Wesley Sams and Jordan Wiggins caught the heaviest bag of the Bassmaster Team Championship on Thursday to earn a come-from-behind victory on the Harris Chain of Lakes.
Sams and Wiggins, who hail from Cullman, Ala., and represent the Alabama Bass Trail, bagged a five-bass limit that weighed 22 pounds, 5 ounces to vault from seventh place on Day 1 to the top of the leaderboard on Day 2. Coupled with Wednesday’s 17-3 limit, the duo finished with 39-8 overall to top the 142-team field.
By virtue of their victory in the team portion of the tournament, Sams and Wiggins advanced to the Classic Fish-Off. They, along with the second and third-place duos, will have their weights zeroed and begin another two-day competition Friday. This time they will be fishing individually for the final berth in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk scheduled for March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts near Fort Worth, Texas.
“It’s an awesome feeling to win the team championship,” Sams said. “But the big prize is a chance to get in the Classic. If it’s not me in it, I’m pulling for (Wiggins). And I know he’ll be pulling for me, too.”
Sams and Wiggins, who earned a $20,000 cash prize from Ranger/Mercury for winning the team competition, have fished on the Harris Chain before, cashing a check in the 2018 Team Championship. They revisited some of the spots that produced two years ago, as well as one spot Wiggins’ brother Jesse fished to win a Bassmaster Open several years ago.
None of those locations were hitting this year, however, with the tandem having only two small bites late Wednesday morning.
“I’ll have three rods on the deck and I’ll have that tied on all three of them,”
Determined to do better, they motored to a strip of hydrilla Wiggins spotted on his electronics about 6 feet underneath the surface of Lake Harris. Every fish they weighed in the Team Championship came from that same short stretch of aquatic grass.
The winners weren’t sharing which bait they used to spark their bite, but they’ll definitely be using it again in the fish-off.
“I’ll have three rods on the deck and I’ll have that tied on all three of them,” Sams said.
“We just have to get lucky,” he said.
Sams said once he and Wiggins found the right spot Wednesday, they knew they had a chance to make the fish-off. They were in seventh place heading into Day 2 and had nearly 5 pounds to gain on Day 1 leaders Keith Ellis and Roger Kendrick of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Bass Association.
“We thought if we could get over 20 pounds today, we’d have a shot (to make the fish-off),” Sams said. “And if we got 22 1/2 or 23, we thought we could win it today.”
Andy Walls and Keith Tuma of the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation finished second in team standings with 10 bass for 39-1, including a 21-6 limit Thursday. They were in sixth place on Day 1 but advanced to the Classic Fish-Off with a strong finish.
Keith Mayfield and Daryl Adams, who like Sams and Wiggins qualified for the championship via the Alabama Bass Trail, placed third overall with 38-2 and rounded out the Top 6 for the fish-off on Friday and Saturday.
Mark Condron and Tony Simeri, yet another tandem from the Alabama Bass Trail, finished fourth with 38-2. Ellis and Kendrick slipped to fifth with a 13-3 limit Thursday and 35-5 overall.
Two teams tied for the Big Bass Award and split the $500 prize four ways. Danny Lavoie and Sammy Bailey of the Alabama Bass Trail caught their 8-7 largemouth Wednesday, while Rick Imler and Scott Newlon of Ohio’s Great Lakes Largemouth Series matched the feat a day later.
Wednesday’s temperature was cool, with highs near 60, but a warming trend is sweeping across central Florida. Thursday’s highs hovered at 70 degrees and the temperature is expected to reach 80 by Saturday, which many anglers feel could make the Harris Chain bass bite even more productive.
In all, 142 two-person teams (284 anglers) qualified via their respective trails for the Team Championship. The field at the Harris Chain split a total purse of $77,000.
The Classic Fish-Off begins at 7 a.m. ET both Friday and Saturday from Ski Beach Park in Leesburg’s Venetian Gardens. Weigh-ins are scheduled for 3 p.m. at the park and fans can catch all the action live on Bassmaster.com.