The Pierce family at Bass Cat Boats isn’t content to go with the flow. Whether it’s their development of the recessed trolling motor tray or their strongest-in-the-industry transoms, they consistently seek to innovate – and everything is done for a reason.
That extends to tournaments, too. When Rick Pierce came up with the idea to bring six qualifying teams from around the country to Mountain Home, Ark., to compete for a grand prize of a trip for two to the Amazon, it would’ve been convenient to hold the event over two days on Norfork or Bull Shoals. It would’ve made things logistically easy on the company. It would have saved money. That’s not how things are done at BCB. While none of the qualifying teams was local to the area, Pierce wanted to level the playing field as much as possible. His stated goal was to eliminate the influence of past experience, pre-tournament information gathering, or the fact that one team was particularly adept at a particular style of fishing.
When the groups arrived in Arkansas from as far away as California and Virginia, they were informed that over two days they’d fish three sessions – two on Sunday and one on Monday – on three different lakes. They’d fish Norfork on Sunday morning, lesser-known Crown Lake on Sunday afternoon and Bull Shoals all day Monday. Furthermore, they’d have only a single day to practice, and they could only launch the boat on one of the three venues, although they could drive around and view the other two from the bank.
“It was a great format,” said Josh Clarke of Texas. “Rick’s purpose was to level the playing field and he was very effective in doing that.”
Clarke’s partner, Doug Morrow, agreed: “It was the best tournament we’ve ever fished, as much fun as it could possibly be. We liked the format, it thrilled us to death and we loved the mystery of it. It was the coldest weather I’ve ever launched a bass boat, but that’s something we don’t ever get to do down here (in Texas) so it was part of the fun.”
Howard Austin of Virginia said that the format forced anglers to get outside of their comfort zones: “Out here (in Virginia) everybody has their home little sector they fish and they don’t go many other places. It was great to get out there and be forced to fish different kinds of water. No one had a real advantage over anyone else.”
Clarke also raved about the generosity of the event’s organizers: “What sticks out in my mind is the generosity of the Pierces and the entire Bass Cat family. They gave us gift bags, and one of the items in there was hand warmers. It was a small gesture, but it showed that they put a lot of thought into it. My expectations were exceeded. I’ve always been a fan of Bass Cat but this went above and beyond.”
The two teams from the coasts – California and Virginia – were given an even bigger incentive to come. Bass Cat management realized that their long drives might make the time necessary to compete prohibitive, so they were sent plane tickets and told to pack their tackle. Waiting for them in Arkansas were trucks and boats and instructions to use them as if they were their own. Personalizing the experience, they were picked up at the airport by none other than Rick Pierce himself, who gave a colorful guided tour of the region and subsequently of the factory.
Mercury Motors also extended substantial support. As Rick Pierce stated, “Their assistance allowed the idea to be twice what it would have been.”
The six teams may have been coddled like Bassmaster Classic competitors, but on the water the event proved to be a friendly “test of the best” involving brutal Arctic conditions. There were sub-freezing temperatures and all manners of participation. When it was over, the father-and-son team of John and Lorenzo Rossetti had won the event and its grand prize, but the lasting impression was not one of fish caught or trips awarded, but rather of what it means to be part of the Bass Cat Family.
“Whether you’re a pro-staffer or just John Consumer, everyone at Bass Cat treats you with the same amount of respect,” said Mike Kirch of Illinois, who has owned a total of six Bass Cats since 1996.
Notably, five of the six teams included at least one angler who has owned multiple Bass Cats, some as many as seven of the company’s hulls. In fact, Keith Webb (Alabama) and Mike Kirch (Illinois) met each other less than a decade ago through a Bass Cat connection, and have since forged a friendship and partnership that is brotherly in nature. They’ve fished the annual Owners Invitational on Norfork together and both said they’ll never own any other boat. This time together, competing for a common goal among likeminded enthusiasts, further cemented that bond.
“Everybody just seems to be friends at these events,” Kirch said. “The fishing is serious, but there’s never any encroachment on the water.”
Every man said he and his partner will do their best to requalify in 2014, although once word gets out about how they were treated they expect the competition to be much tougher going forward. Now that they’ve thawed out, their words speak volumes about what this event meant to them.
