Roumbanis reflects on wild week in North Carolina - Major League Fishing

Roumbanis reflects on wild week in North Carolina

After a car crash left his boat totaled, the Mercury pro notched his first Top 10 of the year on the Chowan River
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Despite fishing out of a new boat and with a hurt back, Fred Roumbanis finished 10th at Stage Five. Photo by Tyler Brinks. Angler: Fred Roumbanis.
June 18, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

Driving east through North Carolina on I-40, Fred Roumbanis was just starting to think about finding a hotel for the night. It was a little after 9 p.m. on May 30, and Roumbanis was 12 hours into the 17-hour trek from his home in Arkansas to the Chowan River, host of U.S. Air Force Stage Five Presented by WIX Filters. He figured he’d find somewhere to stay the night before driving to Edenton the following morning. 

Out of nowhere, in his words, “my whole world changed.”  

Another motorist smashed his vehicle into Roumbanis’ trailer from behind, dislodging his Phoenix. The boat skidded to a stop on the interstate, clearly totaled. While Roumbanis, fortunately, wasn’t seriously injured, once he took stock of the boat, his heart sank. With practice two days away and his first day of competition in less than a week, he didn’t see how he could get a new boat rigged and ready in time for a tournament that would be pivotal to his chances of maintaining his spot on the Bass Pro Tour

“When my boat was in the interstate, and as bad of a year as I’ve had, everything just seemed like it’s one of those seasons,” the Mercury pro said. “I can’t script it any worse. There was a part of me that wanted to quit right then and there, but I’m not a quitter. The easy thing for me to do would be to call the tournament director and just say, ‘I’m done. This is it.’” 

Roumbanis wouldn’t let himself throw in the towel. Not only did he compete, he made the Championship Round and finished 10th, his best finish at a BPT event since 2021. The strong showing bolstered his chances of requalifying for the tour in 2025, and the fact that he overcame so much adversity to pull it off boosted his confidence heading into two more important events to close the season.

Getting from the wreck to the water

The collision dislodged Roumbanis’ boat from its trailer. Photo courtesy of Fred Roumbanis

The night of the wreck, Roumbanis didn’t sleep. He stayed at the scene until about 1:30 a.m. — talking to police officers, scavenging tackle from his boat, making calls to Phoenix Boats and Garmin to see how quickly he could acquire and rig a new vessel. At some point, he realized that his back hurt. 

Around 7:30 the next morning, Roumbanis got word from Phoenix COO Teresa Johnson that the company could get him a new boat. Michael White, who was in Tennessee for the Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American, picked up a new 21XE, brought it to North Carolina and met Roumbanis at the salvage yard, where they removed the batteries, graphs and other accessories from his totaled boat. They worked until about 10 p.m., when Roumbanis finally got some sleep. 

The next day, he drove to the Chowan, new boat in tow. But it still needed to be rigged for tournament use. After spending most of the first day of official practice working with White and Danny Miller of Garmin to get all his electronics installed, Roumbanis finally launched on the Chowan for the first time around 4 p.m. He used that evening to break in his new Mercury outboard, although he also managed to make a few casts and get his first clue. 

“The break-in time is about 4 hours, so I just ran it up and down the river,” Roumbanis said. “Didn’t really fish a whole lot. I actually pulled up to the first spot that looked good and got a bite on a Yamamoto Senko on my first cast, and I was like, ‘wow, this is pretty cool; this place has got ‘em.’” 

While getting back on the water was a relief, Roumbanis still had to try and learn the vast, cover-infested playing field on a condensed timeline. If there was ever a venue where he wanted to maximize every minute of practice, the Chowan was it. Like most of the field Roumbanis had never been to the coastal river system prior to practice, and he had no national tournament history to study. 

Exacerbating his concern was the fact that he wasn’t sure if his sore back could withstand 8-hour days on the front deck or long runs through rough water. He’d gone to urgent care and been prescribed a painkiller, but it made him drowsy, so he opted not to take it before or during competition. Ultimately, he powered through on Aleve. 

“I was petrified to go out in the rough water, I’m not going to lie,” Roumbanis said. “Even though I had the best rough-riding boat probably out there, my back is very sensitive.” 

Simple approach pays off

The Mercury pro caught most of his fish pitching a Yamamoto Sensei worm on a ‘power-shot’ rig to manmade cover. Photo by Tyler Brinks

During the day and a half that he did get to practice, Roumbanis “didn’t catch much.” So, he simplified his approach. Noticing that a local tournament had released its fish near takeoff at Pembroke State Park, he figured he would start locally and fish his way up the Chowan River itself. 

