Dearman competes in All American Championship
East Texas is well known for its abundance of quality fishing waters, anglers and tournament trails. The Cowboy Region of the Red Man tournament trail is one of its 22 divisions with the typical competition field hosting 150-200 anglers per event on East Texas lakes. Anglers earn points based on pounds and the top 30 competitors advance to the regional tournament. The top eight from this event (four in the west) advance to the Red Man All-American championship for a competition field of fifty anglers.
Slade Dearman of Onalaska was the sole Texan to qualify for the 1999 Red Man All-American championship. Dearman, 29, is a competitive angler in the Red Man, Everstart and B.A.S.S. Top 150 events. With both parents as competitive tournament anglers, Dearman had grown up around tournaments and competes in many events along side his dad, Randy. His mother, Carol Dearman, competed in the Bass'N Gal circuit and held the record for the largest tournament stringer.
Dearman approached his participation in the tournament trail by choosing to compete in the Ozark Region rather than the local Cowboy Region. The Ozark Region's fishing waters include Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Grand Lake and the Truman Reservoir. Believing he could make the top thirty cut to qualify for the regional, he chose the Ozark Region because their qualifier for the championship was scheduled to be held on Lake Sam Rayburn, a water close to home and fished often. This winning strategy would pay off for Dearman.
The Red Man All-American championship was scheduled for Pools 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the Mississippi River, LaCrosse Wisconsin.
After making the top eight cut to qualify for the event, Dearman networked with friends that had competed in the previous championship held on the same waters and with friends who lived near LaCrosse.
During the two pre-fish days, Dearman located quality smallmouths by locking south of LaCrosse into Pool No. 6. There he had located areas of beaver huts, timber and grass in small waterways with current, but his primary focus would be the deeper sloping banks consistently holding the smallies.
Along these banks, he would throw a lime green back/frost belly Bomber Long A. Ripping and jerking the lure would prove to catch smallies weighing approximately three pounds and considered to be trophy fish for this area.
Going into the tournament, the favored anglers would include the top three finishers from the previous championship. Kim Carver (Millidegeville, GA), the returning champion, had earned the heart of the LaCrosse community by organizing and donating some of his winnings to a program which teaches angling skills to area youth. The program provides tackle and rods the young anglers can check out (like library books) to use those skills.
As an Operation Bass press/angler for the event, this writer was matched with Dearman as his observer and angling partner on day two of the official pre-fish. Red Man would conduct the pre-fish days along the rules of the competition days. The anglers would launch, fish, and check-in to be driven to a coliseum for the drive-through weigh in. The fishing for this day would prove to reaffirm Dearman's strategy but important pre-fish time was lost as ten teams waited nearly two hours to lock back into Pool No. 7 due to commercial traffic. The potential time lost in locking to another pool was an important factor to the competitors when choosing fishing locations.
Conditions on the Mississippi River included scattered clouds and showers, daily changing currents, and water temperatures varying from 72 to 76 degrees. The dark brown water had a visibility of two to three inches and a variety of lure colors were successful. Anglers would fish jettys and bank riprap, standing timber, boat slips and houses and grass. The anglers were outfitted in identical red Ranger Boats and were presented to the crowd each day following an honor guard opening ceremony.
On day one of the competition, Dearman would lock through and return to the steep banks searching for smallies with the Long A. Bob Groene, a press/angler from the Moline Dispatch (IL) would observe Dearman locate and boat three keeper smallies weighing 6.9-lbs. Groene stated that Dearman had no problem locating quality fish at this location but several excited keeper smallies (estimated about 3 pounds each) would get off Dearmans lure prior to being boated.
The leader on day one would be a 37-year old boat mechanic from Mojave Valley (near Phoenix), Arizona. Mike Baldwin, who fishes the waters of Arizona, California and Nevada, had not been considered to be a top angler going into this event. Few West anglers were, but Baldwin would locate a drop-off near a point in the Black River of Pool No. 7 with the assistance of his press angler on the first pre-fish day. He watched on his electronics as his press/angler felt a hit on his grub. As Baldwin checked out the drop-off, both quality smallies and blacks were found.
On competition day one, as he bounced a Berkley 4-inch black grub up the rocky slope, Baldwin would land four bass from the honey hole. He would run south to Goose Lake where he landed his largest fish on a pumpkin/chartreuse Junior Zipper. As Baldwins press/angler, I recorded thirteen keeper bass released before he reached his limit at 9:30. I watched as he had to decide with each keeper whether to keep or release due to Wisconsin law and I was glad it wasn't up to me to decide. Then we went pre-fishing. He would bring a limit weighing 11.6 lbs. to the scales, which would place him as the leader going into day two.
