Team Battling With the Cooks
Greg Johnston and Joe Dickey have tried to make it to the National Team Championship for several years, but they’ve always fallen just short. Three years ago, the Cooks were the ones who’d knocked them out at the last minute at a Table Rock Regional.
“We were some of the first to weigh in,” Johnston said. “And we were in the lead for about 45 minutes. We thought we had it won. Then they weighed in and beat us by 6 ounces.” This year turnabout was fair play, as they managed to beat the Cooks by an even smaller margin. The pair figured they had around 15 pounds, and watched as Roger and Corey brought a big bag with a 5-pounder on top to the scales. “They had 16.34, but we had 16.46,” Johnston said. “We squeaked by to qualify.” At the NTC, however, they were once again greeted by the Cooks, who’d qualified through another event.
At the White River, they didn’t know what to expect, so they power-fished with a spinnerbait, and Johnson concedes “that probably got us beat.” Still, they’d practiced at Crown and found fish, so when Day One ended they were in second place with 13.69, about 2/3 of a pound behind leaders Mike and Kevin Hoffpauir.
They started off slowly on Tuesday at Norfork, but a switch to an Ozarks staple – the Wiggle Wart – produced a late limit that pulled them into the lead, just barely ahead of the Cooks. When the second launch was announced as up the river, they figured it was worth the effort to run the 20 miles back down to where the fish had been just a few hours earlier. It didn’t pay off. “We didn’t find them,” Johnston said. “We scratched out three keepers.” While it wasn’t enough to hold the lead, that final flurry held them in second place – and Rick Pierce surprised them with the option of going to Comedero along with the Cooks. They readily accepted.
Georgia Father/Son Take Third
Joe O’Connell and his son Tony are longtime supporters of the Bass Cat brand. Joe said he “couldn’t begin to tell you how many he’s owned” and while he fished this event out of his 2015 Caracal, he also owns a 2003 Cougar and a 2001 Sabre.”
“We had no strategy,” he joked. “Just put your nose down and have fun.” Staying true to that maxim, he fished a single rod and reel, with a single lure the entire time. When he finally lost that Natural Shad Strike King KVD 1.5 near the tournament’s conclusion, he tied on another crankbait and kept on catching bass.
While they would have liked to have won, the experience was what won them over, and Joe particularly enjoyed the time with his son.
“It was all about the two of us being together,” he said. “We can both afford a trip to Mexico, but to do it on Bass Cat’s terms, with weigh-ins every four hours, that’s more exciting than just going there. It was a phenomenal format. I give Rick Pierce 110 percent of the credit for the idea. It’s his baby. They really rolled out the red carpet for us and I just hope that they continue it.”
“This has been a great seven years,” Pierce opined. “Everyone gets close-knit during the three days and we’re thrilled to see how it plays out.”
Johnston raved about the thrill of putting his boat in the White River before daylight, then spiriting off to Crown for a totally different experience, nothing that “you really had to adjust.”
Roger Cook summed it up best: “It never gets old.”
A Frenzy of Cougars
All three top teams had multiple Bass Cats under their ownership, a testament to the extreme brand loyalty that endures around the country.
The Cooks fished out of Roger’s 2017 Cougar, but also compete on occasion out of Corey’s 2013 Cougar. “We fish shoulder-to-shoulder,” Roger said. “It gives us both plenty of room and the ride and speed are incredible.”
Likewise, Johnston and Dickey both own Cougar FTDs. They qualified out of Johnston’s 2013 and fished the NTC out of Dickey’s 2005.
As noted above, O’Connell does most of his fishing out of his 2015 Caracal, which he believes was the seventh one built, but he also has two other Cats in reserve – a Cougar and a Sabre. He’s obviously fanatical about the company’s products, but this event helped him further solidify his massive respect for the BCB family.
“It was a great time,” he said. “I’ve been a huge supporter of Bass Cat, but this was all about the format and the excellent camaraderie.”