By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

Driving through Kentucky on his way back home to Indiana on Sunday, Mark Dove found himself in an area where cell phone service was spotty at best and mostly non-existent. His inability to chat it up with friends and family allowed him a little bit of time to soak up what hed accomplished the previous day.

Even if it were a cross-country jaunt and the dead zone stretched from coast to coast, hes not sure hed be able to fully absorb the enormity of his feat.

Catching 20-pound stringers at Wheeler Lake is a massive accomplishment for any angler these days. Just last month, Mark Rose was the lone FLW Tour pro to crack 20 pounds at the 4-day Wheeler Lake FLW Open.

So when Dove did it on the final day of the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship, with a trip to the Bassmaster Classic and an invitation to the Elite Series on the line, you can imagine his disbelief.

The fates of fishing, he called it.

His 20-01 stringer on day 3 was not only the heaviest bag of the tournament and eclipsed his total from the first 2 days combined, it catapulted him from 20th place to the biggest win of his tournament career and clinched him a second trip to the Bassmaster Classic, 15 years after the first.

Did we mention he did all of this on his 57th birthday?

The criminal defense attorney from North Vernon, Ind., finished with 39-00, just over a pound better than Mark Pierce, who finished 2nd for the second straight year.

Its sort of surreal, Dove said once he regained cell service. I went down there hoping to make the Classic again and (Saturday) was just one of those days that every tournament angler should have the opportunity to experience, especially on a stage like that. I was like, Oh my gosh, I cant believe this is happening to me.

I wanted to be able to say, I did it again. For a Federation angler like me whos never really had any kind of aspirations to fish professionally full time, it was a bucket-list thing. Then I was like, Id like the bucket to get a little deeper and do it again. Now that I actually won the tournament and went to the pinnacle for a Federation angler, it hasnt sunk in that much. Its all gravy from here.

Heres how he did it.

Practice

Dove spent the first 4 days of October scouting at Wheeler. It was a little earlier than hed hoped, but he had to schedule the trip around a BFL Regional tournament at Kentucky Lake that he was supposed to fish.

He fully expected a tough fall bite to materialize for the tournament and hes fished Wheeler enough in the past to know that there would be plenty of shuffling on the leaderboard. He finished 112th at the Eastern FLW Series event there in March 2008, but he still liked how it set up.

Overall, especially in the fall, it just fits my strengths, he said. Im primarily a shallow-water power-fisherman. When you fish most of your career on the Ohio River and in Indiana, you learn to fish tough conditions so Wheeler sets up to my strengths. Nobody is going to run away and hide from you and if you can be consistent, which has always been my strength, youll be right there in the hunt.

He also acted on a tip from friend Dalton Bobo, a former Tour pro from Alabama who finished 2nd at the 1997 Classic at Logan Martin Lake. Bobo clued him in on how to target certain types of wood that seemed to consistently hold better-than-average fish.

During pre-practice, he went around seeking out specific wood targets, but also wanted to find spots that would also produce fish out of the upper portion of the water column since that fell in line with his knowledge of river fishing in the fall. Each program involved throwing a trio of baits topwater walking bait, a buzzbait and a spinnerbait.

I spent the first 2 1/2 days looking for places where I could work the pattern that I ended up using on (Saturday), he said. The only place I found that really looked good to me was the area I caught the big stringer, but I never caught a bass there (in pre-practice). I fished it three times in 2 1/2 days and never got a bite.

The tree pattern seemed to hold up as well.

It just so happened that the second one I came to I caught a 4-pounder, he said. I spent the last day and a half of practice fishing that way and only got five bites doing it, but every one of them was 3 1/2 pounds and up.

Competition

> Day 1: 5, 8-12
> Day 2: 5, 10-03
> Day 3: 5, 20-01
> Total = 15, 39-00

Coming into the event, Dove felt that if his tree pattern produced at least one kicker a day, hed keep himself within striking distance. Thats what he did the first 2 days.

