A violent afternoon thunderstorm Monday cut short Caleb Sumrall’s big moment on stage for the final weigh-in for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
The New Iberia bass pro came oh-so close to winning the sixth stop on the circuit with a strong showing on the legendary lake in northern Alabama. He rolled to the stage to weigh his limit right after Chad Pipkens of Lansing, Michigan, soon after the best 10 anglers from the tournament and the crowd were warned of a fast-approaching storm by emcee Dave Mercer.
Mercer kept the chit-chat to the bear minimum before and after weighing Pipken’s appearance and was even briefer with Sumrall, the sixth angler to put his bag of bass on the scale for tournament director and weighmaster Trip Weldon. Mercer called out Sumrall’s weight of 20 pounds, 1-ounce, for a four-day total of 77 pounds, 10 ounces, which was good enough for a fourth-place finish and $15,000.
The New Iberian told the crowd and a live Internet audience he had a great time and enjoyed the stay in the Scottsboro before hustling off the stage to make way for Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tennessee.
Nine of the Top 10 anglers couldn’t equal or better the catch that day of Jamie Hartman, a Russellville, Arkansas, bass pro who put 23 pounds, 10 ounces, on the scale before all hell broke loose weather-wise for a four-day total of 79 pounds, 10 ounces.
Sumrall, 32, did his talking on the water. He made the Top 10 cut for the first time in his 1 ½-year pro bass fishing career after three days of fishing with pounds to spare in only his first visit to Lake Guntersville.
There must be a little Frank Sinatra in the all-around outdoorsman from New Iberia. While many of the Elites fished the lake’s ledges that hold so many bass, some with giant spoons and deep-diving crank baits, he did it his way.
“I’m learning so much every day. I’m punching mats. That’s what I do back home,” Sumrall said Sunday.
His skill with that technique paid off as he had three 20-pound-plus five-bass limits in the four-day event … a 20-2 on Day 1, when he settled into 13th place, and a 20-13 on Day 3 to jump into the Top 10 and a final day stringer weighing 20-1.
His wife, Jacie Chauvin Sumrall, who was there with their daughter, Clélié, and son, Axel, called it a “rollercoaster,” an emotional four days of ups and downs, mostly ups.
The Sumralls have a summer of as much family time together as possible — he also guides at Toledo Bend — before he hits the road for his next tournament in New York state.
“I’ve got a little break, then I head up north. We’ll see how that goes up there, for sure,” Sumrall said Monday night, referring to Elite stops Aug. 15-18 on the St. Lawrence River in Waddington, New York, then Aug. 22-25 at Cayuga Lake in Union Springs, New York.
It’ll be a busy late summer and early fall for the up-and-coming bass pro. After the New York swing, tournaments are Sept. 19-22 at Fort Gibson Lake near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a makeup date from the tournament originally set for mid-May, and then on to the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship pitting the Top 40 on Sept. 29-Oct. 1.
After a slow start, Sumrall is getting hot as a firecracker on the Fourth of July on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
After missing the cut on the first three stops this year on the Bassmaster Elite Series, the New Iberia bass pro has crashed the Top 35 last three tournaments starting April 11-14 at Winyah Bay, Georgetown, South Carolina, then May 2-6 at Lake Fork, Emory Texas, and most recently at Lake Guntersville. He was 11th at Winyah Bay, missing the Top 10 by 8 ounces, and 24th at Lake Fork.
His ultimate goal is to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, which he fished as a rookie in 2018 at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. He jumpstarted his career there when he won the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in October 2017 at Lake Hartwell.
Coincidentally, the 50th Bassmaster Classic will be held in March at another site he’s familiar with at Lake Guntersville.
Most of the Top 40 qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. Sumrall goes into the next tournament in 30th place in the Angler of the Year race following his recent showing in Alabama.
“I’m back in the hunt for the Classic. That’s all anybody want to be,” he said Monday.
One of the many highlights from his time on the water at Lake Guntersville unfolded at midday on Championship Monday.
Fishing into a hard wind at 11:50 a.m., he pitched into a patch of grass about 10 yards from the boat, jigged the fishing rod, felt a bite and slammed the steel home on a sizeable bass. Viewers could see the big toilet flush of a bite, then the bass.
The “hawg,” one of many he has caught that way from the Atchafalaya Basin to Toledo Bend had no chance. Sumrall flipped it into the boat seven seconds later. And Sumrall was pumped from start to finish.
“That’s a giant. Get in the boat baby! Wo ho ho! Son. Ha ha ha ha,” he said, shouting before disengaging the hook.
“Ah. Yes. Whew. How’s that for a cull, baby! Ho. (I’m) shaking so bad, dude,” he said as he weighed the bass. “Six pounds, ba(by)! Oh my God. That’s why we do this!”
Later that night, after a late supper, he said, “That felt great to catch that fish. It’s the biggest one I caught all week.”
That clutch catch can be seen in a video on bassmaster.com entitled “Caleb Sumrall’s 6-pound kicker on Championship Monday at Guntersville.”
He caught most of the bass that bit.
“I lost a couple good ones (on the last day). That hurts for a while. I know a couple guys told me they missed good ones, too,” he said.
He was tired but appreciative of countless texts and cell phone calls from family, friends and fans.
“I’m not able to get back with everybody just yet. I’ll try later,” he said before preparing for the fourth and final day.