TAHLEQUAH, Oklhoma. — New Iberian Caleb Sumrall pumped his clenched, right fist ever so slightly a few moments after the Bassmaster Elite Series weighmaster called out the weight of the five hard-earned bass Sumrall put on the scale Thursday afternoon.
Those five bass weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces, good enough to vault him into second place on Day One of the Cherokee Casino Tahlequah Bassmaster Elite tournament at Lake Tenkiller. Sumrall was proud of the catch, particularly of the 5-pound, 7-ounce “hawg” that anchored his limit and wound up being the biggest of the long, hot, tough day on the nearly 13,000-acre lake in eastern Oklahoma.
“I think I had a good day,” Sumrall told Dave Mercer, the weighmaster and emcee in an understatement considering how difficult it was for many of the 75 Elites on the lake to put keeper-sized bass in the livewell.
That big bass made his day and may have greased his path to the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. With four keeper-sized bass in his livewell 15 minutes before he had to take off for the weigh-in, Sumrall said he decided to leave the shallow pattern he’d been fishing and go offshore.
“That kind of fish is a day-maker,” Sumrall said after the weigh-in. “Everything I had going wasn’t working out, so I just took off from the ramp and fished what looked good. I fished from the top of the river to the dam.
“I had 12 rods on my deck and five were where my marshal would have been sitting. It was Junk Fishing 101,” he said. “I caught my five fish on four different baits. That’s what’s scary about a lake like this. But with the changing conditions, you have to keep an open mind to everything.”
The 32-year-old all-around outdoorsman in his second year as a pro bass angler was in 29th place in the Angler of the Year standings going into the regular-season finale on the tour, one that was postponed because of flooding from its original date in mid-May, then switched from Fort Gibson Lake to nearby Lake Tenkiller on Sept. 5.
The timetable was a short turnaround that gave the Elites little time to get ready for a smaller, tougher lake on a fast fall 40 miles from Fort Gibson Lake.
Sumrall was a lock to get into the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship scheduled for Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Michigan’s Lake St. Clair. A coveted Classic berth in the 50th annual world championship of bass fishing was up in the air for him, though, as he rode up to Oklahoma from New Iberia a week ago Thursday.
“I’ve got to stay in the Top 43 in points” in the last tournament of the year, Sumrall said in Sunday’s The Daily Iberian.
“I’m just hoping to get a good, decent finish to get me into the Classic. If I could catch two decent limits the first two days, if I can get into the Top 35 (make the cut), that should do it.”
Sumrall and the other 74 Elites take off at 7 a.m. today from Chicken Creek Ramp in Cookson, Oklahoma. The Day 2 weighing will be held at the launch site at 3 p.m.
Weigh-ins on Days 3 and 4 will be held at the Cherokee Casino Tahlequah at 4 p.m.
He is trailing Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Arkansas, who also obviously succeeded in meeting challenging conditions on Lake Tenkiller.
Blaylock, fishing the mid- to lower lake, caught a mixed bag of largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass, including a 4-pound smallie.
“Everybody said practice (prefishing Monday, Tuesday and half-a-day Wednesday) was bad, but I literally caught six keepers the entire practice,” Blaylock told bassmaster.com.
“I just like the style of this lake. When they pulled that water down, it didn’t help the bite, but I was able to slow down and not think about whether to flip bushes because I knew the water was falling out of there. So I just went out with no care and threw.
“I knew if I just caught a bass, that I would be in (the Bassmaster Classic) easy. My very first cast, I caught a 12-inch spotted bass and I was like, ‘Well, my day’s made.’ So I just slowed down.”
Kyle Monti charges into the second day of fishing hoping to make the Top 35 cut and fish on Semifinal Saturday in third place with 14 pounds, 4 ounces. The Florida pro said a sweet spot he developed in practice proved more beneficial than he thought it would.
“I feel like I found something that’s pretty special,” Monti said. “Today, I pulled in and they came up schooling, and that made me slow down and stay in the area. I think there’s enough there where I can catch another 10 to 12 pounds for sure.”