When the splashing ended, drags stopped screaming and wind finally subsided, Ryan Lambert’s name stood alone atop the leader board at the Hobie Bass Open Series Tournament of Champions, and he was $30K richer.
Held on Knoxville’s Tennessee River System, the contest featured 50 kayak bass fishers who qualified via nine B.O.S. series events spread across the country, plus a one-day Shootout n Knoxville the day before.
Lambert, 34, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, dusted the field by nearly 11 inches with a tally of 186.25” for the two-day event. He finished ahead of fellow local angler Jordan Marshall (175.50”), and Kristine Fischer (172”), as the Tennesseans swept the top three spots in what is arguably the most prestigious of kayak bass fishing championships.
“When you put the best anglers in our series together, it can be anybody’s game – and there were a lot of folks who had a reasonable chance of claiming this crown,” said tournament director A.J. McWhorter. “In the end, the top spots went to local anglers who were familiar with the waters and best able to adapt to the changing conditions — including cool temperatures and heavy fog on Saturday morning, strong currents on both days, and a heavy storm with 60 mph wind gusts on Sunday. Through it all, Ryan Lambert was the only one who managed to sustain super-high catch levels across both days.”
The Cash Breakdown
For his efforts, Lambert collected a $30,000 first-place check while Marshall pocketed $8,000 and Fischer took home $5,500. In total, the tournament paid out a whopping $61,000 to the top ten finishers, plus an additional $1,000 to Cole Kleffman, who edged out Lambert by a quarter-inch for Bassin’ Magazine Big Bass honors with a 20.75” brute.
All told, competitors caught, measured and released 437 fish, a mix of smallmouths and largemouths, with the bronzebacks dominating the money spots. In addition to his substantial cash prize, Lambert also qualified for the Hobie Worlds 10 and the 2021 T.O.C. Fischer, it should be noted, finished higher than has any other female competitor in a kayak fishing national championship event.
“I love river fishing for smallmouths and these waters are local for me, so I felt pretty good heading into this tournament,” said Lambert. “Still, to win it all? I just couldn’t imagine that. I’ve had several second- and third-place finishes at national events, but I’ve been lacking that signature win on the big stage. For it to come at the Holy Grail of kayak bass fishing, well, that’s hard to believe. If I were going to pick one kayak event to win, this would be it. The competition here is the best you’ll find anywhere.”
Arriving at his launch site on Day 1, Lambert found nearly a dozen kayaks ready to head out so he opted to put in at another site five miles upstream and paddle back to his hot spot in hopes of keeping it quiet. He didn’t catch a fish until about 11 a.m., but then culled a 95” limit in a 45-minute span using a Z-Man SlingbladeZ™ spinnerbait and a Z-Man Ned rig.
“It was a pretty strong bite once it got started and I finished in the top spot for Day 1,” revealed Lambert. “I knew then that if I could buy five bites on Day 2, I’d be in the running. I got six, but I had to work a lot slower to earn each strike. I had to sit on those fish all day long with a Ned rig to post 91.25” of bass. Fortunately, that was enough.”
Marshall, 25, from Maryville, Tennessee, spent his time covering as much water as possible while targeting smallmouth bass with homemade custom spinnerbaits on the Holston River. He found himself in fourth place at the end of Day 1 with 91” of bass and followed that up with a Day 2 total of 84.5”, good for second behind Lambert.
Fischer pinned her hopes on patterning smallmouths along cut banks and shoreline indentations that featured some slack water. It took her until 10:30 a.m. to find her first fish as the fog lifted on Day 1 to reveal a flat at the tip of an island where the French Broad splits. “There was a large area of slack water there,” she said. “I was able to work a solid school of bass by fan-casting the flats. I’d drilled eight or nine fish there on an underspin before deciding to save the spot for Day 2. At the end of Day 1, I was in second place with 94” of bass, just an inch behind Ryan.”
While all fifty anglers were battling for the T.O.C. championship title, at least a dozen more were seriously in the hunt for Hobie’s Angler of the Year (A.O.Y.) honors. Heading into the contest, A.O.Y. point leaders Jody Queen and Rus Snyders were in control of their own destinies, a top-three finish virtually assuring victory for either competitor. But it was Drew Gregory, from Ohio, who clawed his way from the third position to overtake the leaders and secure the title. Ron Champion of Georgia took second while Marshall grabbed the third spot to cap a great day. This year’s A.O.Y. first-place prize package included $5,000 cash and a fully rigged, custom-colored, orange and black B.O.S. camo Hobie Mirage 360 Pro Angler 14 outfitted with a Power Pole, Lowrance Unit on a Scotty base, and Dakota Lithium batteries.
For more information on the Hobie B.O.S. Anchored by Power-Pole, or to view the final T.O.C. standings, go to: https://tourneyx.com/app/tourney/hobie-bos-tournament-of-champions.