The Fifth World Black Bass Sport Fishing Championship
Story by Russ Bassdozer
Photos courtesy of Mark Lassagne and Dago Luna
November 11, 2009
"I have not been in an international event before, and I don't know if there are any other tournaments where you have different countries competing from all over the world," says Yamamoto pro Tom Mann Jr. "So this was kind of unique. It was a treat for me I really enjoyed it because number one, I enjoyed meeting all the other anglers from all the other countries. You get a bunch of fishermen together like that, and no matter where they are from, they are all the same. They're just fishermen, and they're really good people. I tried to meet everyone. Well, I know I missed a few of them, but I tried to meet all the participants from all the countries in this tournament. They're all great people, and although some of them did not speak English very well, we could communicate good enough to get our messages across."
"This was also my first international tournament, and it was a good experience," says Yamamoto pro Todd Faircloth. "I feel like everybody there had a good time. Mexico welcomed us, and everyone we met from Mexico, they were very happy and proud to host the anglers from all the different countries. It was just a friendly bunch of people to be around. I got to meet many anglers from many different countries, and I found we all have one thing in common, and that is that we love to fish. To all be together in Mexico, it was just kind of a unique deal."
Gary Yamamoto hand-picked Team USA to represent the United States in world competition.
Tom Mann Jr. says, "The USA team was a little different in that Gary Yamamoto hand-picked us. Most of the other guys had to qualify within their countries, competing in local events, regional and national championships within their own countries in order to get to this event. Needless to say, they were all good fishermen. Even though some of their countries do not actually have that many black bass, they knew how to bass fish, had all the right equipment, the right lures, and you could talk to them, and they had deep knowledge about fishing, they knew what they were doing."
Tom Mann Jr. and Todd Faircloth are speaking of the Fifth World Black Bass Sport Fishing Championship which was held from November 6th to 8th on La Presa El Cuchillo in China, Mexico, about an hour's drive from Monterrey, Mexico's most affluent, modern city.
The World Black Bass Sport Fishing Championship is held under the auspices of and according to the rules and protocols of the International Federation of Sport Angling in fresh waters (FIPSed), a subdivision of the International Angling Confederation (CIPS). Founded 57 years ago in 1952, CIPS is headquartered in Rome, Italy. CIPS is an organization of a universal nature which has as its goal to promote, coordinate and improve all activities related to sportfishing of every kind. All CIPS fishing activities are open to all regardless of race, social level, politics or religion, according to the principles of the Olympic ideal.
CIPS events and activities stretch all around the world. Currently, 115 national fishing federations that include 50 million sportfishermen members from over 60 countries belong to CIPS. Every year, the best fishermen in the world, about 2,000 national champion anglers from over sixty countries compete from the nations of Andorra, Angola, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belorussia, Bosnia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Channel Islands, Chile, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Japan, Latvia, Lettonie, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Scotland, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tahiti, Tunisia, Ukraine, United States, Venezuela and Wales. All these countries' finest fishers from every continent compete for the undisputed world championship titles in freshwater, trout fishing with artificial bait, trout fishing with natural bait, bass fishing, carp fishing, flyfishing, shore angling, boat angling, ocean big game trolling, even scuba hunting (spearfishing) and surfcasting distance competitions.
The world black bass championship is just one of CIPS many world championship angling competitions. In past years, the world bass fishing championships were held in Europe in conjunction with other competitions mentioned above. For 2009 however, the CIPS bass fishing competition was held separately in Mexico, and hosted by Mexico's National Sport Fishing Federation, the Federacion Nacional De Pesca Deportiva.
The three days of competition in Mexico on La Presa El Cuchillo were endcapped by opening and closing ceremonies rivaling the Olympic Games. Anglers from each country opened the competition with a parade where they march together in their team fishing tournament shirts, carrying their country's flags proudly.
Team USA from left to right: Tom Mann Jr., Mark Lassagne, Charlie Weyer, Todd Faircloth, and the Yamamotos, Gary, Beverly and Derek.
So it stands to reason that Gary Yamamoto's Team USA was there to represent our country at the world championships of bass fishing in Mexico last week. Gary and son Derek Yamamoto, Charlie Weyer, Mark Lassagne, Tom Mann Jr. and Todd Faircloth represented the USA in the three-day competition against six-man teams from nine other countries. There are three two-man teams from each country that compete for Individual Team honors, and the combined points of all three teams are tallied up to get the country level scores. We're proud to say Gary Yamamoto's Team USA came in first, buoyed by the solid performance of Tom Mann Jr. and Todd Faircloth, who fished together for the first time, winning the gold medal for the Individual Team competition.