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“It was the best tournament we ever fished. It was as much fun as it could possibly be. I liked the format. I was thrilled to death. I loved the mystery of it.” (Doug Morrow, Texas)[/font]
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Pierce family. They flew us out here, all-expenses paid, picked us up at the airport and had a boat and truck waiting for us. All we had to do was find the fish and catch the fish. There are not too many other companies out there that treat their customers that well.” (Lorenzo Rossetti, California)[/font]
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“The town of Mountain Home has a whole lot to be proud of. I stopped in at the Denali Rods store and a bait shop and everyone was very friendly. It’s obvious that the locals have a ton of pride in their community.” (Larry Whiteman, Kentucky)[/font]
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“This event was wonderful, exciting and grueling, everything I love about bass fishing.” (Mark Huffman, Texas)[/font]
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“I got my first Bass Cat in the early 90s and since then I’ve had six or seven. The Pierces have impressed me since Day One. The Bass Cat Family is not a joke. In my opinion it’s a superior product with a great group of folks behind it.” (Keith Webb, Alabama)[/font]
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“It was a first class operation, the experience of a lifetime. You couldn’t ask for anything more.” (Jerold Britt, Virginia)[/font]
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“The format definitely leveled the playing field for everyone.” (Mike Kirch, Illinois)[/font]
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“It was literally the best tournament we’ve ever fished.” Doug Morrow (Texas)[/font]
- [font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’]“I wish I could’ve stayed out there another couple of days.” (Howard Austin, Virginia).[/font]
[font=CALIBRI, ‘SANS-SERIF’] [/font]
In addition to the thrill of competition and the opportunity to compete for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to South America, the competitors all praised the new friends they’d made, bonded by a single boat company and the adrenaline rush forged in a sub-freezing event.
“The camaraderie with the guys was a lot of fun,” Clarke said. “We made a lot of new friends and you can never have too many of those.”
Troy Rossman of Texas may have said it best: “I really don’t know if anything could have been improved. They took extremely good care of us. We definitely want to get back and we’re going to work our tails off to make it again.”
Anyone who knows the Pierces and understands the Bass Cat ethos likely knows they’ll take the nothing-could-be-improved statement as a challenge. Look for similar events in the coming years to tweak the format and improve upon this inaugural one-of-a-kind challenge.
Feel the rush.
Stay tuned all this week for the individual teams’ stories – details from both on and off the water.
Name: Lorenzo Rossetti
Partner: John Rossetti
Boat: 2002 Cougar (Lorenzo), 2002 Pantera Classic (John)
Practice Lake: Norfork
Bull Shoals: 14.32
Father and son team John and Lorenzo Rossetti of Stockton, Calif., are no strangers to the Bass Cat Boats family – not only do they each own one, but over the years they’ve won three more on the California Delta where they are a consistent and feared team.
“I run a Bass Cat because they handle the water great and they’re fast,” Lorenzo said. “There are so many reasons why. I’ve ridden in every boat made and this is simply the best all-around brand you can buy. We’ve hit just about everything there is to hit, and stress cracks are non-existent.”
There wasn’t much to hit when they traveled to Northwest Arkansas for the inaugural Bass Cat Owners Regional Championship. For two “Delta Rats” who typically don’t fish much deeper than the reach of their flipping sticks, they adjusted to the deep, clear open water of the Ozarks region in a hurry. Their tournament-best 14.32 pound bag to close out the Day Three session of competition on Bull Shoals allowed them to jump four spots and beat out Day One leaders Mark Huffman and Troy Rossman by nearly two pounds.
It’s nearly 2,000 miles from Stockton to Mountain Home, but the Rossettis applied a universal textbook strategy to come from behind and claim the title.
“When Rick finally disclosed the lakes where we’d be fishing, we chose to practice on Norfork, for the simple fact that with only three hours there we wanted to make sure we had a few to weigh in,” Lorenzo explained. “We knew that in the afternoon we’d have 5 ½ to 6 hours on Crown.”
The cold weather was foreign to their fishing experiences, and Lorenzo admitted that he “wouldn’t have done it except in a tournament,” but by supporting each other and staying true to their pattern, they caught just enough in the first two rounds to stay in the hunt before blowing the doors off at Bull Shoals. Their pattern involved ledges with deep water nearby which were also close to spawning flats. Once there, they used a Strike King KVD jerkbait (Chrome Ayu) and a Strike King Football Jig (black/blue with a matching Strike King soft plastic chunk) to get neutral fish situated away from the bank to commit.
