MOUNTAIN HOME, AR (November 15, 2017) – Another year, another trophy to adorn the mantel of the Cook family home.
The father/son team of Roger and Corey Cook, fishing out of Corey’s 1999 Pantera III, won the 2017 Bass Cat National Team Championship by a meager margin of .32 pounds, completing their “three peat” in a two-day, four lake marathon format that they seem to have mastered. They weighed in 18 fish for 35.95 pounds en route to Roger’s third victory in this event and his second with Corey as his partner.
Wilt Pappa and Austin Felix of Minnesota were second with 18 bass for 35.63 pounds and Chuck Campbell and Mike Szezechowski from the Lake of the Ozarks division were third with 12 for 29.26.
Pappa and Felix led through three of the four rounds of fishing, but the Cooks were the only team to bring two double digit limits to the scales on Day Two, and that was the difference. They had spent time on Table Rock the week before, acclimating themselves to the state of the Ozarks fisheries, but their familiarity with this format and tournaments like it may have been the difference-maker.
“We fish a lot of 3 ½ hour tournaments at Lake of the Ozarks,” Corey said. “That plays a big part in it. We’ve learned to go out and catch them quick.”
Both father and son said that while they prefer to target big fish, the key in these lightning rounds was to dial things in as quickly as possible and make sure to get some scorable bass in the Pantera’s livewell. “It helps if you can crack ‘em in at least one round, but you have to be consistent. Then, when you have an opportunity to lean on them, you have to do it.” That’s the plan they followed to a “T,” staying alive on Day One with decent catches, and then turning up the heat on Day Two. A big part of their success is attributable to the same ¾ ounce homemade jig that bought their international ticket the last time around. It’s peanut butter in color – “no jelly in it,” Corey said – and they pair it with either a Fat Albert Grub or a Super Speed Craw, both in green pumpkin, and fish the rig on G.Loomis rods, Lew’s reels and 20 lb. test Seaguar fluorocarbon. “You dance with the one that brung you,” the younger Cook said.
After leading the event through the first three rounds, the Minnesota team of Pappa and Felix had a shot at the win, but their fifth fish on Tuesday afternoon would only occasionally measure on the courtesy bump board. Eventually they elected to throw it back. Had it measured, they would have won by 2 pounds.
“I wouldn’t do anything different,” said Pappa. They caught most of their fish on their favorite Keitech swimbaits, rigged on a simple swimbait head. “It’s versatile and realistic and you can fish it in the trees. We use it up north all of the time. We went through a lot of them this week.” In the clear water, it required light tackle, including 6 or 8 pound test fluorocarbon leaders with a braid main line, spooled on a 3500 size Shimano spinning reel. Felix said that his only regret is that they didn’t fish it more, instead trying to force other techniques on the bass.
While their tackle selection may have been simple, Pappa’s Bass Cat Eyra gave them the confidence to address whatever conditions came at them. “I’ve owned other brands, but from the moment I got in this one I liked the way it drives,” he said. “It can get up in shallow water and you stay dry in the rough stuff. We like to run and gun and this can get us into areas where other boats won’t or can’t go. Austin and I fish a lot of team tournaments together and the big compartments make a difference. We must’ve had 40 rods in the boat and we had plenty of room to move around.”
While Felix runs a different brand, he admitted the Eyra sometimes has a huge advantage over any other boat in their local derbies. During a recent team championship, they committed to making a long run, including a lock, to a very small key spot. “We ran his boat because we knew it would get there fast,” he explained. “We ran 250 miles in two days and we won the tournament off that spot because we maximized our fishing time.”
Although third place finishers Chuck Campbell and Mike Szezechowski dug themselves a hole with a 4.15 pound catch at Table Rock, they came roaring back with a tournament best limit that weighed 14.96 pounds at Taneycomo before ultimately falling short. Nevertheless, Campbell said that they loved the format. “It wasn’t just a regular 7 to 3 tournament,” he said. “You had to think differently and adapt. The guys who managed to adapt did the best. We were too slow to adapt. At three of the sessions we figured something out in the last 20 minutes.” Like all of the contestants, he raved about the camaraderie and the Bass Cat Family. “The reason I run a Bass Cat is because of the people behind it. I’ve worked in customer service for the last 17 years, and Bass Cat sets the gold standard, not just in the fishing industry, but in the world.”
Campbell and Szezechowski won the Lake of the Ozarks qualifier, which is the Cooks’ usual stomping grounds, but due to a conflict they had to take a different route to the NTC. Campbell joked that he hopes to be back next year “if we can get the Cooks to fish another division. They’re not just great fishermen, but great guys.”
Fifth place team Hunter Hayes and Jason Grape were the only entrants who capitalized on the ability to weigh in trout at Taneycomo, bringing two of them to the scales.
Now the Cooks, who have quickly filled up space on their passports, will head back to Mexico’s Lake Picachos, courtesy of Ron Speed Adventures. Last year they caught over 400 fish on their final day of fishing on the relatively new impoundment. This year, Rick Pierce has challenged them to improve upon that mark.
“It would be hard to outdo last year,” Roger said. “But with a stick like Corey, I’m going to shoot for 500. Of course, if we do that, I’ll probably catch 200 and he’ll catch 300.”
No one will be surprised if they achieve that feat. Indeed, these two related members of the “Bass Cat family” seem to outdo their previous year’s efforts every time they’re on a big stage.
About Bass Cat: Bass Cat, owned by Correct Craft, manufactures the industry’s premier bass fishing boats from its headquarters in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Family operated since it’s founding in 1971, Bass Cat is the longest continuously operating tournament bass boat company in the United States. For more information visit www.basscat.com.
About Correct Craft: Celebrating 92 years of excellence in the marine industry, Correct Craft is a Florida-based company with global operations. The Correct Craft family includes Nautique, Centurion, Supreme, Bass Cat, Yar-Craft, SeaArk, and Bryant boat companies, Pleasurecraft Engine Group, and Aktion Parks. For more information please visit www.correctcraft.com.