Billy “Hawkeye” Decoteau
Over the past twenty plus years, I have been blessed with the unique opportunity to travel and compete in some of the most exciting bass waters this wonderful country of ours has to offer. Sharing the front deck with America’s most Elite Bass Anglers and Classic Champions like Alton Jones and Jay Yelas seemed like a dream come true, while listening to bass angling techniques developed and patented by this sports ‘Living Legends’ such as Basil Bacon, Don Iovino, Zell Rowland and Rick Clunn framed a smile I thought second to none!
That is until I met Joe Thompson and his fifteen-year old daughter Brittany on August 16th at the Ron Phillips Benefit Tournament (www.Marshcreekbassclub.com) in Perryville, Maryland, along the banks of the Upper Chesapeake Bay.
Suffering a backyard football injury in February 2008 which lacerated his liver, thirteen year old Junior Bassmaster Angler Ron Phillips and his family discovered young Ron not only would need a liver transplant, but the Junior Bassmaster was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Leukemia, a rare fast growing type of blood cancer. In April 2008 Ron received his liver transplant, remaining in a stable condition and still hospitalized, Ron’s progress is slow and steady as he longs to return to the sport of bass angling he so dearly loves.
It isn’t often that bass anglers will travel extended miles to compete in a benefit tournament, but then again fewer people have ever witness the inner hearts of those traveling nomads we call America’s Bassmaster Elite Anglers! (www.Bassmaster.com) “Working with the Ron Phillips Steering Committee in assembling a fund raising benefit tournament to help Ron’s family offset the expenses of Ron’s hospital bills and continued treatment, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” echoes Bassmaster Elite Angler Rick Ash. (www.BassEast.com)
When the committee came up with the idea of individuals purchasing raffle tickets to fish with a Professional Bass Angler as a form of raising both interest and monetary funds, Ash flipped the suggestion to his Bassmaster Elite Colleagues. “It was like a bass feeding frenzy! As soon as the word got out about Ron my phone kept ringing non-stop,” says Ash. Deluged with a combination of prizes and commitments, Ash’s Crazy Fish Graphics wrapped Bass Cat was transformed into a delivery vehicle. “FLW and Bassmaster Top-Anglers literally took the shirts off their backs and donated them as Online Auction Items for Bass Fishing Collectors, in an effort to help raise additional funds for Ron’s family.” (For additional information on these items log unto e-Bay and search, By Seller ID: RPBFUND or Ron Benefit Auction)
As the Ron Phillips Benefit Tournament date came into focus, so did the list of Professional B.A.S.S. and FLW Outdoors Bass Anglers who volunteered to take out one of the seven lucky raffle ticket winners in the ‘Fish with a Pro’ contest. Representing the Bassmaster Women’s Pro Tour was Triton Boats (www.TritonBoats.com) Professional Anglers Christiana Bradley and Bridget Allen. Mercury Outboards sponsored (www.MercuryMarine.com) Bassmaster Elite Anglers, Jeff Connella, and Glen Delong, while FLW/Bass Professional Anglers were East Coast Gun Sales Randy Yarnall, Bass Cat’s Frank Ippolitti and Skeeter Boats Dave Mansue.
The Upper or Head of the Chesapeake Bay is home to the famed Susquehanna Flats. With over fifteen various forms of vegetation, the Susquehanna River, East River, Furnace Bay, Cara Cove to name a few provide both bass and a huge abundance of forage all the sheltered habitats they need. Utilizing wood, rocks and thick grass beds, bass anglers need to be in tune with the changing tides.
Banking over twenty-years of guiding experience (www.UpperBayAdventures.com) Bassmaster Elite Angler Rick Ash enlightened me as to what the possible tournament winning patterns would most likely be. “Tidal conditions are not going to be ideal today! A combination of the full moon cycle causing a stronger pull will increase the water level and anglers will experience a rising or incoming tide for most of the day. There will be fewer 5-bass limits, as the bass have an enormous advantage with the ability to constantly move around all day!”
When the Ron Phillips Benefit Tournament Scales officially were closed by the Anglers Choice Region 4 (www.Anglerschoice.com) volunteer weigh-in team, the leaders board revealed Ash’s tournament results forecast, as only eighteen of the eighty-five teams managed to secure a 5-bass limit! Claiming the Ron Phillips Benefit Tournament Title with a 5-bass limit tipping the scales at 16.05 lbs was Pennsylvania State Police Officer and avid tournament competitor Joe Thompson with his fifteen-year-old daughter Brittany.
Upon accepting their first place plaques and tournament purse of over $1,500.00 Shimano’s Joe Thompson and his daughter Brittany exemplified the ultimate personal trait of ‘True Professionals’ by donating their winning check back to Ron Phillips family! Standing next to Professional Bassmaster Elite Angler Jeff Connella (www.JeffConnella.com), Jeff turned to me shaking his head and smiling, “That little girl started the day this morning wearing that same beautiful smile and every time I saw her she was still smiling!”
Catching up with Joe and his daughter Brittany, it was quite obvious why Joe is considered one of the most respected and professional bass anglers in the upper Chesapeake Bay area. Applauding Joe and Brittany on their donation example Joe replied,” Our entire day was centered on doing our very best with a goal of winning the tournament and giving our monetary prize back to Ron in an effort to help Ron win his battle with cancer.” With her never ending smile Brittany added, ”Today is all about Ron………..This is Ron’s Tournament Victory!”
Recapping their Ron Phillips Tournament strategy the Thompson’s incorporated three basic baits in their winning patterns. Rotating from deep-water rock piles and pilings in 10-14’, Joe rigged a 7.5” YUM Junebug Ribbon Tail Worm (www.YUMBaits.com) on a 3/0 TX3 Excalibur Worm Hook Texas style and added a 3/8oz Excalibur Tungsten weight. While Brittany threw Fire Tiger Bomber Model A crankbaits, changing model running depths as the cover dictated. Her choices were the Bomber Model 7A, 6A and 4A to cover the varying water depths.
Constantly running from their deep-water pattern to shallow grassy areas with both emergent and submerged vegetation throughout the day Team Thompson utilized a one-two change-up! “I worked a 3/8oz White BOOYAH Double Willow spinnerbait, while Brittany followed my cast with a 3/8oz Chartreuse/White BOOYAH Double Willow spinnerbait.” Both spinnerbaits were rigged with gold and silver willow leaf blades. Keeping his boat in eight feet of water Joe and Brittany made their cast to vegetation in 2-3 feet, slowly crawling their BOOYAH spinnerbaits so that their baits kept ticking the tops of the submerged grass.
The winning Thompson Team anchored their 5-bass creel with a 3.89 lb largemouth bass. “We spent the entire day running back and forth to three basic areas, allowing the bass bite to tell us when to change areas,” said Joe. Then with a chuckle in his voice and a Thompson patented smile he added, “Or, whenever Brittany suggested we return to our spinnerbait grassy area!”
Making my six-hour trip back north, the thought of a positive role-model mentoring bass angling dad and his fifteen-year old daughter enlighten my heart to the true meaning of a “Winners Smile”!
God Bless and Best Bass’n
Bill Decoteau is an outdoor journalist with a strong passion for pursuing the Black Bass. His activities include covering and photographing professional bass trails, the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America Bass Trail, as well as emceeing benefit tournaments such as Maine’s Special Olympics. Bill may also be found on the water filming his television show The Bass Bureau…………Where the Road meets the Water or in the classroom holding bass seminars, sharing winning techniques utilized by some of the nationals’ top-bass pro’s at many of the regional sportsmen shows.