The ten countries that competed this year finished in the following order: 1) USA, 2) Mexico, 3) Spain, 4) Italy, 5) Portugal, 6) Swaziland, 7) Russia, 8) Venezuela, 9) Germany and 10) Romania finished the event in that order. Let's recognize and honor them all, the anglers who fished together in Mexico last week. They are all the victorious piscators of our beautiful blue planet's bountiful bass waters!
In country competition, Team USA got the gold, followed by Mexico for the silver and Spain, the bronze.
"I feel the USA's going to always be somewhat more competitive in bass fishing because that is our number one sportfish and we have so many places to go and such vast experience. It's part of our national heritage, more than any other country," states Tom Mann Jr. "Especially when you get to the professional level of FLW or BASS, you really do have the best anglers in the USA. This is the only place it can be a career like I have enjoyed or Todd Faircloth, and it can be a business, like for Gary Yamamoto. I don't think there's any other country that the other participants came from where that's possible like it is in the USA."
"One of the biggest impressions that this event made on me," says Todd Faircloth, "is just how much this meant to the anglers of these different countries to be there. They had to work hard in tournaments all year to qualify in their country, and I could tell how much it meant to them, and how much they really wanted to win it for their country. There was a lot of patriotism."
Dago Luna (left) and Carlos Gloria (right) organized the world championship for Mexico. They are two of the country's top professional bass anglers and bass fishing promoters.
"The world bass competition was just added to CIPS five years ago, and what's interesting about some of the countries that enter teams into the world championship bass competition each year is that, for instance Russia does not have any bass," explains Carlos Gloria who, together with his business partner, Dago Luna, organized the event in Mexico. Dago and Carlos work together, fish tournaments together, and Dago was one of the founding fathers of Mexico's Pro Angler Tour, the most prestigious bass circuit in the country which Dago helped start in 2007. Dago's also a seasoned fishing writer/videographer and a Senior Editor of Mexico's premier fishing publication, Pro Fishing magazine. Dago has a column, The X Files of Bass Fishing in every issue and Dago owns and operates the website BassChannel.TV. Co-organizer Carlos Gloria on the other hand, is one of the country's best bass fishing guides and a top pro angler on Mexico's tournament trails.
"Germany does not have very many bass either," continues Carlos, "but what they do have are lots of European perch. Since the perch there grow as big as bass, they hit a wide variety of bass lures and are plentiful across Europe. So the anglers practice bass fishing for perch, and that keeps them competitive."
"Yet even in some of the countries where bass are more popular, like Italy, Spain, Portugal or France, there are only a handful of waters, only a couple of lakes or rivers that have bass in those countries, and if I am not mistaken, there are only northern strain (no Florida strain) largemouth in Europe, so they are not going to get very huge, considering that many European countries above the Mediterranean, the water runs a little colder, so they have short growing seasons. The bass are just not that big or plentiful in most European waters. So everybody from Europe and Venezuela, they were all very excited to be in Mexico this year, because of the great fishing. Because here you have lots of bass and extremely large ones!" exclaims Carlos Gloria.
"Indeed, everyone caught a lot of fish here. There were at least five fish over four kilos (8.8 lbs) weighed each day, and lots of 7 and 8 pounders weighed in. Every individual angler or country team in the three-day tournament, many of them enjoyed some of the best bass fishing they have ever experienced in their lifetimes," says Carlos enthusiastically.
Tom Mann Jr. and Todd Faircloth weighed an 8, 9 and 10 pounder on day three to decisively win the event, and an angler from Swaziland had the biggest bass of the competition, a massive 6 kilo "golona" (monster) over 13 pounds.
"This was a whole different kind of event for me," says Tom Mann Jr. "I've fished professionally for bass for 20 years. I've qualified for 8 Bassmaster Classics, I've qualified for 7 FLW Championships, and I have won on both tours. But as far as the pride I felt standing on the podium at the closing ceremonies in Mexico, it far outweighed any of that."
"When I got up on stage to receive the world championship medal, and I was standing up there, an Olympic kind of thing is what this felt like," explains Tom. "You knew you were representing your country. We were there representing the USA and also, Yamamoto. That was just such a different feeling from anything I've done in bass fishing before. We knew when we got there that what you were fishing for is the pride of your country, because again like the Olympics, nobody makes a penny for winning. It takes a real big effort to get there, and what you are fishing for is a gold medal that says you have excelled and worked hard for your country."
