Hailing from Eldon, Mo., Roger Fitzpatrick is no stranger to top 10s and wins in the Ozarks. After bringing home his first T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Super Tournament title (his seventh BFL win overall) back in September on Lake of the Ozarks, the 55-year-old pro hit another milestone this past weekend when he won the BFL Regional on Grand Lake. While Grand Lake isn’t exactly a stereotypical Ozark fishery, it lies on the edge of the region, and the differences didn’t matter to Fitzpatrick, who took the lead on day one and never looked back en route to grabbing more than $20,000 cash and a Ranger Z518L with a 200-hp engine.
Fresh off a local championship on Truman Lake where Fitzpatrick fished with his son and took seventh, the veteran pro rolled into Grand with a slight clue as to how he could get a bite.
“I get there [to Grand Lake] maybe once or twice a year, sometimes in the spring and sometimes in the fall,” says Fitzpatrick. “This was probably the third fall tournament I’ve fished on Grand, but the last time I was there in the fall the lake was low and clear. This time it was high and dirty.
“I got to Grand after the championship on Truman. In practice, it was very sunny and windy. My son and I caught them good on a spinnerbait on Truman in the same conditions, so I took what we did there and brought it to Grand. When it was sunny I had them dialed good, and was hoping for sun during the tournament. On the second day of practice I had a 24-pound day targeting shade from docks or trees.”
When day one rolled around, of course, conditions took a drastic turn, replacing a south wind and sun with a cool north wind and clouds. Fitzpatrick figured his shade pattern wouldn’t hold, and it took him a minute to relocate the bass.
“The fish weren’t set up on shade, but I fished the same areas and same style banks as I did in practice,” he says. “I noticed early on that the fish were suspended 6 feet down off the bank where my boat was, so I backed off and started slow-rolling a spinnerbait. I caught a 3 1/2-pounder and a 7-pounder pretty quick, and then a giant blew up in front of me. Then I knew they were out. Later in the day they moved up, and I could throw up on the bank and catch them. It was a blessed day.”
Fitzpatrick set the tone with a 24-pound, 12-ounce limit that put him in the lead by nearly 3 pounds. From there it was all about surviving. Conditions never set up for a repeat of the perfect storm he experienced in practice or on the first day, and just catching a limit would prove challenging.
“I don’t know why the bigguns quit biting. I never got a big bite the rest of the tournament,” he adds. “It reminded me a lot of when, in the spring, the males are up on the bank and the females are holding out deeper. I had to fish painstakingly slow. I’d fish a 100-yard stretch, and it’d take me 30 minutes. You had to crank real slow to get a bite.
“The sun came out late in the day on the final day, and my swim jig was by far the best bait because I could skip it like a flat rock to put my bait behind the dock cables. I caught some key fish on it, and they weren’t big, but I knew just getting a limit on the final day would be what I needed.”
Fitzpatrick wrestled up limits of 13-10 and 12-9 over the last two days to claim victory with 50-15 overall.
Imitating shad was the name of the game for Fitzpatrick, and he kept his bait options pretty straightforward. For big bites, he threw a 1/2-ounce Omega Genesis TI spinnerbait with a white BioSpawn VileBug trailer using on a 7-1 St. Croix Legend Tournament rod, Daiwa Tatula reel and 20-pound-test P-Line fluorocarbon. Fitzpatrick says that the VileBug helped to lift the spinnerbait up and keep it more buoyant while he slow-rolled it. For keeper bites, he used the Omega Rapture vibrating jig paired with a BioSpawn ExoSwim. Lastly, his key bait for skipping in tight quarters was an Omega swim jig also paired with the ExoSwim. Both the swim jig and Rapture were thrown on 20-pound-test P-Line fluorocarbon and a 7-4 Legend Tournament rod.
Even after competing in close to 200 FLW events, Fitzpatrick doesn’t overlook how big it is to win a tournament.
“I won the Super Tournament on Lake of the Ozarks a few weeks ago, but it had been a while since I won any BFL,” Fitzpatrick says. “This was huge. I’ve never won a Regional, and I think I’ve finished second a time or two and third a time or two. But it means something to win. Placing is one thing, but winning is a little better.”
Living just an hour from Grand Lake in Diamond, Mo., Chris Macy considers Grand his home lake. His years of experience on the Oklahoma impoundment nearly carried him to his first title, but in the end he fell short of Fitzpatrick by a few pounds. Ultimately, the difference boiled down to how they both kicked off the tournament.