When they launched on Day Two at Bull Shoals, Sunday’s temperatures in the teens were replaced by relatively balmy conditions in the 20s, albeit with the addition of sleet and light rain. All of the competitors were faced with the challenge of their reels freezing up and trolling motors getting stuck in place, but the Rossettis – no fans of Arctic weather – were buoyed by their ability to quickly develop a pattern quite similar to what they had discerned at Norfork. By running and gunning, as much as that’s possible on a sub-freezing day, they landed an estimated 15 legal-sized fish. Their final limit included four largemouths and one smallmouth and totaled 14.32 pounds, nearly four pounds heavier than the next best limit.
The key fish, the one that likely put them over the top, was a five-pound-plus largemouth that inhaled Lorenzo’s jig at around 8:30am.
“At that point I told him I thought we were even with the leaders,” John said. “We’d made up that four pounds with one bite.”
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Pierce family,” Lorenzo said. “They flew us out here, all-expenses paid, picked us up at the airport and had a boat and truck waiting for us. All we had to do was find the fish and catch the fish. There are not too many other companies out there that treat their customers that well.”
Next they’ll get to spend more time with Pierce, fishing for peacock bass in the Amazon in January. After that, they’ll turn their attention to requalifying for next year’s team championship. The pair’s biggest concern is that their success may come back to bite them – this year they beat out approximately 30 teams to take the regional title, but when word of their spoils gets out they estimate they’ll have at least twice that many gunning for them in 2014.
Name: Mark Huffman
Partner: Troy Rossman
Boat: 2002 Cougar
Practice Lake: Bull Shoals
Bull Shoals: 8.01
Texas Bass Cat owner Mike Huffman and his partner Troy Rossman have competed against each other for years, trading off Angler of the Year titles on various Texas-based circuits. Huffman admitted that the lakes of Northwest Arkansas don’t resemble their home waters in the least, but that didn’t stop them from fishing their strengths.
“I’m a deep water fisherman,” Huffman said. “I always fish deep structure, so I approached it just like I would approach Lake Fork. Ours are mostly Florida strain, which means they’re not as predictable as the native fish in Arkansas. The other differences are that we’re not used to the clear water and these lakes have more rock structure than Fork, which is full of flooded timber.”
Rossman stressed that the cold weather dictated their pace: “If you thought you were fishing slow enough, you needed to slow down some more,” he said. “We’re both finesse guys and that probably helped us throughout the event.”
The pair parlayed their deep structure expertise to a near-win, producing the most consistent catches over the three sessions. They led after the first and second sessions, but couldn’t get a big bite and ultimately fell short of the Rossettis by a little bit less than two pounds.
Ninety percent of the team’s fish came dropshotting Zoom and Jackall finesse plastics in water as deep as 50 feet, but they made a valiant effort to find something bigger up shallow on Bull Shoals, where they’d spent the lone practice day.
“I just knew that the bigger fish were in that buck brush with the wind blowing on it,” Huffman said. “We gave it a couple of hours on the last tournament day, but we couldn’t catch any keepers up there. We didn’t lose any big ones. We had one 3 pounder, which was a good kicker fish, but the bigger ones eluded us. They eluded pretty much everybody.”
They’d located three prime areas in Sister Creek on Bull Shoals that all featured deep water access and chunk rock. The Texans had located fish on points in practice, but after practice those schools of bass had moved. “They weren’t relating to the smaller rock or the points, which surprised me,” Huffman said. “They’d moved off the points and were on the bluff walls.”
Huffman raved about his Cougar’s fishability and ability to handle rough water, but in this “Iditarod-type” event, it was the deck design that paid off most handsomely. Specifically, he stored a heater under the removable flipping deck, which kept their feet warm and allowed them to thaw nearly frostbitten hands throughout the competition day.
Will they be back again? “We came in 3rd last year and we won this year,” Huffman said of their regional qualifier. “He’ll be back with me next year. This event was wonderful, exciting and grueling, everything I love about bass fishing.”
Name: Keith Webb
Partner: Mike Kirch
Boat: 2011 Puma FTD (Keith), 2012 Cougar FTD (Mike)
Practice Lake: Bull Shoals
Bull Shoals: 10.56
Keith Webb and Mike Kirch rebounded from a miserable first session on Norfork to make a run at the title, ultimately falling a little less than three pounds short. Their first round blank didn’t faze them one bit as they went on to catch the best bag in the field at Crown Lake and then a double digit limit at Bull Shoals to eclipse the 20 pound mark.
