It’s Official … FInally!

American Bass Anglers (ABA) logoLast Saturday night, I teamed up with my new tourney partner, Rob Billingsley, for the first time to fish the American Bass Anglers (ABA) Night Series at Lake Piru. While it was very exciting to get back into the tournament swing after a brief hiatus, and we ended up doing fairly well, it took until just yesterday to enjoy the fruits of our efforts. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me start from the beginning.
I hadn’t taken 10 steps out of my car upon arriving at the lake when a guy comes driving up to me with his boat in tow, hangs out the window, points at me, and says “Mark?!?” with a quizzical look. Hey … it’s my new partner! We had talked and texted our way to this point, but had never met face to face. After loading my gear into his sled, we waited at the main ramp parking lot for nearly an hour before we realized that registration and the launch were happening at the secondary ramp over near the swim beach. So, we jumped into our trucks and made tracks as quickly as we could on the one-lane road to the ramp.
While we waited in line at the registration trailer I was noticing a few good sticks waiting as well. Don Iovino, Kevin Johnson, Joe Uribe (Sr. AND Jr.), just to name a few, were all fishing the same tourney! I was getting jacked!!
With 35 boats taking part, and ABA tournament director Jason Sutherland getting a late start, the wait to register took a while. When it was finally our turn, Rob pulled the first chip … #38. I said, “I should be able to beat that!” I couldn’t! Number 39!! That clearly put us into the second flight, which didn’t launch until 7:30pm – an hour and a half late. This was going to be a long night since weigh-in was now pushed back until 1:30am for our flight.
We started out at a point I had fished the week before in a Ventura Bass Club night tourney. One week later, at nearly the exact same time, in the exact same spot (you could have put a GPS on it), with the exact same bait (an Ima Skimmer), I had the exact same thing happen … a huge blow up that completely whiffed on the bait! Can you say “Deja vu”?!? I then had two more topwater swings and misses on an 11″ Venice Slammer. I was getting frustrated, to say the least. In the meantime, my partner had put a rat that barely measured into the livewell on a topwater bait.
We started working points when Rob added his second fish, a nice 2.5 pounder, on a reaction bait. We didn’t get anymore love so we slow motored (5 MPH max after dark) over to the dam where the club tourney had basically been won, and where I had done some damage, the week before. What a difference a week makes! It was like a desert over there. No bites and nothing on the graphs.
So, again we slow motored our way nearly two-thirds of the way back up the lake to some nice points. Most were occupied by squatters, but we found a sweet one and began working it with reaction baits. On his third cast, Rob hit a nice 3 pounder and I quickly followed with my first fish of the night … a solid 2.5 pounder. Soon after, I hooked into a huge fish on a deep diving crankbait, which battled me for about 5 seconds before coming unbuttoned – or so it seemed. When I reeled in the suddenly awkward feeling line, only the bill remained! The fish had broken my crankbait in half … a first for me! We tried working the point for more but came up empty. We made a few moves close by but couldn’t find any similar structure.
With time running short, we slow motored across and up the lake further where we found a few more worthy points. Rob, finally rounded out our limit with another rat that was barely bigger than his first fish. Yes, we had a limit, but it didn’t figure to fare well. Needless to say, I was feeling very frustrated and was thinking that I had really let my team down. With only 15 minutes left, I casted into a small cove with my reaction bait and after two turns of the handle thought I had snagged some heavy grass. But, when my line suddenly started running for deeper water, I knew I had fish on! Big fish!! I battled her to the boat and after several scoops with the net, we finally had our biggest fish of the night on board. A sweet 4.3 pounder that brought our total to 13.85 pounds and moved us from 28th place to a respectable 12th place finish (with the 6th largest fish) … or so we thought.

Official ABA tourney photo of Rob Billingsley and Mark "Caveman" Avery

Official ABA tourney photo of our catch … well, at least the parts that aren’t cutoff! 😉

After getting our weigh ticket, Rob and I realized that we had likely finished out of the money. So, we said our goodbyes and headed home. After all, it was nearly 3am and we were both pretty cooked. The next day, when I looked at the tourney results on the ABA website, we were listed as tied for last with 0 fish! I quickly called Jason thinking there had been some clerical error. However, he informed me that after we had left a team filed a protest claiming we were late coming in which, of course, would have disqualified us. After telling Jason that there was no possible way we were late and had in fact checked in with the ABA rep on the dock, I called Rob and had him phone the TD with his side of the story. Well, it took a week, a week during which both Rob and I had emotions ranging from disbelief to outright anger, we finally got word that our original finishes were indeed official. Apparently, it was a case of mistaken identity. But, it also has given us a valuable lesson: never leave the tournament site until everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, has been declared official.

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