On day one, Macy caught 21-14. On a normal fall day on Grand, that kind of weight would have held down the top spot, but Fitzpatrick bested him by a few pounds with a mammoth limit.
“I don’t know why we caught them so good on the first day,” Macy says of the 20-plus-pound bags brought to the scale. “If you told me I’d catch 22 pounds the first day of the tournament in the fall and not be leading I’d say you were crazy. I don’t know why all those big fish bit.”
Like Fitzpatrick, Macy relied on a spinnerbait and found fish suspended off the bank a bit.
“The first two days it was mainly an early bite for me, even with all the rain,” he says. “I don’t feel like I was getting as many bites as Roger did, but I was also throwing a spinnerbait in 8 to 10 feet and slow-rolling it.”
Macy stayed in the middle and lower portions of the lake because of slightly better water clarity – 1 to 2 feet of visibility compared to brown and murky water near takeoff.
After catching 12-5 on day two, Macy was by no means out of contention heading into the final round. Some good local knowledge and adjustments gave him an opportunity to catch Fitzpatrick on the final day, but the kicker bite or two he needed just never showed up.
“Local knowledge was key on the last day,” adds Macy. “The front was leaving, and the sun started coming out. I had just two fish at 10 o’clock. I could tell the spinnerbait bite was going away, so I went to flipping docks and throwing a topwater some. If the sun had come out at 10 instead of noon that dock bite would have gotten good, but it just didn’t have enough time.”
Macy, who fishes team tournaments with FLW pro Jeremy Lawyer, is quite proficient with a spinnerbait, just like his teammate. When Lawyer won the FLW Tour event on Grand earlier this year, he kept several blades on the deck for quick adjustments based on conditions. Macy did the same.
“I had four different spinnerbaits – all different brands with different blades – on the deck,” says Macy. “Most of them were 3/8 ounce, and I’d throw colored blades when I got in more colored water. For deeper stretches, I’d throw a 1/2 ounce. I also caught three key fish on a homemade 1/2-ounce green pumpkin jig with a [NetBait] Paca Craw.”
Macy admits a win would have been nice, but he had his sights set higher than the Regional.
“No doubt, when I started the year I wanted to fish the All-American. That was my goal going into this thing. A W would have been nice, but to make the cut for the final day and be fortunate enough to make the top six and have a shot at winning was icing on the cake.”
The vast majority of Dennis Berhorst’s 57 career top-10 finishes have come from the famed Ozark fisheries of Missouri, but a handful have come from Grand Lake, including his most recent third-place showing this past weekend.
Berhorst fishes team tournaments with Fitzpatrick, and, like the champ, has been to Grand several times over the years. However, it’s been a few seasons since he’s seen it in the fall. So, coming into the event, Berhorst had an idea about what patterns could play, but he quickly changed his train of thought.
“I thought I was going to catch them on a topwater, and the water color was perfect for it, but the temperature was a little too high,” says Berhorst. “I wound up catching all my fish on a 1/2-ounce Omega spinnerbait and an Omega Rapture [vibrating jig]. I caught them all on the Rapture on day one, on the spinnerbait on day two and back on the Rapture on day three. Whatever they started biting that day is what I used.”
Berhorst started the event with a respectable 15-9 limit, but was one of the few anglers who actually improved on day two by catching 19-6 to jump into second. On the final day, like most of the field, he struggled and managed 12-1 to move his three-day total to 47 pounds.
“Everything I caught was in 2 feet or less on the bank throughout the whole tournament,” Berhorst says. “For the most part I wasn’t even throwing right at the bank; I was throwing between the bank and the docks. It seemed like the fish were just lying on nothing. With the clouds and rain they didn’t have to be on a dock.”
For a guy like Berhorst who’s had so much success in the BFLs over the years, there’s just one title left for him to chase.
“Let’s get to my eighth All-American,” says the Holts Summit, Mo., pro. “There was a stacked field in this [Regional]. I knew there would be a lot of good local guys in this tournament, and when I saw what was happening [with the lake being high and dirty] I was real happy with a top six and to get back to the All-American. I’ve got to win one of those in my lifetime.”
