For a bass angler on his hometown lake, Gene Bishop was having the worst of times the first day of the Bassmaster Central Open tournament in March 2015 on Ross Barnett Reservoir.
Bishop turned it into the best of times on his way to a first-place finish, plus a berth in the 2016 Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake in Oklahoma. He avoided being the umpteenth victim of the dreaded “hometown jinx.”
The Ridgeland, Mississippi, pro bass fisherman, the only Ridgeland resident to win a Bassmaster Open at “The Rez,” returned to the scene of that March comeback for an event in mid-September 2022.
Bishop, 48, launched at Madison Landing just after sunrise Sept. 16, cranked the Merc and drove his Triton to an area filled with lily pad stems. It was the spot he won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open.
“From that point to that point is where I was in 2015,” he said. “Of course, that was in March. It’s called Pine Island. That stump field we are looking at out there used to be an island but it eroded away.”
He was candid about the W that catapulted him to the Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa. He got behind the eight ball early.
Bishop was unable to shake the Day 1 blues in that Bassmaster Open. He fell into the hometown lake trap, struggled to put four bass weighing 8 pounds, 15 ounces, on the scale the first day.
Turning things around
The local bass pro wasn’t within shouting distance of the leaders going into the second day. The hometown jinx was swallowing him up as it does so many others.
“I went home, sulking and whining,” Bishop said after fishing Carolina-rigged soft plastics around stumps, logs and natural dropoffs offshore.
He made up his mind to do something different.
“You see, the first day I was running everywhere I knew. It just didn’t work. I ran at least 20 miles, just being dumb, local spot fishing, not doing what the fish were doing. I said I’m just going to go fishing. The first fish I caught the second day was a 7-pounder. I said, ‘Oh my God,’ ” he said about the “hawg” that bit on a 6-inch june bug plastic lizard reeled slowly through the stems.
His Day 2 limit raised eyebrows. His five bass weighed 26 pounds.
Bishop continued doing “something different” after cruising into the Top 12. His Day 3 catch weighed 21 pounds for a three-day total of 55 pounds, 14 ounces, worth $8,405, plus a Triton 19TrX powered by a Mercury 200 ProXS.
Fast forward to September 2022. Bishop was in the same Triton as one of four regional pro bass anglers invited to the Ridgeland Outdoor Media Camp event at Ross Barnett Reservoir. Four outdoor writers and the bass anglers were guests of the Ridgeland Tourist Commission, which showed off fine eateries such as Local 463, Crab’s Seafood Shack, Cock of the Walk Bulldog Burger and hotels like the Hampton Inn & Suites.
Pine Island didn’t pan out that day. Bishop moved and boated several bass the first half of a hot day on a black bird-colored Teckel USA Honker Frog at a community hole, Number 7, then moved again and caught numerous bass up to 2 ½ pounds on a Carolina-rigged green pumpkin blue Zoom Baby Brush Hog. He soaked the latter on flats with shell beds 5-feet deep.
Those flats are marked in red on his marine electronics courtesy a Humminbird Lakemaster Chip. They don’t all pay off, he said, but if a bass angler has 30 flats, odds soar in his or her favor.
“Usually, the best I do in tournaments is when I catch four or five in the morning,” then target bass on the flats with a C-rig.
“All my best tournaments, thinking back, I just went and stayed in one area and kept the bait wet,” he said as he boated bass within sight of the historic Natchez Trace.
After fishing Bassmaster Opens a few more years, Bishop gave competitive bassin’ a rest.
“It got so expensive I had to take a break from it,” he said, adding he plans to get back into it soon.
Bishop has a new artificial lure fish attractant he makes with a buddy, Monte Knight, on his side when he does pursue the bass tournament circuits again. They market Thump Gel and Crank’N Gel, which can be ordered online at thumpgel.com.