By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The battle for the final berth in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic turned out to be no contest whatsoever. Kentucky's Matt Robertson compiled more weight during the two-day Team Championship Classic Fish-Off than the 2nd- and 3rd-place anglers combined.
Robertson, the 32-year-old owner of a pressure-washing business, caught bags that weighed 25-10 and 31-15 from Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes to prevail over the other five finalists by nearly 24 pounds. All of his weight came from a single offshore locale in Lake Harris that was about 50 yards long and 40 yards wide.
"Offshore fishing is what I do – that's my style," he said. "When (he and teammate Wendell Anderson) idled over that place in practice and saw the fish and the way they were set up, I knew they were bigger bass. I could tell the size of them."
Come March, he'll get a chance to test his deep-water skills against many of the world's best anglers when the Classic is held on the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, Tenn. He's never fished that part of the river, but he has vast experience on that system.
"I grew up on Kentucky Lake and I've been fishing it for 20 years now," he said. "I'm beyond excited (about the Classic venue). I feel like one of my strong suits is the pre-spawn and I think it'll play right into my wheelhouse."
Nice Gesture from Good Buddy
Robertson and Anderson qualified for the individual portion of the event with a 2nd-place finish in the team competition (the top 3 teams are split up and six anglers fish for two days to determine the Classic qualifier). They'd had a lackluster first day when the fish on the Harris spot wouldn't bite, but rocketed up the standings sheet on day 2 with a 29-pound stringer.
The place is big enough for only one boat and Anderson gladly ceded it to Robertson for the Fish-Off.
"We've been best friends since we were kids," Robertson said. "He doesn't have any ambition to fish professionally and he knew what it meant to me. He was 100 percent in favor of it – I didn't even have to ask him. He said, 'Go out there and win it.'''
It took him all of 45 minutes to box his 25 1/2 pounds in the opening round and he sat on the spot to protect it for the remainder of the day. He bettered that number by almost 6 1/2 pounds the following day when he was able to go full-throttle for the duration of the round.
All five of his first-day fish were in the 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-pound range. His final-day sack was headed up by a 7 1/4-pounder.
The fish were in 9 to 10 feet of water and sitting within a couple feet of the bottom. He caught four on a swimbait and one on a spinnerbait the first day and four on a deep-diving crankbait and one on the spinnerbait on day 2.
"My experience with swimbait fishing is it's better if the fish are grouped up and it seemed like they were a little more scattered the second day," he said. "I had some bump it and miss it and their tendency is to follow a swimbait, which separates the school.
The SPRO Little John DD 70 in citrus shad produced the bulk of Robertson's 32-pound bag on the final day.
"I picked up the spinnerbait and started catching them, and then the wind slacked off and the bite slowed down. That's when I picked up the crankbait and it put the majority of the 22 pounds in the boat. I probably culled 25 pounds."
The sack was his second-biggest ever in competition behind a 33.55 haul in an ABA Open Series derby at Kentucky Lake in 2016.
In and Out Progression
Robertson's winning area, located about 150 yards from the nearest dry land, was basically featureless – it lacked a defined contour and there was "sort of a point, but not really." It's only distinguishing aspect was a hard bottom.
The fish moved around a bit depending on light conditions; they'd move almost to the outside edge in bright sun, but would hold perhaps 40 yards toward the shore when cloud cover was present. When he hit a lull in the action, that often meant they'd relocated and he'd use his Garmin electronics to pin them down again.
Regardless of where those fish were, he was the only one pursuing them. The other competitors were primarily focused on programs that kept them much closer to the bank.
"The Harris Chain is known as a shallow-water fishery, but tournaments there in the past have been won offshore," he said. "Those weren't necessarily the same way I won – those guys were fishing grass.
"No matter where I go, I try to implement my style, and it worked out perfectly this time. I don't think those fish had ever seen a 7-inch swimbait or a big spinnerbait."
Winning Gear Notes
> Swimbait gear: 7'6" extra-heavy Duckett Fishing rod, Quantum Magnesium casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, 1-ounce Revenge swimbait head, 7" Scottsboro Tackle swimbait (ol' smokey).
> Cranking gear: 7'10" medium action Duckett Fishing rod, same reel and line, SPRO Little John DD 70 (citrus shad).
> Spinnerbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Falcon Cara rod, Quantum Team KVD PT casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), same line, 1-ounce Accent Fishing Products spinnerbait (white with double willow-leaf blades).
> He normally throws swimbaits on monofilament line and uses lighter fluorocarbon for cranking, but he had his rods rigged for ripping rattlebaits through grass and deduces that line wouldn't make much difference to fish in the 10-foot depth range and the heavier stuff would alleviate concerns about break-offs.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Going out and fishing my own style and fishing to win. Protecting my spot after I was done at 9 o'clock on the first day was a big strategic move because it ensure that I didn't burn up my fish. I honestly believe I could've weighed 30 pounds both days."
> Performance edge – "The Garmin Panoptix LiveScope system is the real deal. I never had any trouble relocating the fish just by moving the trolling motor around."
> Robertson's primary sponsor is Renegade Marine in Litchfield, Ky.
> He'll step up to the Bassmaster Opens next year in an attempt to qualify for the Elite Series. He's slated to compete in the Eastern Division but hopes his Classic appearance will lead to an opportunity to fish the Centrals, as well.
1. Matthew Robertson -- Kentucky B.A.S.S. Nation Team Trail -- 57-09
2. Jayme Copenhaver III -- Chattanooga Bass Association - 33-12
3. Adam Dysart -- Chattanooga Bass Association -- 22-03
4. Clay Samples -- U.S. Angler's Choice -- 15-05
5. Wendell Anderson -- Kentucky B.A.S.S. Nation Team Trail -- 10-04
6. Tyler Purcell -- U.S. Angler's Choice -- 7-01