Thursday, April 24, 2008
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Bill Cochran reflects on 39 years of Optimist Club fishing tournaments
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
- Virginia’s hunting totals produce mixed results
- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
The Cave Spring Optimist Club is celebrating its 40th Smith Mountain Lake Fishing Tournament May 2-4, and by covering every last one of them I have learned that luck counts as much as skill in these events, that kids compete on even footing with granddads and you can be as aggressive or laid back as you wish. You can fish from a dock or a $100,000 boat, and you can compete in six different categories. There’s even a kid’s tournament named after me.
And if you don’t catch a thing, you know your money has gone for a good cause: the youth programs sponsored by the club.
Here is a thumbnail sketch of many of the past tournaments:
1969: John Wayne came riding into town to win the first tournament -- John Wayne, a police officer from Canton, Ohio, that is. Returning from a fishing trip to Florida, Wayne stopped off at Smith Mountain Lake, learned about the contest and won it with a 9-pound, 4.5-ounce largemouth bass. The fish was so big some observers wondered aloud if Wayne had brought it from Florida.
1970: Richard Reed of Roanoke entered the tournament’s all-time trout record, a 7.55-pound catch. Yes, in its early days, Smith Mountain Lake held a viable population of trout, even some coho salmon, mostly in the lower reaches of the impoundment. Trout were a contest category for several years.
1972: Vic Hamblett, a 24-year-old Roanoke policeman, entered the biggest largemouth yet to win the contest, a 9-pound, 10-ounce catch. It was a family affair for Hamblett. In earlier tournaments, his dad won the smallmouth category and his uncle won the muskie competition.
1973: Harry Anderson used a borrowed $9 rod and reel to catch a 9-pound, 10.5-ounce largemouth bass, thus out-fishing the other 1,950 contestants and proving that the Smith Mountain bass just keep getting bigger.
1977: Sixteen-year-old Barry Cundiff was taking a nap in a boat at 11:15 p.m. when his uncle, Steve Bowyer, told him something was tugging on the end of his line. It was the winning 2-pound, 1-ounce crappie.
1978: This was the year of the big striped bass, when James Holt entered a 26.45-pound trophy -- big then, big now. Holt didn’t have a landing net, so his brother, Wayne, dutifully rammed his hand into the fish’s mouth to bring it aboard.
1979: Doug Dellinger’s lure sailed farther than he intended and appeared to be in danger of entangling in shoreline cover when a 29.29-pound muskie rescued it. That mark still stands as the all-time record for muskie in the contest, a species that has become a no-show in recent years.
1980: The striped bass keep getting bigger. Merle Boitnott landed the tournament’s all-time champ, a fish that weighed 30.99 pounds.
1981: When asked what he was going to do with his $600 winnings, Charles Treadway of Clear Creek, W.Va., said he would buy new tackle. The 25.81-pound muskie he caught pretty well ripped apart the gear he had.
1983: John Fitzgerald of Roanoke became the first angler to place first in two categories the same year, landing a 7.06-pound largemouth and a 25.07-pound muskie.
1984: Bass fishing is growing tough. None of the 1,328 contestants was able to enter a largemouth that met the 5-pound minimum-size limit.
1985: Ruby Murphy started fishing at noon on a Saturday and still was on the water 2 a.m. Sunday when she caught the winning 9.44-pound catfish. “I was going to fish until I caught something,” said the Roanoker.
1986: How would a real bass pro do fishing this tournament? James Dudley won the bass category with a 6.84 largemouth. Earlier, Dudley had fished the BASS Master Classic. His son, David, went on to win millions in bass tournaments.
1987: Buster McRoy of Vinton had earned the reputation of being a darn good local bass tournament angler, but when it came to this tournament he figured -- correctly -- that his best chance was to catch a big crappie. So he reeled in the winning 1.94-pound fish. Be aware, McRoy’s name is going to come up again.
1988: Everything appeared to be going Vicki Finney’s way. The 13.64-pound catfish she landed was leading the tournament. The final day of the contest was both Mother’s Day and her birthday. Guess who spoiled her party? Husband Barry, who bumped her fish with a 14.84-pound cat.
1989: Forget the idea you need a $30,000 boat to win this tournament. Fifteen-year old Anthony Hackney did it from a dock when he landed a 10.86-pound catfish.
1990: Buster McRoy won the crappie category -- again.
1991: Tournament officials disqualified three of the contest leaders for arriving late at the weigh-in, and a fourth for failing the required polygraph test.
1992: Barry and Richie Thurman located a concentration of slab-size crappie during pre-contest practice, but when the tournament began heavy rain turned the water beet red with mud. The two Franklin County brothers stuck to their hole and Barry caught a 3-pound crappie that was a contest record.
1993: Mark Spangler felt a twitch after casting his plastic worm to a brush pile in Beaver Dam Creek, but when he set the hook he felt nothing but dead weight. “I’m hung up,” he told his partner. Then a 21.84-pound, contest-winning catfish began stretching his 8-pound line.
1994: Buster McRoy won the crappie category -- again.
1995: On his first cast, Fallon Arthur hooked a crappie so huge he figured the other 727 contestants would be fishing for second place. “I bet it went 4 pounds,” he said. But when it came to the surface for the third time the hook pulled free. Dejected, Arthur began casting again. On the second try he hooked another big crappie, and lost it. The next cast he hooked the 2.30-pound contest winner.
1997: “I have a certain spot I’ve probably caught over 100 catfish citations,” said Donald Horn of Wirtz. This time, the spot turned out the 21.04-pound winning catch. Where is this place? “That’s all I’m going to say,” Horn replied.
2003: What does a $1,000 fish taste like? Well, good, but not that good. James Hubbard landed a nice walleye and decided a fish fry was more appealing than a tournament win. As it turned out, no one entered a walleye, so the $1,000 first-place prize was unclaimed.
2005: The Bill Cochran Youth Tournament became a function of the contest, with special small fish and large fish categories for youngsters. Bill Cochran? That name sounds familiar. Oh yeah, he’s the guy who brags about covered all 39 of the tournaments and plans to be there for the 40th.
2006: Brothers Jerrett and Garrett Williams of North Tazewell dominated the Big Fish Category of the Bill Cochran Youth Tournament. Jerrett entered the largest fish, a 7.26-pound catfish. His brother was a close second with a 7.24-pound catch. Maybe the fish also were brothers.
2007: Following a 26-year absence, striped bass were reinstated as a contest category. None was landed the first day of the contest; nor the second. Then two appeared at the weigh-in the final day, the winner a hefty 24.50-pounder landed by Carlos Brown of Hardy. The only other striper entered was a 19.50-pound catch by Gary Ayers. By the way, Ayers won the catfish category.
2008: Entry blanks for the 2008 tournament can be found at most tackle shops and many other businesses around the lake and in the surrounding areas. Tournament spokesman Ike Harris said the Optimist Club isn’t doing anything special to celebrate the 40th anniversary, other than increasing the entry fee to $40. “Forty years, $40,” he laughed. That may not be funny to some, but in reality the fee is boosted a modest $5 every 5 years. The money benefits the club’s youth programs. Don’t forget that on Saturday of the event there is the Bill Cochran Youth Tournament. Youngster fish for free when accompanied by a paying adult. Prizes include savings bonds.