Now that I’m back from the 2023 Bassmasters Classic in Knoxville, Tenessee, it’s a good time to tell y’all about the day I spent marshalling Australia’s latest Bassmaster Classic qualifier – Carl Jocumsen.
To be honest, this was the part of the trip that I was looking forward to the most. The other end of a journey that started when we met Carl in his mid teens at Cressbrook Dam. He was always asking Phil Lomas too many questions as he was trying to capture the Schofield-won Grand Final in 2000.
I think that I may have signed every single cheque that Carl won in his years tournament fishing in Australia – from the $500 he won at Moogerah dam for Big Bass in an electric tournament to the $5,000 that he won at the Lake St Clair Grand Final that catalysed his stateside journey.
I’ve probably never told anyone this, but we still managed to find $500 a month in the budget to send to Carl, right through the QFM fraud disaster. We’re just a small part of an army of people that wanted Carl’s passion to turn into success.
And what an ambassador for hard work and being Australian he is.
Carl reckons that he isn’t superstitious, so I’m unsure if he wanted someone he knew in the boat or not. Maybe it’s easier to go with a random marshal that you don’t really need to interact with? But the BASS media crew saw it fit to pair Aussie marshals with the Aussie angler.
The logic is sound.
So it’s my pleasure and duty now to relay that experience.
You can see the fishing bits on the video I shot during the day. Carl had Scott, his own media guy following around, so mine’s done with poor audio. It’s on the ABT YouTube channel if you want to watch it – click here to check out the video.
But the eventual result was kind of beside the point – it was great to be on the water and see what an angler that Carl has developed into over the years. Apart from spending a practice day with him at a Cal Delta Elites event many years ago, I reckon that the last time we were in a boat together was in a BREAM Queensland Open or an AFC pre-fish.
I had no white hairs and he had no neck beard.
The days start early. For a 7:30am start, the marshals meet at the boat yard to be bussed to the ramp at 4:15am. From there, you wait until you’re allocated a pro and you jump in the boat as they drive past. Kayla dropped us in and it was about a kilometre of idle to the start.
Tying up to the dock, it’s a stream of interviews with daughter, Rivah, on board. Kayla’s mum brought her down until Kayla could make it back. Carl did maybe half a dozen with various media. Dave Mercer was booming across the PA in the background, interviewing favourites and crowd favourites, until it stared to settle down and the American National Anthem echoed across the river valley in Downtown Knoxville and the crowd silenced.
By this stage, thousands lined the river bank and as it ended, they started to cheer.
Carl’s reception from the crowd – and particularly the vocal Australian contingent of around 30, flag waving, kangaroo-weilding, screaming fishing tragics who had travelled to the other side of the globe to share this moment – was moving. It’s at the start of the highlights video.
Y’all made an impression. You could hear it in Carl’s voice at the weigh-in. But that was at least nine hours away.
After a couple of hundred metres of idling, it was blast-off and time for a 30-minute run downstream with the foot to the floor. Carl knew where he wanted to start and had everything planned for any contingency. He was confident and had done his homework.
The tournament arena was two lakes. Fort Loudon Lake that snaked downstream for about 40 miles where it joined Lake Tellico right near the dam wall. The two lakes are joined by a short canal about a kilometre long. This is where Carl’s BARRA Tour teammate and fellow Elite angler, Jeff ‘Gussy’ Gustafson, won a blue trophy and $100,000USD the last time the tour visited this arena.
Word on the street was that the smallmouth bite that he rode to victory then wouldn’t stand up in the Classic.
If this is what the fellow anglers were saying, around 15 of them didn’t believe it. The canal seemed crowded first up. Carl pulled up in around 20 feet of water near the bridge and slowly drifted in a slight current as the bounded from the driver’s seat.
He is, and has always been, very organised. All of the rods that he’d planned to use for the day were laid out and freshly tied – spinning rods on one side and baitcast rods on the other.
Carl is very loyal to his tackle sponsors. Millerods, Shimano reels, Bassman spinnerbaits and Humminbird sounders were all in eyeshot.
I’m pretty sure that Carl didn’t used to mumble to himself while he was fishing, but he definitely does now. Same as a lot of us. You know what we all say … if you need expert advice, ask yourself. But in reality, I think that he was just talking through his plans and solidifying his thoughts.
Either that or he was talking to me and my hearing has gone and he now thinks I’m a rude prick.
But the marshalling instructions were clear. No offering information on the lake or helping with the fishing. Strangely, I was allowed to get up and hand feed him a sandwich if I wanted? But if I saw a fish bust up next to the boat, a bass on a bed or anything else remotely interesting, you had to shut up.
