October 21, 2012 1:12:13 AM
Randy Ryals didn't have a good feeling when he learned Columbus was the location for the Mississippi State Championship / B.A.S.S. Federation Nation's National Qualifier.
Ryals wasn't happy with the site because he didn't have much success the previous three times he had been to Columbus Lake.
"I stunk. I didn't do anything," Ryals said of his performances. "I thought, 'Who picked that mudhole?' "
Ryals was in a much better mood Saturday after his two-day total weight of 21.38 pounds helped him with the event. His haul, which was nearly two pounds more than his brother, Kenneth Jr., who took second with 19.88 pounds, earned him a place in the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation's National Championship in June at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Jasper, Texas. The national championship will feature about 50 anglers. The top six will advance to the Bassmaster Classic.
"I did it with due diligence and running from Aberdeen to Amory," Ryals said. "I just probably got lucky and stopped in a spot and found it."
The top 14 anglers won prizes for their efforts in the two-day event, which features boaters and non-boaters. The 15th- to 20th-place finishers received Dobyns rods for their efforts, while the 13th- and 14th place competitors were the first and second alternate.
Randy Ladner (17.32 pounds), Mark Wade (17.03), Destre DeDeaux (14.63), and Michael Valentine (13.45) rounded out the top six. The top 12 places received cash prizes, while the top six boaters will advance to the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation's Regionals. The top finishers from each state will move on to the national championship.
Ryals learned from his last trip to Columbus. On that occasion, he said the water was muddy, which is something he doesn't like. After a little rain came through in the middle of the week, he said the water stayed clear for the rest of the week, which aided his luck.
Logan Main (4.06 pounds) and Michael Herndon (3.81) were the top finishers in the Big Bass competition on Friday. Emile Gennaro (4.33) and Joel Mayfield (3.48) won those honors Saturday.
Nancy Carpenter, the executive director of the Columbus Visitors and Convention Bureau, said competitors from at least four states and at least 18 counties in the state of Mississippi were on hand for the event. Two weeks ago, Columbus served as host for the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters National Championship.
Like that event, the Mississippi State Championship / B.A.S.S. Federation Nation's National Qualifier received plenty of positive feedback from the participants. Teb Jones, an officer with the state of Mississippi's B.A.S.S. Federation Nation club, said Columbus earned the chance to play host to the event based on a rotation of cities. He said he was extremely pleased with the results.
"The city does an outstanding job, and the convention bureau does an outstanding job," Jones said. "We had a great banquet, the facilities, the launch ramp, this is very convenient place to hold an event, and it is very tournament friendly. I have fished many events here, and it always has been a pleasure to come here."
Jones said 122 competitors (61 boats) participated in the event. He said the windy conditions affected fishing Friday, but he said the fish were on key pieces of structure but not everywhere on the fishery. As a result, he said anglers had to cover a lot of ground to find their fish.
"It turned out great," said Jones, who had a total weight of more than 11 pounds Saturday. "I have been here many, many times before. The last time we were here (October 2009) I won the event, but, unfortunately, I couldn't get to the same areas. It was silted in and there were water hyacinths, so I had to go hunting new water."
Ryals went the other way. He said he was fortunate to find a productive spot in his pre-fishing and returned to it Friday and Saturday. Ryals said he read the banks to determine where he thought he would find fish. Turns out he was right.
"It was immediately," Ryals said of his "luck" Friday. "I was full of fish by 9 a.m."
Ryals, who has been fishing all of his life, said it isn't common for anglers to have success on back to back days. He said the changing nature of Columbus Lake added to his anxiety about his luck Saturday. Still, he had enough good fortune to win.
"I felt like I could get 10 pounds I would make it," said Ryals, who said his father, Kenneth, got him started in fishing. "I got eight, so I made it."
The result was a championship haul that left Ryals eager to make a return trip to Columbus.
"This is a great place," Ryals said. "This is a great bunch of people, and the people in this town are very friendly. It is a great place.
"I told one of the guys in our club, I wish we had a place like this in Hattiesburg to fish."
Randy Ryals' cousin, Craig, also competed in the event, making it a true family affair. Randy said he and family members fish, hunt, and play together, which makes his chance to compete in the national championship even more special that he was able to share it with his brother and his cousin.
"I am ecstatic," said Randy Ryals, who will compete in his first national championship. "I knew if I couldn't get 10 pounds I just wanted to move forward. I am tickled to death."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.