It didn’t take long for the plan to pay off. At 8:01 a.m. on June 4, Roumbanis caught a 1-9, the first bass of the event to hit SCORETRACKER®. Though not a giant by any means, after two straight tournaments where he finished 39th out of 40 anglers in his group, getting on the board calmed Roumbanis’ nerves. 

“The one thing that I know about myself and Major League Fishing is if I can catch a fish quick, I usually have a really good tournament,” Roumbanis said. “I can spin out a little bit, maybe, if I don’t catch them and everyone else is. That SCORETRACKER® can get in my head a little bit. But I gained ground early, and it helped me stay relaxed even though my back is bothering me and everything else.” 

Pitching a senko around manmade cover, Roumbanis would add another 11 scorable bass on the day, bringing his weight to 25-2, good for sixth place. That gave him the cushion he needed to avoid panicking when he started more slowly during Day 2 of qualifying. Eventually, he made the switch from a senko to a Yamamoto Sensei worm on a power-shot — a beefed-up drop-shot that Roumbanis fished on a 7-4, medium-heavy Phenix Maxim baitcasting rod with 14-pound Cortland fluorocarbon — and boated nearly 20 pounds, enough to advance to the Knockout Round. 

Roumbanis’ first Knockout Round of the season once again started slow, with only one scorable bass in the first two hours. He started getting more bites as the morning progressed but still spent most of the first two periods below the elimination line. 

Continuing his pattern of targeting manmade structure with the power-shot, the momentum shifted early in the third period when Roumbanis caught a 4-6 from under a fishing pier (where a handful of anglers were casting from shore, no less). The bass vaulted Roumbanis into the Top 10 and, at the time, boosted his Heavy Hitters total as his largest catch of the week. About 20 minutes later, he one-upped it with a 6-3, which he caught off a nearby bridge piling. That fish cemented Roumbanis’ spot in the Championship Round. For the first time, he started thinking about lifting his first Bass Pro Tour trophy. 

“As soon as I caught that 6-3, I just put my rod up and got out of there,” he said. “I said, ‘Dude, I might have found the winning spot for the tournament.’ However, the wind blew too hard. I tried to fish it — I think I caught one keeper, a 1-8, on it — but I couldn’t really fish it on Championship Day.” 

Maintaining his mindset

Roumbanis climbed from 71st to 62nd in the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race with his strong showing on the Chowan River. He’ll look to keep moving up across the next two events. Photo by Tyler Brinks

While the win wasn’t to be — a shift in the wind shut off the bite in his primary stretch of river, and the lack of practice time meant he didn’t have a backup plan at the ready — Roumbanis recognized that it was a win just for him to compete, much less score his first Top 10 in nearly three years. He thinks that outlook served him well. 

“When this all happened, I was just so thankful to be fishing that I was having fun, and I had no care in the world at that point,” he said. “I was lucky to be alive – if my boat wasn’t there, that dude would have plowed right into the back of me, and things could have been totally different. So, I think there’s just something to be said about fishing happy and relaxed. … I think that’s what made me fish well.” 

Roumbanis is still dealing with the fallout from the wreck. Upon returning to Arkansas, he discovered that his truck has frame damage, so he’ll need to find a new tow vehicle in time for General Tire Stage Six Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts on the James River at the end of the month. There’s still insurance claims to be filed and processed, too.  

But, compared to what he went through in North Carolina, those are minor speed bumps. Roumbanis is determined to carry his positive attitude into the final two events of the season. 

“I’m going to try to learn from this going forward,” Roumbanis said. “(MLF emcee Stephen Scott) made a comment, he said, ‘worrying has never solved a problem.’ And that’s probably the best quote there is.” 

Like the Chowan, the events on the James and St. Lawrence Rivers will loom large in Roumbanis’ efforts to maintain his spot on the Bass Pro Tour. With the roster set to decrease from 80 anglers to 65 prior to the 2025 season, Roumbanis remains right around the bubble based on both requalification metrics. The top 45 anglers in average career Angler of the Year finishes will receive roster spots, as will the best 15 others based on 2024 finish. The top five finishers in the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals points race will round out the field. The roster will then be trimmed again to 50 anglers in 2026. 

Roumbanis acknowledged that the looming cuts have made for a stressful season. But he’s optimistic that he can carry his momentum from the Chowan into the last two events of this year and beyond. 

“I think if I can get through this season kind of on a climb, I still believe I can make that top 50 cut when they cut it down to 50 guys,” Roumbanis said. “So, I have all the confidence in the world.”