When the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series visits Barnett Reservoir the last weekend of the April, the 111 best bass fishermen in the world will be hard-pressed to match or beat the lunker posted in February’s B.A.S.S. Nation High School Open on the same waters.
Aaron Abbott, 15, a member of the Brandon High School bass team, caught a 10.04-pound bass to anchor the day’s winning catch of 18.63 posted by Abbott and partner Brandon Ray.
Abbott said the fish came early on a cut off the upper Pearl River area of the 33,000-acre lake. Both youngsters caught a small keeper (14-inch minimum) off one log in the cut before Abbott tossed a spinnerbait at other, deeper cover in the cut.
“I threw in the cut and was slow-rolling a spinnerbait,” Abbott told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper. “There’s some structure in the water about 10 feet down. I could feel it going through the structure, and the fish hit right when it came out of the structure. It just kind of stopped my bait and took it to the side.
“So, I set my hook and I knew I had a fish.”
As time quickly passed, he knew it was a big fish, too — only he wasn’t so sure it was going to help him in the tournament.
“I didn’t think it was a bass because it started digging down,” Abbott said. “It took about 10 seconds for it to come to the top, and I could tell it was a bass. — it took my pole down on the side of the boat, and I couldn’t pick it up.”
Boat captain Steve Bailey netted the fish after 45 seconds, and it was not a moment too soon. The H20 chartreuse-and-white spinnerbait fell out of the fish’s lip as soon as the teenager released pressure.
While it’s doubtful any Elite anglers will find a big sow full of eggs in their late-April, post-spawn event, the catch of the big fish in the high school tournament bodes well for pros chasing the $100,000-plus top prize this month.
Biologists for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks said the fish was just the fifth to top 10 pounds in a Barnett tournament since the agency began tracking records in 2003. The biggest was an 11.35-pound sow caught early in 2016.
But, according to Ryan Jones, the MDWFP biologist over Barnett, the bass population is in good condition heading into the 2017 season and the upcoming Elite Series event.
“Three years ago, we found a spike in the bass population for 8- to 11-inch bass, but in the fall of 2015 we didn’t see evidence of that age group advancing up the chain in our sampling,” Jones said. “We didn’t understand that and were disappointed. But, we now think it was because we sampled during a drought, because this past fall (2016) we found them again and they have started achieving the preferred catch range (over 14 inches).
“The reservoir has a healthy supply of those fish, and the good news doesn’t end there. Last fall, we found evidence of another strong 8- to 11-inch class.”
Elite Series anglers will be fishing a five-fish daily limit and bass must exceed 14 inches to be legal.