When you are around Ryan Lavigne, the Day 1 leader of the 2013 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, you know he is all about family.
When the Gonzales, La., angler left the stage after weighing in 17 pounds, 1 ounce, he went straight to his 3-month-old daughter, Lilly. She was fussy, and no matter how many family members had come to Lake Dardanelle to support Lavigne, no one could comfort Lilly like her dad could.
Lavigne grew up fishing with his father, who was among those in the crowd at the championship rooting for his son, and Lavigne gave all the credit for his good performance to his dad.
Lavigne fishes with and against his first cousin, Jamie Laiche, all the time. Laiche has made it to this same championship several times before, and he’s made it to the Classic.
But where you can most see Lavigne’s commitment to family is in his dedication to his 6-year-old cousin, Tucker Townsend. Townsend has mitochondrial disorder, a disease that eats away at his cells and has caused many developmental problems for the child.
To support Townsend, Lavigne founded and serves as the tournament director for a benefit called Fishing for Tucker (www.fishingfortucker.com/), which, in the three years since its inception, has raised nearly $55,000 for Townsend’s health care.
“This is something I do with my family to support him,” said Lavigne. “He’s been gaining leaps and bounds in the last two years or so. It’s very important to us.”
Lavigne, who was surrounded by family and by friends who drove hours to be by his side, took a commanding Day 1 lead on Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle.
Lavigne’s limit of 17-1 was anchored by a 5-1 bass that he caught at around 10 a.m. He’s hoping to find another one like that on Day 2.
“I couldn’t find a good group of fish,” said Lavigne. “The last two days of practice have been hard. Today, when I fished a couple of the spots where I got bites in practice, I didn’t get bit. But I stayed off a lot of what I fished in practice.” He’s saving those areas for the next two days of competition.
“This lake is changing,” said Lavigne, referencing the cold snap forecast before the start of Day 2. “I’m not that worried, though. I think the fish will hold up.”
Lavigne said it means so much to have made it to this point. “I probably fish in one of the most competitive bass clubs in Louisiana, the Ascension Area Anglers. To qualify from that club is really difficult.”
Moving on to the Bassmaster Classic from this event would be life-changing.
“Knowing where I started, it would be everything,” said Lavigne. “It would mean the world.”
Lavigne’s 5-1 bass was nearly the biggest bass of the day — that is, until Drew Sadler of Richmond, Ky., came to the stage at the end of the weigh-in with a 6-1. Sadler, a member of the Bluegrass Bassmasters in Kentucky, won daily Carhartt Big Bass honors and the $250 prize that goes with it. If his fish holds up through the rest of the competition, he’ll also take home $500 for the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament.
Sadler sits in fourth place overall and is currently leading the Southern Division. Lavigne leads the Central Division. Each angler who leads one of the six divisions after the final weigh-in on Saturday earns a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
Other division leaders at the end of Day 1 are Laurence Hogue, Eastern; Jeff Lugar, Mid-Atlantic; Stan Dodson, Northern; and Tim Johnston, Western.
On stage on Day 1, many competitors lamented the 14-inch length limit on bass. In fact, Mike Moran of Pennsylvania said he caught 50 fish, but only the five he kept were long enough to meet the requirement. Jesse Milicevic of Nevada had the same thing happen: “I caught plenty of 13 1/2-inch fish.” And Joe Cole of Utah estimated he caught 20 bass between 12 and 13 inches.
While the length requirement will remain the same for Day 2, the weather will not. With a near freeze expected overnight, Day 2 could produce very different numbers for anglers — in quantity and quality. Some anglers will perform better, and others who did well on Day 1 may drop off the top of the leaderboard on Day 2.
Competitors will take off Friday at 7:15 a.m. CT at Russellville State Park, 100 State Park Drive, Russellville, AR 72802. Weigh-in will be held at the same location at 3:30 p.m. CT. Stay tuned to Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the event.
Image courtesy Shaye Baker/ Bassmaster