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Big Bass Splash® Pays Big Wins as Rita Blows Big Winds
By Robin Johnston, Sealy Outdoors, Inc.

 

Sam Rayburn, Texas

Lake Fork Marina was the setting of the 19th Annual Lake Fork McDonald's Big Bass Splash® over the weekend of September 23 - 25. While some doubted that the event would go on, over 2,700 anglers proved that not even a Texas sized storm could dampen the spirits of a Splash®.

During registration on Thursday, Bob Sealy and crew encouraged anglers to pay close attention to safety and take precautions throughout the weekend, particularly on Saturday when the forecast was calling for gusty winds and rain from the after effects of Hurricane Rita as it made its way North from the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to taking these precautions, anglers were reminded that the Big Bass Splash® can be fished from any ramp on the lake and fish trailered in, as well as allowing anglers to fish from the bank. In fact, big money has been won by an angler fishing from an inner tube in years past!

Friday got things started off in a big way when during the first hour of the tournament Bryan Bolton, of Trenton Texas, presented weigh master Mike Wheatley with a lunker to put on the scales. The fish weighed in at 12.05 pounds and would remain at the top of the leader board for the duration of the weekend. His closest challenger on that day would be Jerry Moon of Yantis, Texas with his catch of 10.16 pounds. The day wrapped up with all anglers asking about the Exact Weight Bonus Boat which was to have gone to the first angler to weigh in an exact 2.50 pound bass; it wasn't weighed in, so the good news was that all entered tournament contestants would have a chance to win it through a drawing to be held on Sunday.

Saturday brought dozens more anglers to register for the tournament as Sealy and crew met them with smiles and further cautions for the day on the water. It didn't take long once the fishing got underway for another challenger to present a big bass for the scales. Sharee Anglin, of Princeton, Texas, took over second place on the leader board with her 10.58 pound bass during the 8-9 o'clock hour. The day continued until early afternoon when the wind picked up and Bob announced through the official radio station, KMOO 99.9, that anglers should trailer their fish back to the weigh-in site at Lake Fork Marina. Many did just that and continued to weigh in CASH winning fish. Once again, the Exact Weight Bonus Boat wasn't claimed and so all anglers could look forward to yet another drawing at the tournaments end.

On Sunday morning the storm had all but passed and Lake Fork was left with beautiful blue skies, a light wind, and thousands of anglers from all over the country out to catch a bass to beat Bryan Bolton's 12.05 pounder that was still holding the lead. Working with a skeleton staff as some had returned to the Sealy Outdoors, Inc. home base in Jasper, Texas and Lake Sam Rayburn, the Sealy crew carried on with the event and weighed fish after fish for anglers from as far away as Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. Many had never experienced a Splash® event before and were welcomed into the spirit of things as they were seated under the top twelve tent and one by one bumped down to the "hot seat", or the last paid place of each hour. This was in addition to the thousands of regulars from all parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Alabama who were vying for the hourly money as well as looking for that elusive 2.50 exact weigh bonus bass!

It finally happened in the 1-2 o'clock hour; Jeffrey Shows of Dodson, Louisiana brought in the Exact Weight fish. After anglers had hit close to it all day with a 2.52, 2.57, and 2.48, his was the first exact 2.50 pound fish that would net him a Triton 1753 boat rigged with a 60 hp. Mercury engine. Also brought in during that hour was a challenge to the top fish as Gordon Chadwick of Rockwall, Texas weighed one at 11.04. It was enough to bump Sharee's to third, but not enough to take over Bryan's lead.

As the day came to a close at 3:00 PM, the Awards ceremony was anxiously awaited by a throng of anglers hoping to win one of the Bonus boats from the Elimination Drawing game, and of course, the two remaining Exact Weight bonus boats as well as the public drawing for the Cherokee Travel Trailer. Getting things started off was the presentation of the Ronald McDonald House® and Select Charities donation check. Each year, $5 of every entry fee is donated to the owner/operator of the sponsoring McDonald's restaurants, at this event, Dale Trahan of the Paris, Commerce, and Sulphur Springs restaurants. Despite the present situation with Hurricane Rita, previous arrangements had been announced that this year's donation would be split between the RMH Charities and disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina victims. That total came to $13,895. Throughout the history of the McDonald's Big Bass Splash® events, more than $1 million dollars has been raised and donated in this manner, a benchmark that has kept the spirit of the Big Bass Splash alive and well among both staff and anglers.

Prizes for the event were then presented beginning with the Little Anglers who had fished until noon for bass, bream, crappie, and catfish and would receive plaques and Academy Sports & Outdoors gift cards for their catches. The hourly checks followed with anglers crossing the stage and accepting congratulations from Bob and crew and led up to the overall prize presentations including the H2 Hummer and Triton boat, powered by Mercury and equipped with Minn Kota trolling and Lowrance Electronics, going to Bryan Bolton. Gordon Chadwick took the Dodge Truck, Sharee Anglin the Cherokee Travel Trailer, Derek Brooks of McAlester, Oklahoma a Honda ATV for his 10.41 pound catch in 4th place, and finally, Jerry Moon collecting another Honda ATV for his fish that remained to round out the top five.

All angler entry forms were turned out into a tub and five drawn out for the Elimination Boat Bonus. After this game of fun with Bob pitting one angler against the next, the last angler remaining on stage and the winner of another Triton boat was Billy Pfeil of Alba, Texas. Next up was the drawing for the two unclaimed Exact Weight boats and those went to Clifton McKay of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Gary Mott of Pollock, Louisiana.

In yet another bonus drawing game, the Early Bird Bonus, five anglers were drawn from those who had entered prior to September 1 and were rewarded with Academy Gift Certificates in the amount of $200 each. These lucky and timely anglers are: Michael Mixson of Texarkana, Arkansas, Rodney Ellis of Sulphur Springs, Texas, George Nettles of Livingston, Texas, Myron Sims of Quitman, Texas, and Royce Michener of Ft. Worth, Texas.

To close the event, Bob promised more Big Bass Splash® fun next year as the event would be making it's 20th Annual appearance on Lake Fork at Lake Fork Marina on September 22 - 24th. More fun, more prizes, more fishing, and hopefully a bit less wind will be there along with thousands of anglers vying for Big Cash on Little Bass in next year's event!

 

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