DAYTON, Tenn. – In exactly one month’s time Tony Smith went from one of the lowest points in his life to one of the highest. Sunday afternoon, holding the Big Bass Tour Championship trophy, Smith said, “A month ago to this day, almost to this hour, I had surgery and they couldn’t get me to wake up out of anesthesia. They couldn’t get me off the ventilator and they weren’t really sure I was going to make it. But the good Lord has a plan and I thank him first and foremost.”
Out of 683 fishermen who registered and fished the Chickamauga Lake Big Bass Tour Saturday and Sunday, Smith caught the largest bass of anyone. Smith’s fish tipped the scales to 10.62 pounds. For his win he took home a $36,000 2018 Nitro Z19 bass boat with a Mercury 150 horsepower ProXS motor, plus a $1,000 check for the hourly win.
The Big Bass Tour is designed specifically for amateur anglers. Professional fishermen are specifically excluded. Anglers don’t care about how many bass they catch. Winning is based upon the single largest bass caught. In addition to the overall championship Smith won, over two days of fishing the event offers prizes for the ten biggest bass weighed in each hour – a total of 140 anglers shared a portion of $42,350 paid out during the hourly weigh-ins.
Organizer Dennis Tumlin with the Rhea County economic development agency and tourism group FishDayton.com said the 683 anglers who took part represented a four percent increase from last year’s event. He said that wasn’t the only thing that got bigger.
“In past years the big fish have always been in the 9-and-a-half-pound range,” said Tumlin. “This year we felt like we’d cross that ten-pound mark and we did it three times.”
Two other anglers – Cory Byrum and Eric Cabrera – weighed in bass that weighed over ten pounds but neither could best Smith’s big bass. Complete results here
Leaned up against his new $36,000 Nitro, Smith said, “I basically got lucky. The sun had come out and our bite had slowed down. My buddy, Lonnie, suggested we move over to a steep rocky bank. We were flipping around and when my bait [a curly-tailed worm] went down it just felt like a bluegill picked it up really. I picked up on the rod a little bit and it was there. I set the hook and everybody done real good. I got up on the front of the boat, Josh got the net and Lonnie done the coaching. It was a team effort all the way through.”
It was hard, however, for Smith to quit talking about the ordeal he had gone through a month before and the moments when doctors called his wife back to explain that his situation was dire.
“The surgery [for a herniated disc] went well and they first told my wife she’d be able to see me in about an hour,” he said. “Then after about two hours they called her back and said, ‘We need to talk to you.’ It’s a blessing that I’m standing here today.”
The winning fish was the biggest bass Smith has caught in his life. But he said it couldn’t have happened without his “team.”
“I’ve got two partners and we all agreed that whatever we won we’d split,” said Smith. “If we keep it we’ll all three fish out of it. If we sell it we’ll split the money out of it.”
Tumlin said he expects the Big Bass Tour to return in 2019, perhaps in March when it is likely that even bigger bass will be caught.
“They believe that this time of year that our lake out-performs any lake they visit in the country,” said Tumlin.
For a complete schedule of Big Bass Tour events go here
Go here to see Tumlin’s Live Facebook broadcast of the championship final including an interview with Smith