And I was determined not to be the one who got Carl disqualified from his first Classic.
And he didn’t eat all day. I only saw him drink once.
“We’ll leave here at 9:30 for the next spot,” Carl said.
He was hoping to get a fish or two early in the canal, but it seemed quiet, apart from a couple of nudges and a smattering of fish on his Humminbird Live.
Carl definitely doesn’t waste time between spots. Or in fact at all during the day. It’s rod down, jump into the seat and hammer down.
We pulled up to his ‘money spot’. It was the base of an old silo that would have been flooded when the lake filled, sitting on a point in about 20 feet of water.
You could see that Carl was excited. “It’s going to happen here,” he mumbled as he picked up “Gussy special” on a spin rod and dropped it to a school of smallmouth bass that his Mega Live showed to be lifting off the bottom.
The bass rose, looked at the bait, rejected it.
“That’s not good,” Carl mumbled.
After a few more drops, he switched baits to a smaller profile and landed a non-keeper.
After that, he picked up a Ned-rigged plastic and landed a 17 3/4” smallie on the first cast. It was 1/4 inch short of the legal keeping size.
Then the fish shut down.
Carl was a little bit frustrated at this but assumed that he was at the spot too early.
“The last time I checked these fish it was sunny and closer to midday,” he said.
It was now time to run and gun some of the other spots he’d identified in practice and pre-practice.
He fished shallow points laden with stumps with a 6” MagDraft.
He fished docks and laydowns with his Molix jig.
He threw crankbaits and jerkbaits at brushpile fish that he identified clear-as-day on his forward facing sonar.
“These ones look a lot like crappie,” he said as he set the hook, as if on cue, on a mega crappie.
He fished a particular deep-timber pile twice with all of those techniques.
“I landed a 4-pounder here in practice,” he lamented.
To be honest, his decisions all seemed sound and we seemed to always be on fish. Just not the right ones to win the Classic on.
Carl wasn’t allowed to look at BassTrakk, but I was, and I could see that nearly all of the field (apart from Gussy with 17 and change) were at about 8lb or less. It was fishing brutally tough.
Eventually, Carl scratched out a 14 1/4” largemouth on a jig on a busted up old brushpile.
I reckon that this was one of the most important fish he’d ever caught. It meant that he had a fish to weigh at the Bassmaster Classic and he could now take that journey he’d always dreamed of with a weigh-in bag.
After a while, curiosity got the better of Carl and he ran back to see if his silo-smallies were in a better mood. They were probably a 20km run away.
They were definitely there and they were definitely still difficult to catch.
Carl then ran some new water, identifying long, submerged points on his Humminbird LakeMaster charts. On about the third stop, he pitched to a blob he saw 20’ in front of the boat on his LIVE and set the hook on what ended up being an 18” smallmouth.
“Now we’re talking,” he said.
He threw a few more casts and then stopped and decided that it was time to gas-up for the trip home.
Later, when I asked Carl why he didn’t continue with the pattern that had just yielded him a 3-pounder, he said, “I’ve fallen for that trap before and spent hours chasing another one of those ‘random’ fish. It’s just not a pattern here.”
On the way to the marina, Carl dropped in and chatted to Gussy.
“I got 5 smallies,” Gussy said, in his best Canadian accent.
Neither of them knew that he had a near-seven pound lead on the rest of the field at that time.
After filling up, Carl then started to run some water in Fort Loudon on the way back to the finish. He jacked an undersized smallmouth and another undersized largemouth off one dock with a roving camera boat beside him and Robbie Floyd commenting.
He landed a final, scorable largemouth off a shallow, rocky flat on a small, bream sized crankbait (a Rapala OG Tiny Flat Side).
I was proud. His bream training had paid off, even though he looked uncomfortable throwing it.
“Lots of the field will be doing this to catch a 7-pound limit, but that’s not what’s going to win the Classic,” he said.
Carl was very meticulous to not fish too fast.
“You have to run a lot of spots but you have to slow down enough to fish them thoroughly when you get there,” he said.
He practiced what he preached. Ran fast, fished slow, maximised his fishing time and checked in with 5 seconds left on the clock.
“That was a little too close,” he said, after misjudging the check-in point.
Were there regrets with three fish for under 6lb in the livewell?
“Jeez, it was hard on nearly everyone,” he said, as he looked at BassTrakk for the first time in the day.
He pulled up next to in-law Brandon, who only had two bass in the box, and another angler who had donutted.
He was definitely disappointed to not catch a limit, but framed the moment in perfect perspective.
“I get to fish the Classic and I get to walk across that stage that I’ve always dreamed of,” he lamented.
And that, I reckon, is a pretty perfect result.