Not only did the 31-year-old Sylacauga, Ala., resident become the first angler to win the event in back-to-back seasons, but he started a chain reaction that helped two other anglers receive a bit of B.A.S.S. glory as well.
Will Davis Jr. of Sylacauga, Ala., has become the first angler in history to win back-to-back B.A.S.S. Nation Championships, winning the 2023 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at Lake Hartwell with a three-day total of 45 pounds, 6 ounces.
Photo by Dalton Tumblin/B.A.S.S
Davis weighed a five-bass limit of 15 pounds, 1 ounce on Day 3, giving him an overall weight of 15 bass for 45-6. That was nearly 4 pounds more than any other angler competing in this three-day derby on Lake Hartwell, and it guaranteed him a spot in the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Thing is, Davis had already qualified for next year’s Elite Series, so his double qualification opened the door for New Hampshire’s Tim Dube, who finished second at Hartwell, to earn a spot in the Elite Series in 2024.
Davis’ win also had a ripple effect on the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, which will be held March 22-24 on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees near Tulsa, Okla.
The Top 3 anglers in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship earn spots in the 2024 Classic. But with Davis already having punched his ticket to the sport’s biggest tournament through the 2023 Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, B.A.S.S. officials said his berth would go to the first Elite out in those rankings.
That lucky angler is Elite Series pro David Gaston, who ironically also hails from Sylacauga, Ala., and who now slides into the 2024 Bassmaster Classic courtesy of his 43rd-place finish in the AOY race and Davis’ victory at Hartwell.
“I had a feeling this week,” Davis said. “I did a lot of praying on it … I even keep a Bible in the boat, and I’ll read a verse to calm me down.”
Unlike last year, when he had to mount a come-from-behind win on Pickwick Lake to hoist the Bryan V. Kerchal Memorial Trophy, Davis had more than 3 pounds of cushion heading into the final day on Hartwell.
Davis ended Day 1 with a 16-1 limit, only 2 ounces behind Dube for the tournament lead, and he seized it on Day 2 with a 14-4 limit to take the lead. The weather changed overnight, and intermittent rain and steady winds moved through the area Friday morning.
But Davis didn’t blink. He had the big bag of the day and collected $20,000 for the win.
Despite having already secured his spot in the Classic and Elite Series, Davis said he fishes to win every tournament.
And at one point on Friday, Davis said he felt his nerves getting shaky. He switched to a Davis Bait Company spinnerbait (in the peacock color) early, anticipating it would work better in the windy weather. But he only had 9 pounds in his livewell as morning turned to afternoon.
“At that point, I went back to the (Davis) Wood Jig and headed to a hump that was in about 40 feet of water. I hadn’t fished it before, and I could see fish down there at about 35 feet. I dropped the Wood Jig right by them and prayed they’d hit it. I was able to get three big hits in a short amount of time and those few extra pounds made the difference.”
Davis rode last year’s Nation Championship to success in the Elite Series, winning a tournament on Lay Lake in May and finishing fifth in the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings. He wasn’t necessarily expecting to repeat as the B.A.S.S. Nation champ, but he’ll certainly take the victory.
“Last year was more emotional, but every win is sweet,” he said.
Dube, who finished second with a three-day total of 41-11, was amazed by his good fortune. He knew a Bassmaster Classic berth could be in the mix, but the chance to fish the 2024 Elite Series had the 29-year-old searching for words. A $15,000 check for finishing second in the tournament, plus $16,000 to cover Elite Series entry fees should he choose to compete, added to his amazement.
“This is all a dream,” Dube said. “I don’t know if you can say no to it. I’m just a rollercoaster of emotions.”
Dube caught a 14-8 limit on Friday, opting for spinnerbaits in choppy water.
“I’d pull up and bomb a 3/4-ounce spinner as far as I could,” he said. “It was shad color with silver blades. They’d come up and knock it out of the water.”
Wisconsin’s Josh Wiesner finished third with 37 pounds at Lake Hartwell. The performance secured him a Classic bid, as well as $10,000 for a podium finish on this storied fishery.
“This is unbelievable,” he said. “I thought I was maybe seventh place. To pull off a third? Unreal.”
Wiesner caught his best bass on a Hartwell Hammer Custom Rapala Jigging Rap and a 1/4-ounce shaky head with a Bass Assassin Tapout worm (peanut butter and jelly color).
A total of 113 anglers (58 boaters, 55 nonboaters) began the tournament on this 56,000-acre fishery straddling the South Carolina-Georgia border. They hailed from 48 states and eight foreign countries, earning their way into the field with their showings at one of five B.A.S.S. Nation regionals held across the country this year.
Arizona’s Hayden Spradling won the nonboater title on Thursday with 10 fish for 18 pounds. He earned $10,000 and was invited to fish in Friday’s final round, finishing with a three-day total of 29-4.
Georgia’s Chris Moody caught the Big Bass of the Tournament among boaters and earned a $1,000 prize. Kansas’ Kyle Klein had the Big Bass among nonboaters (4-8) and won a $500 prize.
Dube also won $500 for being the angler using Garmin electronics who finished highest in the overall boater standings.
The field split a total purse of $96,500.
Visit Anderson hosted the event.
2023 B.A.S.S. Nation Title Sponsor: TNT Fireworks
2023 B.A.S.S. Nation Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 B.A.S.S. Nation Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 B.A.S.S. Nation Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
B.A.S.S., which encompasses the Bassmaster tournament leagues, events and media platforms, is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting-edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (Bassmaster.com), TV show, radio show, social media programs and events. For more than 50 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.
The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Series, TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Series, Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Strike King Bassmaster High School Series presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship, Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX, Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.