Oddly enough for the Alabama/Illinois team, it was their prior experience on Norfork that came back to bite them. They’d fished Owners Invitationals there together and headed to an area that had produced a 10th place finish, about 15 miles from the launch. “There were enough fish there for a really nice sack during practice, but they’d moved 300 yards by the time the tournament started,” Webb said.
“Another hour and we would’ve had some fish,” Kirch remarked. Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough time to make something happen at Norfork, but that didn’t lead them to abandon their strengths. When the competition moved to Crown they took their time, side-scanning and down-scanning for the better part of the first hour. Shortly thereafter they made a move down to the dam and found a rock shelf in 35 feet of water that held a school of fish.
“We caught 10 fish, all but one of them from that rock shelf,” Webb said. “Our best bait was a green pumpkin Yamamoto Hula Grub on a 3/8 ounce football head. We tried small jigs, too, but they seemed to prefer the hula grub.”
On Day Two they made a 25 minute run from Bull Shoals Boat Dock up into the vicinity of Lead Hill. “The water wasn’t quite as clear on the bluffs up there,” Kirch said. “There were a lot of baitfish on the bluffs, so the bite wasn’t all that deep. They were relating to the first little drop, probably 5 or 6 feet down. We caught them on that same little hula grub.”
The two met when Webb was looking to get back into a Bass Cat after several years in another brand. He found Kirch’s boat for sale online and called to inquire about it. Later on, when Kirch was traveling to Alabama for an Anglers Choice championship, he called Webb for advice. They’ve been fast friends ever since.
“The Bass Cat Family is not a joke,” Webb said. “In my opinion it’s a superior product with a great group of folks behind it.”
Name: Doug Morrow
Partner: Josh Clarke
Boat: 2013 Jaguar
Practice Lake: Crown
Bull Shoals: 6.65
The 2013 Jaguar that Doug Morrow drives is his fourth Bass Cat overall, and the third Jag that he’s towed to lakes around the south in pursuit of bass.
“I like it because I fish a lot of really big lakes,” he said of the flagship boat of the Bass Cat lineup. “I’ll never have anything else.”
Bass Cat has given him the best boat on the market, and now the company has provided the singular most memorable tournament experience of his life, too. ”It was the best tournament we’ve ever fished, as much fun as it could possibly be,” he said of the pair’s trip to Mountain Home. “We liked the format, it thrilled us to death and we loved the mystery of it. It was the coldest weather I’ve ever launched a bass boat, but that’s something we don’t ever get to do down here (in Texas) so it was part of the fun.”
This Texas pair spent their practice on Norfork, figuring that they had to make something happen in the shortest session of the two days of competition. They located “a ton of fish,” but couldn’t make much happen on that frigid Sunday morning. They rebounded nicely at Crown with 9.79 pounds to get back into the hunt entering the final day on Bull Shoals.
At Crown they merely dropped the trolling motor and made two laps of the lake throwing big red Rat-L-Traps, a staple in the Lone Star State. “We were the only people chunking and winding,” Morrow said. “It’s a good thing we have four batteries.” In fact, they power-fished throughout the entire event, supplementing their lipless cranks with billed crankbaits and football head jigs.
“We were on the exact right pattern on Bull Shoals, but it dried up on us,” Morrow recalled. “In the first 90 minutes we had three good keepers and then no bites over the next four hours.”
Despite the frigid weather and their disappearing fish on Norfork, the pair has already committed to making a concerted effort to getting back again next year.
“We talked about it on the drive home,” Clarke said. “We’re going to fish the Texas event and the GAF and do anything we can to get back in. It was a great time. I had high expectations and they went above and beyond.”
Name: Larry Whiteman
Partner: Steve Whiteman (DNF)
Boat: 2013 Eyra
Practice Lake: Bull Shoals
Bull Shoals: 10.46
Larry Whiteman of Kentucky works for UPS, and his father Steve works for FedEx in Pennsylvania, so in this era of increased online shopping and earlier and earlier Black Friday sales, this is a tough time of year for them to get away. In the end, Steve couldn’t attend the Bass Cat Owners Regional Championship, but it was his ongoing support and counsel that allowed Larry to rebound from a tough first session to have a great day on Bull Shoals.
