April 16, 2016 by Colin Moore
Old Table Rock fishing hands, the types seen sitting alone in the local Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning and muttering to themselves, have a saying about the guy who leads a tournament on the lake one day before toppling the next.
“He got Rocked,” they cackle to each other, knowing that it was the angler’s fate to lose his lofty standing and fulfill the fishing gods’ promise to first make proud him whom they would destroy.
There are exceptions, however, as Mississippi angler Joseph Webster proved Saturday in the final round of the 2016 The Bass Federation National Championship. Webster, who took over the lead from Daniel Gray in the second round of the three-day event, withstood Table Rock’s propensity to produce fish one day and withhold them the next to win the 2016 title. TBF President and CEO Robert Cartlidge proclaimed Webster the recipient of the $100,000 “Living the Dream” prize package that includes paid entry as a boater in the 2017 Walmart FLW Tour, the use of a fully equipped Ranger bass boat, pocket money and other perks. A Ranger owner, Webster also took home another Ranger through the Ranger Cup contingency award program.
A member of the Bull Mountain Bass Club in northeast Mississippi, Webster won the event by a 6-pound, 6-ounce margin over runner-up Jon Griffith of Mesa, Ariz. It was some consolation for Griffith, a full-time guide on Lake Saguaro, and the five other divisional finalists that they will be joining Webster at the FLW Bass Fishing League All-American on Lake Barkley in early June. Likewise, the top co-angler in each division will compete in the All-American.
Though Webster’s margin of victory suggests that it was a cakewalk for him, the issue was in doubt until he switched to an umbrella rig at mid-morning. He had relied on a Zoom Critter Craw pitched to bedding fish the previous two days and had two limits and 28 pounds, 12 ounces of bass to show for it. By 9:30 a.m. Saturday, however, Webster had boated two decent keepers and one that would barely bump, and his prospects of improving on that seemed dim. Besides, West Virginia boater Corey Cook was breathing down his neck and only 5 ounces behind him when tournament director Randy Sullivan turned them loose that morning.
What separates the wheat from the chaff in tournament fishing, however, is the rare instinct of the angler who knows when it’s time to do something different and who has a strong hunch about what that something is. In Webster’s case, that meant digging an umbrella rig with Keitech swimbaits out of his rod locker.
“I hadn’t thrown an A-rig all week up to that point,” he recalls. “I fished it a little in practice and caught two on it, but I was catching so many bedding fish that I decided to stick with what had been working for me. When it stopped working, though, I thought the conditions were right for an A-rig.”
Webster had fished the back ends of pockets at Indian Point throughout the tournament, but after he decided the bed bite was toast on Saturday he started working the umbrella rig around docks with about 40 feet of water under them. Within a few minutes after making the switch, he caught a solid 3-pounder. A couple of casts later, he caught another. He was cranking them through water about 8 to 10 feet deep.
“There wasn’t anything tentative about the way they hit,” recalls Webster, whose home lake is Pickwick. “They would just come in and wallop it. The rig had three hooked baits and a couple of teasers, and about six spinner blades. I don’t know if it was because it was so cloudy and the water was murky, but the fish were really eating it up. I think I caught nine keepers and wound up culling three times. The best place was around a dock on a fairly broad point that just sloped out into deeper water.”
So much for Table Rock’s finicky nature. In the end it wasn’t Webster who got Rocked, but the lake itself, and it was Lynyrd Skynyard grade.