Thousands turned out to be part of the closing awards ceremony.
"Sunday, for the closing ceremonies, we had close to 2,000 fans in the stands watching for who would win the gold, silver and bronze medals. Medals are given for the top three country teams and for the top three individual teams," says Carlos Gloria. "We had a fairground set up with a nice little playground for the kids, a little circus sideshow, a grill, really great Mexican food and fishing tackle vendors in the fairway; We almost didn't have enough room for everybody who came to see the medals awarded. Of course Todd Faircloth and Tom Mann Jr. got the gold medals bestowed on them twice - for the USA team and again as the individual team."
Team USA's Todd Faircloth and Tom Mann Jr. got the gold in Individual Team competition, flanked by Spain on left for the silver and Mexico for the bronze.
Tom Mann Jr. adds, "There were good crowds at the ceremonies and weigh-ins, all done outdoors with big circus tents and pavilions, right by the lake and the waterfront hotel. It was really well-organized, making this a very unique and a very enjoyable event."
Neither Tom Mann Jr. nor Todd Faircloth had ever fished anywhere in Mexico before, and they had not fished together before this.
"This was my first trip to Mexico, and we got just one 7-hour practice day," says Tom Mann Jr.
"I know Tom from fishing against him, but I didn't know him real well," says Todd Faircloth. "I got a chance to know him a little better now, and we got to spend some quality time fishing together."
"Todd and I practiced together," says Tom. "We both have been around a long time, and a bass is a bass, and you can go by the time of year, water temperature, weather and so forth, and when we put all of those things together, we actually decided to fish deep offshore and not try to fight so many trees for the shallow bite. I mean, there's just an endless amount of shallow flooded trees on Cuchillo. So we just went out there basically from the start to try to find offshore structure which, actually, was very hard to find. The problem is, Cuchillo is so flat, that most of the bars and the points that run offshore, they don't have any kind of drop-off. We found two really special places that ran out far enough to get into creeks or the river channel and had a sheer drop right on the end, and those were the two key spots where we really caught the big ones. These spots were each a long point, bar or ridge - the longer, the better, - that ran out toward the original river channel, that had a really good drop on all sides, and right on the tip of it, there would be some of those trees."
"The biggest different part or hurdle for this event," says Todd Faircloth, "was we only got one day practice on the lake that we had no preconceived notions about. We didn't know how the lake laid out, we did not have a good map, we didn't have any real idea of anything. Normally if we go to a lake or a tournament for an event, usually we get three days of practice, and you have a lot better understanding of what you need to do during the tournament after those three days. When you get one day on a lake you've never been to, it's kind of real fortunate to stumble across the two good areas we did. Those two spots really paid off. We tried to look for more areas during the tournament, and actually spent a lot of time idling around looking for spots, but those were the only two that we came up with, and they were definitely the deal to catch the bigger fish."
"The closest thing I've fished to Cuchillo is Lake Falcon, Texas" says Todd Faircloth. "I've never been to Cuchillo, but I have fished Lake Falcon, and it fishes very similar to Cuchillo from what I saw. The water clarity is the same, the fish seem to really relate to cover and structure pretty much the same. Cuchillo just has a lot of brush and wood cover, and it fishes a lot like Falcon does."
"It has no grass. It would have reminded you of Amistad or Falcon, except that Cuchillo is devoid of any grass," says Tom Mann Jr.
"We just targeted bigger fish," says Tom Mann Jr. "We had 9.74 kilos (21.4 lbs) the first day, 8.18 kilos (18 lbs) the second day, and the final day when we had the big catch was 14.98 kilos (33 pounds)."
"We were real fortunate as far as our hook-to-catch ratio, We didn't lose a single good bass. We caught everything we hooked we landed. We caught about 70% of our fish on the 12" Yamamoto Curly Tail worm in watermelon red, and we caught about 20% or 30% of them on big, deep crankbaits - a Rapala DT16 and a DT20," explains Tom Mann Jr.
"We worked real good together. We both fished pretty similar together, and both felt real comfortable the way we were fishing offshore, fishing deep stuff, and it was just a good pairing," says Todd Faircloth.