A state regulation few anglers had seen before would place a new twist on tournament conditions. Wisconsin has a no cull (or sort) law. According to state fishing regulations, fish can be released upon landing without the fish considered to be in the angler's possession. A daily limit of five 14-inch bass can be kept in possession. A fish become part of the daily bag limit upon placement into the boats livewell. Once the fish is placed into the livewell, it cannot be removed and replaced with another keeper bass. Once five bass are placed in the livewell, wardens stated that all fishing is to cease unless the hooks are removed or bent so as not to hook the fish. With the law reading that catch-and-release (at the time of landing) is legal and that fish are in-possession when placed in livewell, many anglers proceeded to pre-fish for the next day after catching their limit.
Dearman would fish day two of the competition as the previous day. The smallies were found in similar conditions throughout Pool No. 6 and continued to bite the green Long A. Dearman arrived at weigh in with a bag of 9.2 lbs. to earn him 24th place and $2000 for the event. He reported locating and hooking quality smallmouths; however, he lost several good fish that would have moved him up the rankings substantially.
Baldwin pulled a limit of bass from his honey hole but was more conservative on day two keeping a couple of smaller fish to ensure a limit was caught. He would place his fifth bass in the livewell twenty minutes after he began fishing using a Berkley 4-inch smoke grub. He then ran the trolling motor in a circle over his honey hole for the remainder of the day. Keeping the smaller fish would put him in third place of day two with a weight of 9.9 lbs. Tim Fleetwood, a postmaster from Forseyth Missouri, would be second with 10.10 lbs., and Samo would become the new leader after locating five quality blacks with a weight of 10.13 lbs.
Rounding out the top ten anglers to advance to day three of the All-American would be Chris Baldwin with 10.9 lbs.; Butch Dobransky (Canton, OH) 10.9 lbs.; Lamontie Walters (Warner Robins, GA) 9.10 lbs.; Greg Ault (Hot Springs, AR) 8.15 lbs.; Jeff Lewis (E. Bernstadt, KY) 9.15 lbs.; Spence Brunson (Salisbury, NC) 8.15 lbs.; and Dwaine Williams (Greenup, KY) 7.14 lbs. Williams was the Wild Card Regional Winner and became the first minority angler to advance into the championship.
Day three of the championship would have camera boats from ESPN2 following the anglers. Tommy Sanders (ESPN) would emcee the weigh-in and Charlie Evans (Operation Bass COO) would act as weighmaster. The show is tentatively scheduled to air in August Baldwin would return to his honey hole, which stayed sweet. Still lacking two fish, Baldwin panicked when a large private boat crossed over his spot. With camera crews and other spectators stationed around him, there was no place for the boat to go but over his spot. However, within a couple of casts after the boats passing, two quality bass were landed and kept. Twenty-three minutes had passed since he dropped the trolling motor and began fishing. The fish had not bit the grub this day so he switched to a Chompers jig head and Watermelon Red Yamamato Hula skirted grub with twin tails. It was reported to this writer by staff and anglers shortly after launch that Baldwins camera crew had called in and requesting approval to return to headquarters. Baldwin would sit the remainder of the day wondering if he had been too conservative or the other competitors had located larger fish.
At the time of weigh-in, the anglers were presented to the crowd and their bags weighed in the reverse order of their standings. While some were bumped from the lead, Mike Baldwin took the lead with 32.11 lbs. over Chris Baldwin and Lamontie Walters (tied with 29.10 lbs). Fleetwoods 7.6 lbs.
wouldn't knock Baldwin out. When Samo's bag was revealed, only three blacks were weighed in at 5.7 lbs. Samo had locked north into Pool No. 7 but lost valuable fishing time due to commercial traffic at the lock. Baldwin had doubted he had a chance of winning until learning of Samo's three-fish bag.
Mike Baldwin would become the 1999 Red Man All-American Champion with a total of 32.11 lbs. earning him $100,000, a bronze trophy, and champion jacket and ring. He also earns a place on the FLW Tour. He would thank Tracker Marine, Yamamato Baits, Able Rods and Zipper Worms for their assistance in getting him to the championship. At the banquet, he also thanked his press/anglers citing that they photographed and wrote while on the water, but they also fished and what he learned from them helped him put together a better picture of the fish on the Mississippi.
From this writers perspective (and as competitive Texas angler), the tournament was a very high-quality event. The anglers dealt with the changing river conditions and the no-cull rule with professionalism. Slade Dearman represented Texas well in his fishing the championship. Though he had difficulty landing some bigger smallmouths, he fished the waters and found quality fish. Had he been able to cull, smaller keepers might have moved him up the ranks.
Many anglers reported catching keeper fish but releasing in the hope of locating larger fish. Others reported keeping 14-inch fish to ensure a limit was weighed in. Had the no-cull rule not been in place, it is likely top ten would have been different. I believe Baldwin would still have had a good chance to be the champion due to the quality of both smallies and blacks concentrated at his honey hole, but several other anglers might have made the top ten cut including Dearman.
As a Texas angler and writer, I was extremely grateful to return to Texas where the bass are bigger, waters clearer, and our state's catch-and-release rules allow the skill of the angler to advance him rather than gambling on luck.
Karen Wiseman Taylor is a competitive bass angler fishing Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. She is a member of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association, and can be reached at (806) 323-8720 or at email@example.com.
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