SAN DIEGO — Each April the top 25 teams from the January San Diego Anglers Bay Bass Tourney are invited to compete in a Tournament of Champions” in a small and far more low-key affair than the 150-plus team event.
The big crowds, awards, drawings, release tanks, the massive big tent, sponsors and paydowns to 25th place are pared down to the basics. Fishing, fun and a barbecue put on by the San Diego Anglers fishing club.
But make no mistake, while the event is friendly it is highly competitive with money and bragging rights at stake, and there was a big fat bullseye on the January championships team of Ed Howerton and Dennis Burlason. That potent local team would have won it again if not for the fact Doug Kern and Jack Mahon scored a 5.35-pound sand bass to win $500 for big fish capped by a 15.89-pound 5-fish limit and edged Burlason and Howerton’s 14.35-pound total for another $1,500 for a $2,000 payday.
“It feels pretty good,” said Kern, owner of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle, an annual supporter of the January event. Kern’s big fish was caught on an MC swimbait at the cable near the bay entrance in the last hour of fishing.
“I saw the rod bent but didn’t see the fish, but I knew he had a good one,” said Bob Aronson who finished sixth with substitute partner Pat McDonell. His normal fishing partner Rick Maxa was on a Tony Reyes/Midriff fishing trip. “I asked Doug what he got, and he said he had a nice sculpin.”
Sandbagging is part of the event. There are a corps of competitive bay bass anglers, and Burlason and Howerton are the team to beat each year.
“I honestly thought after pre-fishing that it would take 18 pounds,” said Howerton. They fished a structure-laden length of area off Shelter Island Pier. Along with a dozen other boats, of course. “The prefishing was that good, but you put pressure on the fish and that lock’s ’em up a little. When I saw Doug’s fish, I knew he had it.”
The event was competitive across the board as no team had a 13-pound total, but four teams weighed in fish that totaled 12-plus pounds. Third place was taken by Travis Hargis and Tony Gilbert with 12.85, Shane Harrison and Brandon Gilbert had 12.73, Bill Schafer and Joel King grabbed fifth at 12.66 and Aronson and McDonell had 12.62 pounds.
FROM LEFT, RUNNERS-UP ED HOWERTON and Dennis Burlason, champs Jack Mahon and Doug Kern, and Travis Hargis (fishing partner Tony Gilbert not pictured) were the top three teams. Kern and Mahon won a combined $2,000.
THE SETUP SATURDAY at Shelter Island involved 25 teams, a $2,000 payday and a great barbecue. The Tournament of Champions is a competitive event on the water, with $1,500 to the top teams and a $500 big bass award.