"I don't know if we showed each other any secrets or anything, but you know anytime you can get in a boat with somebody who has that number of years experience as Tom Mann does, you always can pick up some little things he shows you that can help me somewhere down the road. One tip that I would like to share with the readers is, I was throwing those big crankbaits on braid," says Todd Faircloth, "and if you haven't done that much before - crank deep with braid whenever you are fishing brush piles or wood cover like we were fishing these trees. The main reason why I like to crank with braid is you can use a 20 or 30 pound braid, and still get the bait to the same depth as a 10 or 12 pound fluorocarbon plus you have all that strength. The biggest benefit to it is that when you get the bait hung up in the trees, with the braid, you can usually pop it free or jerk your bait out or rip it out, whereas with the small diameter fluorocarbon, it has too much stretch, and you're just not able to do that with a big crankbait on fluoro. Tie direct here, no leader. When you are cranking like that, real fast, it's just a reaction bite, and the water clarity there was pretty off. It wasn't muddy or dirty, but it was stained, and braided line visibility really isn't a factor."
"The bigger fish we caught were healthy, fat and chunky. If you wanted to, you could have caught a lot of small fish, but the way we fished, it didn't lend itself to catching numbers of small fish," says Tom Mann Jr.
"I noticed there seemed to be a couple year classes missing, as we didn't get too many 2-1/2 to 4-pounders. All the fish were either 1-1/2 to 2 pound bass or you caught a 5 to 10 pound bass. Somewhere they missed a couple year classes, which could possibly have been due to water level fluctuation during the spawning seasons or maybe there's some other reason," wonders Tom Mann Jr.
"In the past few years on Cuchillo, you can't keep a bass under 14 inches or over 17 inches in possession, not even in tournaments," explains Carlos Gloria. So the fish that Tom noticed are missing, are the ones in the 14 to 17 inch slot limit that anglers may keep to eat (the limit is one per day). That slot limit makes it harder to win a tournament by only weighing in 14-17 inchers, but makes it better for the lake. There are lots of tournaments, about 20 to 25 tournaments a year on Cuchillo, with up to 180, 200, 220 boats in each event, and the good part of this is that the immediate release of any fish larger than 17 inches, keeps those big fish very healthy to be put right back in the lake."
"Because of this, there are lots of bass over 2 kilos (4.4 lbs), 3 kilos (6.6 lbs) and especially lots of bass over 4 kilos (8.8 lbs) in Cuchillo right now, because these aren't kept or even weighed in tournaments, but get immediate release. It's like every time you go, you'll get a 4 kilo (8.8 lb) bass now. You have to let them go right there. Take a picture and release it," recommends Carlos.
"Cuchillo is a special water in Mexico since it's the only lake in Mexico with no commercial fishing, no nets, no nothing. not even for tilapia. For sportfishermen, you're allowed to take just one bass per day per person in between 14 and 17 inches, and that's it. If you're found commercial fishing, you may face serious fines or other consequences and you're probably going to lose any boats, vehicles and equipment used. So please don't try it."
"On Cuchillo, we further protect vast bass spawning areas in the spring. The primary spawning areas have been identified, and are off limits to any and all angling during the spawn. As far as I know, just Cuchillo is the only lake in Mexico that manages the bass spawning grounds like that. So between the slot limit, the quick release of all big bass, the ban on commercial fishing and the prime spawning sanctuaries, we catch really big bass all the time on Cuchillo, not to mention because we are so far south, a hotter climate than in the USA, we have a longer growing season. The fishing season just kind of goes from fall to spring, skipping the inactive winter hibernation season. So our bass are always eating a lot and growing," explains Carlos.
"This was one of the most rewarding events for me. I'm a full time professional fisherman since 1984, and I have fished just about every kind of competition there has been over the years, but this was one of the most enjoyable ones for me, and I think for everyone who participated, because of the friendships you made. I made friends in Swaziland, and didn't even know it existed before this. That's pretty special, and it was just a remarkable, rewarding event. I'm a red-blooded American, so it is always an honor for me to do anything for my country, and earning the gold medal for Team USA will go down as one of the most rewarding moments of my career." - Tom Mann Jr.
"There are a couple of outfitters, American guides who bring US anglers to El Cuchillo, it seems they're mainly anglers from Oklahoma and states thereabouts but overall, when it comes to bass fishing tourism in Mexico, most Americans really don't go to Cuchillo. They usually go to Baccarac, Huites, El Salto and some go to Guerrero," says Carlos.
"Also, I know a lot of American anglers now make fishing vacations to the boundary waters that Mexico and the USA share, Amistad and Falcon. Within recent years, since those two lakes have been spotlighted on the pro tours, many American anglers vacation there."