Larry originally hails from the Keystone State, so he’s fished in cold weather before, but never when the air temperature was in the teens and the water temperature was in the 50s. “I’ve never seen so much steam coming off of the water,” he said.
So much for the northern advantage.
He spent his practice day on Bull Shoals and heading into the competition he felt confident that he’d developed three patterns – a deep jig bite, a swimbait bite and throwing a buzzbait “real shallow” – all of which he felt would translate to Norfork as well. Unfortunately, they did not, and he blanked in the first session.
“I talked to my dad while we were traveling to Crown Lake and he calmed me down a little,” the younger Whiteman said. “I was torn all to heck. I’d had every intention of going down there and winning.”
With his father’s words of encouragement in his head, he regrouped at Crown Lake and found three likely transition spots where the creek channel touched the bank. Fishing a Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait with a little bit of extra tungsten to push it deeper, he caught four bass suspended over 25 feet of water.
At Bull Shoals the next morning, he tied on a buzzbait and prepared to get to work. “As we were launching, Rick asked me if I was out of my mind. I told him I only got half as many casts as everybody else so I had to make them count.” He started with a jig and caught one decent smallmouth, but with no more bites after several hours, he started to get down on himself before he remembered his father’s words: “Drive safe, fish fast, stay off the bottle and they don’t have hands so set the hook.” With that admonition as inspiration, he put two buzzbaits (one tuned to run left, the other tuned to run right) on the deck and got to work, landing seven keepers on the day, the best five of which totaled 10.46 pounds, nearly double his Day One weight.
Whiteman had a 2006 Puma before he bought his Eyra, and he’s a committed part of the Bass Cat family because “when you pick up the phone, Rick will answer it. They’re a big company but a small company at the same time.”
With his appetite for competition whetted, he’ll likely fish two regional BCB events in 2014, all to get another shot at the big prize. “Dad and I will probably go to Alabama,” he said. “We take a trip together every year and that would be great to do together.”
Name: Jerold Britt
Partner: Howard Austin
Boat: 2010 Pantera Classic
Qualified: East Coast
Practice Lake: Norfork
Bull Shoals: 0.00
Jerold Britt and Howard Austin were the last team to qualify for this inaugural championship, earning a slot via an event on Virginia’s Pamunkey River just two weeks before the start of the Mountain Home championship. The two tidal water river experts thought the qualifying event alone was fantastic, and raved about the efforts of local BCB dealer Richard Addy and tournament director Steve Camp to make everyone feel like champions.
“I’ve known Richard for 30 years,” Austin said. “It was the first time I’ve ever met Steve Camp and I hope they realized how thankful we were for them putting on the tournament. They were both extremely helpful throughout the day.”
With little time to drive to Mountain Home, Bass Cat paid for the partners’ plane tickets to Arkansas and loaned them a boat, as they did with the Rossettis. Rick Pierce picked them up and led them on a tour of the plant where Britt’s boat was built.
“I really can’t thank the Pierce family enough,” Austin said. “It’s very unusual to be exposed that that kind of upscale treatment from people who didn’t even know us. (Elite Series pro) Kevin Short went out of his way to help us, too. In fact, everybody we met at Bass Cat would stop and talk to us. I’ve already told Rick that my next boat will be a Bass Cat. I won’t have any other boat.”
The pair practiced on Norfork, hoping to be able to make the most of the short three hour session on Sunday morning. “We found some areas for first thing in the morning, but they vacated by tournament day,” Britt said. “The cold weather must’ve chased them off to another spot.” Nevertheless, at the first two lakes they managed to catch fish on a jig, a chrome/blue Rat-L-Trap, and even an old Ozark staple, a Red Craw Wiggle Wart, a lure that they don’t use much at home in Virginia. They “caught plenty of fish” the second day, but unfortunately none that would measure.
“Would I go back?” Britt asked. “I’d say 100 percent out of 100 percent. You need to tell the rest of the world that the people who own and work for Bass Cat are the top of the world as far as people go.”
He anticipates that based on the team’s experience the competition will be tougher in the mid-Atlantic next year, so even if they don’t qualify at some point he’ll be back in Mountain Home. “I want to go back when I purchase my next boat and see it being made from the start. The people at the plant are so meticulous in everything they do. It’s just amazing to see how many different people are working on every little aspect of that boat.”