Matty Wong said he envisioned the Bryan V. Kerchal Memorial Trophy sitting on his passenger seat during the 25-hour drive from his home in Culver City, Calif., to the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. Turns out, it’ll be there.
Wong caught 15 bass for a three-day total of 35 pounds, 9 ounces to win the championship that concluded Friday on the Ouachita River in north Louisiana. In addition to the hardware, Wong collected a $20,000 Nation’s Best first prize presented by Nitro/Mercury and a spot on the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2022. He’ll have use of a fully-rigged Nation’s Best tournament boat for the Elite season, which he emphatically stated he’ll join.
Wong also earned a berth into the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk scheduled for March 4-6 on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. Washington’s Taylor Smith (second place, 33-15) and former Elite Series angler Jared Miller who hails from Oklahoma (third, 33-7) also claimed spots in the Classic. The championship tournament was hosted by the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Wong, a 33-year old Hawaii-born angler, rallied from an 8-ounce deficit heading into Day 3. He fished cypress laydowns on the main river channel throughout the week and was consistent with his catch. He caught a 12-2 limit on opening day and followed with an 11-2 limit on Day 2, trailing only Alabama’s Coby Carden heading into the finals.
Wong caught a 12-5 bag Friday, with no fish weighing more than 3 pounds.
“I caught a 3-pounder to start the day and felt OK,” he said. “Then I caught another 3-pounder and felt good. When I caught my third 3-pounder, I actually started crying.”
Wong doesn’t hide his emotions. He shed tears again on stage shortly before taking the hot seat with only Carden left to weigh. Carden, who’s reached two previous Classics, mustered only a 6-8 limit on the final day and fell to seventh overall.
That left Wong holding the trophy he dreamed was sitting shotgun on last week’s long drive across the continent.
“This whole thing is a dream,” he said. “I’m absolutely speechless.”
Another neat thing about Wong’s win is that he took time on stage to address a group of young anglers from the Caldwell Parish High School Bass Team. They spent the day at the tournament, most of it cleaning up and picking up trash around the Forsythe Park Boat Dock area as a team project.
“This is wild,” he said. “Just wild. All I’ve got to say to you young anglers is that if you have dreams of doing this, stick with them. Work hard. Put in the time. It can happen. Right here is the proof.”
Wong leaned on a variety of balsa wood squarebill crankbaits to boat his best bass, with bluegill, shad and chartreuse as his go-to colors. He also flipped a brown jig and used a War Eagle spinnerbait with a chartreuse blade and chartreuse trailer.
“It basically was trash fishing,” he said. “But I was looking for unusual stretches of laydowns. I was looking for places on the riverbank that were on a bend, after a sandbar or a long stretch of mud.”
Smith, 36, caught the big bag on Friday – a 16-8 limit that vaulted him from 12th place to second. It is the second time he’s finished runner-up at a B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, having done so on Lake Hartwell in 2019. He’ll head there again for his second trip to the biggest event in bass fishing.
“Being in the Classic for me is pretty special,” he said. “Whether it’s Ping-Pong or cornhole, I want to win. So, there will still be pressure.”
Smith used an aluminum boat on Friday to reach a backwater area that wasn’t accessible earlier in the week in his fiberglass boat. He threw a white Bandit crankbait on Day 3 and wound up catching the second-biggest bag of the tournament.
Miller, 37, caught a 13-4 limit on Day 3, moving from seventh place up to third and into a spot in the Classic. His primary bait was a Berkley MaxScent Creature Hawg (green pumpkin).
“Half my fish this week came from squeezing behind docks and the other half came from main-river laydowns,” Miller said.
Both Smith and Miller will have their entry fees paid into the 2022 Bassmaster Opens in all divisions.
Also fishing on Friday were: fourth, Arkansas’ Chris Johnson, 32-6; fifth, Wisconsin’s Jim Barczak, 31-11; sixth, Utah’s Ben Byrd, 30-6; seventh, Carden, 30-4; eighth, Rhode Island’s Mike Wolfenden, 28-0; ninth, South Africa’s Justin Karan, 26-13; 10th, Missouri’s Ray Cates, 26-4; 11th, Pennsylvania’s Aaron Green, 24-15; 12th, Wisconsin’s Dustin Drath, 23-12; 13th, Arizona’s Zack Holwerda, 20-6; and 15th,Minnesota’s Richard Lindgren, 17-4.
A total of 101 anglers from 47 states and three foreign countries competed this week for $96,000 in prize money. The field was narrowed to 14 after Thursday’s cut, including the Top 10 boaters, Cates and Drath from the nonboater division, and Green and Lindgren as leading anglers in the championship from their respective B.A.S.S. Nation regions. Missouri’s Nick Luna finished 14th overall with 17-5 but didn’t make the cut to the final round.
Carden won $1,000 for having the big bass of the tournament (5-7).
Cates won the nonboater division on Thursday. He collected the Louis “Pee Wee” Powers Memorial Trophy as well as a $10,000 cash prize courtesy of Nitro/Mercury. His 4-3 bass was the heaviest among nonboaters and he won another $500 for that catch.
Drath, who finished second among nonboaters, won $7,500, part of a $31,500 purse split among the Top 12 in that division.
As part of the Yamaha Power Pay program, Jason Pittman of Covington, Miss., earned $5,000 as the program’s highest placing entrant while last year’s B.A.S.S. Nation champion and current Elite Series pro Pat Schlapper of Eleva, Wis., claimed an additional $2,500 for being the second-highest placing entrant.
In a day or so, you will be able to see more about exactly where Wong was fishing and how he was catching them. He said he plans to post it on his CatchFish Facebook page.