Top 10 pros
(The top six advance to the 2020 BFL All-American)
1. Roger Fitzpatrick – Eldon, Mo. – 50-15 (15) – $70,200
2. Chris Macy – Diamond, Mo. – 47-1 (15) – $10,100
3. Dennis Berhorst – Holts Summit, Mo. – 47-0 (15) – $5,000
4. Dustin Lippe – Lampe, Mo. – 44-13 (15) – $3,000
5. Shawn Kowal – Linn Creek, Mo. – 43-10 (15) – $2,000
6. Andy Newcomb – Camdenton, Mo. – 43-7 (15) – $1,800
7. Wade Ramsey – Choctaw, Okla. – 42-15 (15) – $1,600
8. Terry Holsapple – Greenup, Ill. – 42-10 (15) – $2,400
9. Jason Beem – Gravette, Ark. – 42-7 (14) – $1,200
10. Lance Williams – Billings, Mo. – 41-3 (14) – $1,000
Spencer Clark might only be 31 years old, but he’s put his time in on the FLW tournament trails over the years, from college up to the FLW Series. And while he has plenty of fishing ahead of him, he admits it feels dang good to finally get a W after all the hard work he’s put in.
“I used to fish for Truman State University back when FLW College Fishing was just starting up,” he says. “I had a good college career, fished in two regionals and one National Championship. But I’ve been a bridesmaid a couple of times. Last year in a BFL I got second by an ounce. That was tough to swallow. I was wondering if it was going to be the same way this week, but somehow I pulled it off. Grand was fishing a lot like my home lake of Lake of the Ozarks, so instincts just kicked it.”
After graduating from college, Clark moved to Lake of the Ozarks for a year and a half to hone his skills and try to pursue a career as an angler. While he learned a ton, Clark decided it was best to pace himself and find a good career in the meantime to establish a solid financial footing. Now, he’s working as a computer programmer and data analyst for Bayer while making the time to fish as a co-angler.
Like many Missouri anglers, Clark isn’t unfamiliar with Grand Lake. With a little bit of history and the right mindset for a co-angler, Clark seemed destined to do well in this tournament.
“Fishing as a co-angler can be tough because you need to think outside the box, and that was a big key for me the whole week,” he says.
Paired with Phil Rider on day one, Clark picked up a crankbait to counter Rider’s slow, methodical approach. It produced several keepers for Clark, and eventually he gave a crankbait to Rider to help him put a few fish in the boat. Clark wrapped up the day with a limit worth 10-1 to sit in sixth.
On day two, Clark caught 16 pounds and catapulted to the lead by a little more than 6 pounds. Oddly enough, he had a dream going into day two that foreshadowed good things to come.
“After the first day, that night I had dream that was the craziest thing I’ve ever had. I was on a bluff overlooking a beach, and it was storming, like it was on day one. On top of the bluff was a guy standing there that looked like a prophet. He said, ‘Thou shalt seek,’ and said something about Matthew, and then I woke up. Mark Tucker and I room together, and he woke up when I did. I looked it up; what that meant.
“I’m not a very religious person, but in the Bible in Matthew, it basically says if you knock on the door, it’ll open. If you ask for it, you’ll get it. That’s crazy. Then on day two I had 16 pounds. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
Fishing behind Fitzpatrick on the final day, Clark scraped together four bass worth 7-2, which was enough to secure the win by less than a pound.
Clark fished with a crankbait, a 5/16- or 1/2-ounce jig, a Giant Slayer buzzbait and a Missile Baits D Bomb rigged with a 1/4-ounce Pro Tungsten weight. He ran 15-pound-test Vicious fluorocarbon on the jigs and 12-pound-test on the crankbait, with everything thrown on various Razr Rods.
“I’ve been out there chasing a win for a long time,” he notes. “I knew I was good enough, but I was waiting for when my time was going to come. I’ve always wanted to take it to the next level, and now I think I can. This was one of the best weeks of my life. I’ve been gung-ho about fishing forever, and for it to workout is awesome.”
Top 10 co-anglers
(The top six co-anglers qualify for the 2020 BFL All-American)
1. Spencer Clark – Maryland Heights, Mo. – 33-3 (14) – $50,000
2. Andrew Wooley – Little Rock, Ark. – 32-6 (13) – $5,200
3. Clark Moore – Nacogdoches, Texas – 27-6 (11) – $2,550
4. Jeff Turner – Plainfield, Ill. – 23-4 (9) – $1,500
5. Jim Budde – Waterloo, Ill. – 21-13 (8) – $1,000
6. Larry Rothweil – Saint Charles, Mo. – 20-5 (10) – $900
7. Stan Harris – Searcy, Ark. – 20-0 (9) – $800
8. Bruce Thompson – Roland, Ark. – 19-13 (8) – $700
9. Julio Garza – Houston, Texas – 19-10 (7) – $600
10. Shaun Avery – Plainfield, Ill. – 19-6 (9) – $500