Alex Wetherell of Middletown, Conn., caught 26 pounds, 12 ounces over three days to take the title on the Connecticut River during the Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Divisional held out of Hartford, Conn., Friday. Photo by Tyler Wade/B.A.S.S.
The 22-year-old angler came in with only four fish on the final day of the tournament. Even though he knew the four largemouth he had were good ones, he wasn’t convinced he could pull out a win with them.
“I was heading in from an hour-and-a-half ride, and I thought as I got closer, I could stop and cast some more,” said Wetherell, a student at Central Connecticut State University. “I stopped at one spot, but I didn’t get any bites.
“Then, instead of stopping any more, I decided to play it safe and come in,” he said. “And I guess it worked out.”
Wetherell’s name is familiar to long-time fans of the sport because five years ago, he hoisted a B.A.S.S. trophy over his head. He was the 2010 Junior Bassmaster World champion when he was just 17. He then went on to fish as many other events as he could with the aim of becoming a professional bass fisherman.
Now, he’s made one big step toward that goal by securing a berth in the 2015 Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, Nov. 5-7, in Monroe, La. If he wins his division there, he’ll advance to the bass fishing world’s biggest stage, the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
“I’ve had some really good mentors,” Wetherell said. “Terry Baksay mentored me throughout the Junior Bassmaster program, and Dan Stevens has taught me how to become an ever better fisherman as an adult. I used to only want to fish my strengths, but now I’m open to whatever will help me win.”
Those lessons came in handy during the Eastern Divisional, when he had to change course to upgrade his weight.
“I had been targeting smallmouth each morning, and really throughout the day,” Wetherell said. “But today, I scrapped all that and targeted only largemouth.”
That decision landed him one of the only two double-digit sacks in the competition. His weight increased daily, from 6 pounds, 5 ounces of smallmouth on Wednesday, to 9 pounds, 11 ounces of largemouth on Thursday, to a 10-pound, 12-ounce catch on Friday, the final day.
It was also helpful that the two anglers ahead of him — Day 2 leader Jamie Hartman of New York, and David Dziob of Connecticut, who caught the biggest bag of the tournament on Day 2 — weighed in bags of 2 and 3 pounds, respectively, on Friday.
Wetherell was grateful that he was familiar with the Connecticut River.
“There’s no way to figure out this river in a week or two,” he said. “You have to know certain rocks, certain grass areas, that the bass only get on at certain times of the year. And then you have to hit them at the right tides.
“You could work a certain grassline or piece of wood and get nothing, but then half an hour later, when the tide has changed, you could come back and it’s a whole different story.”
Remembering that fish could change that quickly was key for Wetherell.
“My early morning spot for Wednesday and Thursday was a sand flat down south in Middleton with small bunches of eelgrass,” he explained. “They get up on those flats and feed.”
There, he caught two smallmouth on a topwater on Wednesday and a 12-incher that he later culled on Thursday.
His next area was the Salmon River in Haddam, where he caught three 2-pound-plus largemouth on a Texas rigged worm on Thursday afternoon.
Those catches inspired him to chase only largemouth on the final day, making that hour-and-a-half run south on Friday where he could fish the outgoing tide early in the morning. There, he caught a 3 1/2-pound largemouth dragging a tube and a 4-pounder with a crankbait.
He felt that two of the spots he had hit earlier on Friday to no avail were worth a revisit. He went back and caught his other two bass, right off the same tree.
That’s when he decided to head back to weigh-in. His fishing time was cut short by his long run, and he left his area at 12:30 to get back in, even though he was short of a limit.
By being the top angler on the Connecticut team, Wetherell qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. Alongside him will be the following other team winners: Robert Williamson, Maine; George Barnes, Massachusetts; Dave Andrews, New Hampshire; Casey Smith, New York; Charles Sim, Ontario; Brian Croteau, Rhode Island; Cesar Ventura Pecellin Munoz, Spain; and Skip Sjobeck, Vermont.
In a close race among the states, New York won for having the highest cumulative weight. Its 14 members brought in 155 pounds, 8 ounces. Right behind New York was the home team of Connecticut with 149-12. The next-closest state was Vermont with 104-8.
Another competition was taking place simultaneously, too. Each state sent its high school champions to compete on the Connecticut River alongside the adults. Doug Marino and Noah Winslow of Connecticut, with their coach, Terry Baksay, were the top performers among the high school teams with 10 pounds, 2 ounces. Their next-closest competitors were Ben Wiitala and Damon Coleman of Rhode Island with 9-9.
The biggest bass of the Eastern Divisional was caught by Dave Andrews of Massachusetts on Day 1, at 4 pounds, 10 ounces. Jamie Hartman won the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for leading on the second day, and Skip Sjobeck won the A.R.E. Top Angler Award of $250 for being the highest-finishing A.R.E. Truck Caps owner in the tournament.
This divisional was the final one of the season, and now all the contenders for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship have qualified. Stay tuned to Bassmaster.com leading up to and during the championship, Nov. 5-7, for news regarding amateur bass fishing’s biggest championship.
2015 B.A.S.S. Nation Title Sponsor: Old Milwaukee
2015 B.A.S.S. Nation Premier Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, GoPro, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha
2015 B.A.S.S. Nation Supporting Sponsors: A.R.E. Accessories, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Huk, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Nationwide, Power-Pole, Rigid Industries, Shimano
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