By Pete Robbins
Special to BassFan


Prior to this week’s Bass Cat Owners Regional Championship, neither John Rossetti nor his son Lorenzo had fished in Arkansas. Truth be told, the two self-proclaimed “Delta Rats” rarely venture far from their beloved California Delta.

Why should they? Over the past decade and a half, the duo estimates they’ve won over 70 team tournaments close to home, with prizes including five bass boats. They live within 10 minutes of the ramp on one of the best fisheries in the country and it takes a lot to get them to go elsewhere.

The lure of a trip to Brazil to fish for peacock bass with Bass Cat’s Rick Pierce was exactly the type of enticement necessary to convince them to leave their comfort zone. After qualifying for the championship through a regional event on their home waters, they flew to Arkansas, all-expenses paid, and were provided with a boat and truck to use in competition against five other teams that had likewise qualified by winning events closer to home.

Out of their Element

In Arkansas they encountered a situation unfamiliar to them. Not only were they forced to fish in sub-freezing temperatures both days, but the lakes looked like nothing they were used to.

“Where we fish, the banks slope a little more gently,” Lorenzo said. “Fishing in Arkansas, you might cast 10 feet from the shore and be in 60 feet of water.”

In order to neutralize past experience, Pierce kept the format of the event a secret until the night before Saturday’s lone practice day. Sunday would be a split day – half on Norfork and half on Crown Lake, 38 miles away, with each weigh-in counting equally. Monday the field headed to Bull Shoals for a full day of competition and a third weigh-in. The teams would only be allowed to practice on one of the three lakes.

“The intent of the three-venue tournament was to stabilize the field so that no one would have an advantage over any other team,” he said.

The Rossettis elected to spend their practice period on Norfork, the site of Sunday’s short morning session.

“It was our first time fishing that style of lake, especially at that time of year,” Lorenzo said.

While they landed only two legal fish for 3.84 pounds there in competition, it helped form their strategy for Bull Shoals, where they brought in the event’s largest bag to claim the title.

“We learned a lot about Bull Shoals by fishing on Norfork on Saturday,” Lorenzo said. “To mem the lakes look really similar, although Bull Shoals is a little deeper and has more water to fish. What we figured out was that the bigger fish were on bluffs adjacent to spawning flats.”

Crown Lake, site of Sunday’s afternoon session, proved equally stingy. The Rossettis managed to weigh only 4.98 pounds – enough to keep them in the hunt but not enough to gain any momentum.

“It took us an hour and a half to figure out what the fish were doing,” Lorenzo said. “They were way off the bank in 16 to 18 feet of water, around ledges with a sharp drop. The cold front and the clear water – you could see 7 to 10 feet – made them pull off.”

Despite their struggles, no other team had managed to distinguish itself on day 1. Mark Huffman and Troy Rossman of Texas had weighed two small limits and occupied 1st place, but they were only slightly more than a pound ahead of the 2nd-place team and just about 4 1/2 ahead of the 5th-place Rossettis.

“We’ve come from way behind more than a few times to win tournaments,” John said. “One year in a TOC we were in 40th place after the first day with about 16 pounds and we caught 34 pounds the second day and won by 2 1/2 pounds.”

Pattern Carried Over

When they launched on day 2 at Bull Shoals, Sunday’s temperatures in the teens were replaced by relatively balmy conditions in the upper 20s, albeit with the addition of sleet and light rain. All of the competitors were faced with the challenge of their reels freezing up and trolling motors getting stuck in place, but the Rossettis – no fans of Arctic weather – were buoyed by their ability to quickly develop a pattern quite similar to what they had discerned at Norfork.

Bass Cat Boats
Photo: Bass Cat Boats

The Rossettis' day-2 stringer was headed up by a 5 1/4-pound largemouth.

By running and gunning, as much as what's possible on a sub-freezing day, they landed an estimated 15 keeper fish. Their final limit included four largemouths and one smallmouth and totaled 14.32 pounds, nearly 4 pounds heavier than the next best limit.

The key fish, the one that likely put them over the top, was a 5 1/4-pound largemouth that inhaled Lorenzo’s jig at around 8:30 a.m.

“At that point I told him I thought we were even with the leaders,” John said. “We’d made up that 4 pounds with one bite.”

Indeed, they outlasted the Huffman/Rossman team by less than 2 pounds, gritting out a cold, complicated Ozarks region three-lake victory in unfamiliar territory. Their next stop, in January, will be equally unfamiliar: the Amazon river in Brazil, where they’ll fish for peacock bass with Pierce.

That experience may be even more foreign to them, and it might be every bit as challenging, but at least they can leave the insulated gear at home and their line guides won’t be frozen.

Notable

> The Rossettis’ key baits included a Strike King Tour Grade Heavy Hook Football Jig (black/blue) paired with a Denny Brauer Chunk (black/blue flake) and a Strike King KVD Jerkbait (chrome ayu).

> Mercury Marine partnered with Bass Cat Boats to produce the event.

> Pierce said that Bass Cat and Mercury are planning to continue this series. Next year they'll have eight regional events for Bass Cat owners (instead of this year's six) leading into the championship.

> The Rossettis are sponsored by Phenix Rods, Strike King, Outdoor Sportsman, Revenge Baits and Boatmasters.

Final Standings

1. Lorenzo Rossetti/John Rossetti -- 8.82 -- 14.32 -- 23.14
2. Mark Huffman/Troy Rossman -- 13.35 -- 8.01 -- 21.36
3. Keith Webb/Mike Kirch -- 9.81 -- 10.56 -- 20.37
4. Doug Morrow/Josh Clark -- 12.13 -- 6.65 -- 18.78
5. Larry Whiteman/Steve Whiteman -- 5.40 -- 10.46 -- 15.86
6. Jerold Britt/Howard Austin -- 10.51 -- 0.00 -- 10.51