Each morning, he stopped at the I-65 bridge just south of the takeoff location and caught a couple of fish, but it was more of a nerve-soothing exercise than anything.

I knew I wasnt going to catch a fish I could use, but it just calmed me down to catch a couple little fish there right off the bat, he said.

On day 1, he got eight bites and landed six, but the two he lost came on his wood pattern and were better than 3 pounds apiece. Those wouldve given him close to 13 pounds. Instead, he weighed 8-12 and that landed him in 22nd place out of 56 competitors.

He stuck a 4-10 beast on day 2 off a tree and finished out his limit working his moving baits over a big flat. His 10-03 weight was an improvement, but his 18-15 total gained him only two spots in the standings.

A decent cold snap along with some overcast skies moved in on day 3 and as he zoomed past the flat hed been fishing en route to his trees, something struck him that he should stop and put in some time on the flat.

I got about 300 yards up the flat and it was just the fate of fishing. I said, The weather conditions are completely different and the water temperatures about 10 degrees cooler and that should put those fish on the flat, he said. I banged a U-turn and started on the flat and on the third cast I caught one that weighed 4-09. I caught another good one and another and just got on a roll from there.

Ultimately, he never made it to the tress that day he didnt need to. He boxed a 13-pound limit in just over an hour and upgraded throughout the day to crack the 20-pound mark.

Shimano
Photo: Shimano

Dove relied on Shimano Chronarch reels to get his bass into the boat.

I was focused on a main-river flat adjacent to a creek mouth, he said. The fish werent really relating to cover. It was more the break they were related to and I was just burning a buzzbait and a spook and a spinnerbait. It was just that type of day cloudy and overcast. I think I flipped about four times all day long and thought, Why am I doing this?

Ive fished Wheeler just enough to know how tough it is. Even this time of year at Kentucky Lake, a 20-pound bag is hard to come by and for it to happen at Wheeler like that, it was pretty incredible, he continued. You get on that roll and one good thing happens and another good thing happens and finally, I just started laughing. I started throwing back 2 1/2-pounders that I wouldve killed to have 2 days before.

It was just Game on. It was just my day. When its your time, theres nothing you can do wrong.

Winning Gear Notes

> Topwater gear: 68 medium-action G. Loomis GLX casting rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 15-pound Berkley Trilene Big Game monofilament line, Paycheck Baits Repo Man (blow up).

> Buzzbait gear: 71 medium-action G. Loomis GLX casting rod, same reel, same line, 3/8-ounce Boogerman buzzbait (black).

> Spinnerbait gear: 68 medium-heavy G. Loomis GLX casting rod, same reel, same line, 1/2-ounce Accent Fishing Products Mark Dove River Special spinnerbait (clear skirt with green flake).

> He used a gold blade on top and a chrome blade on the bottom of the River Special spinnerbaits, which he began designing for Accent after he qualified for the Classic in 97.

The Bottom Line

> Main factor in his success My knowledge of the fall migration of fish on river systems, particularly the Tennessee River system.

> Performance edge My Ranger Z521 and Mercury Pro XS got me through the rough water on the last day without as much as a hard bump.

Notable

> Dove, whos part of the Shallow Minded Anglers club back home, will be one of six Federation Nation qualifiers at next years Classic. The others are: Jared Knuth (Central), Jonathan Carter (Eastern), Gerry Jooste (Mid-Atlantic), Pierce (Southern), Andy Bravence (Western).

> Along with the Classic berth, Dove earned an invitation to fish the Elite Series in 2013. He said hes happy with his career in the legal field, but hes going to give it some consideration.

Im going to mull it over, he said. Im pretty fortunate to have a career that I truly love and Ive been given something else to do that I love also. Im really good at one and pretty good at the other, so if Id have won this tournament when I was 35, Id probably have a different situation. I turned 57 years old (Saturday) and I have a different perspective. I would probably say, right now, no, but Im not going to rule anything out.

Final Standings

For the final results, click here.

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