"If you look on a map, you'll see that Cuchillo is not that far from one of these popular destinations, Falcon Lake. From Falcon Lake, Cuchillo is one hour and twenty minutes drive. It's really close. Actually, there are 3 or 4 lakes in a row here that you can fish in a week. Stay in Cuchillo for a day or two, and then you can move to Sugar Lake which is 45 minutes from Cuchillo. The waterfront hotel is right at the ramp in Cuchillo and is a five-star operation. It's really nice, and you are right on the lake. There is another very nice lodge, El Mirador at Sugar Lake, and you catch very big fish there too. Then the next day, you can still stay at the lodge at Sugar Lake, and drive another 35 minutes to the Mexican side of Falcon Lake. The good thing about this is, you've got one more spare lake, Las Blancas, halfway between Sugar Lake and Falcon Lake. It's just 20-25 minutes from Sugar Lake. So if it's really windy or some days when Sugar Lake can be really hard to fish, you have the option to be on Las Blancas fishing within a half-hour, and you can always catch lots of 4 to 5 pounders there, so it's fun! They have 8, 9, 10 pounders, but Las Blancas is better known for just a large amount of 4 to 5 pounders. It's not that big, so you don't need to drive the boat too far on Las Blancas. The accommodations at Sugar Lake are exceptional. It really is the best place to stay, even to fish Falcon Lake or Las Blancas from that lodge on Sugar Lake. Best of all, there are 13 or 14 pound bass regularly caught in Sugar Lake. In Falcon Lake or Amistad, they're not that big. You don't see as many 13 or 14 pounders, it's rare. On Falcon or Amistad, you will catch ten or twelve pounders, but to break the "teen barrier"? No, it's not easy there. Not 14's or 15's like on Sugar Lake. So it really makes for a great vacation to hit Cuchillo, Sugar, the Mexican side of Falcon and there's always Las Blancas. You have all the charm and feeling of being in Mexico, really close to the border, and some fantastic fishing that is largely unexplored by American or international tourist anglers," says Carlos.
"We were very proud to host the World Black Bass Sport Fishing Championship on Cuchillo this year," says Carlos. "The best part of the tournament was the 6 kilo (13+ pound) bass caught by an angler from Swaziland. It just shows the bass fishing world what is so easily possible here."
13.33 lb Mexican "golona" (monster) bass was caught by the Swaziland team on day one of competition.
"I had competed for Mexico in the world bass championship when it was held in Italy last year, and that's the main reason why Mexico's Federacion Nacional De Pesca Deportiva asked Dago Luna and I to organize the event here, because we knew all about how it had been held in Italy. The record bass on the lake we fished in Italy is 3 kilos (6.6) pounds, and that was caught five years ago, and I don't think anyone last year caught a bass over 4 pounds, and some countries didn't catch too many there. Last year in Italy, it was great, but there were almost no bass caught in that lake, and they were not that big. So it was good to have it in Mexico this year because almost everyone broke their records for bass here. Everybody was really happy. It was the best bass fishing that many of the anglers had ever had. Like once in a lifetime fishing. So after Mexico, what? There's not this kind of good fishing - lots of nice fish and some extremely big ones - anywhere else. Plus Cuchillo is the easiest bass lake to get to in Mexico, from anywhere in the world. Unlike many of the other trophy bass lakes in Mexico, whether El Salto, Baccarac, Huites or Guerrero, they are not near major international airports or big cities. But here you have Monterrey, one hour from Cuchillo. It's one of the most modern, affluent and the very safest city not only in Mexico but it's ranked the safest city in all of Latin America. Monterrey is an astonishingly modern and wealthy city that enjoys one of Mexico's highest standards of living, and the population is more educated and cultured than average. There's lots of things for a tourist to do and see in Monterrey, and there's just no other trophy bass lake in Mexico that can be reached as conveniently as Cuchillo from the USA or anywhere worldwide."
"I'd also like to thank PowerBoats boat dealership in Monterrey, Mexico, who was my main title sponsor of this event," adds Carlos.
"Thanks to thirty volunteer people (we called them our bass angels) from SanicoBass (a fishing community of friends on the web) that came out to work hard without pay to assist and help Carlos and I set up, run and finish up after the event. Also thanks to Arturo Lizcano, the master brain in boat logistics; without him we could not have kept everyone's boat on the water," adds co-organizer Dago Luna.