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New Iberia angler Caleb Sumrall holds the trophy after winning the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Lake Hartwell near Anderson, South Carolina. His three-day, 36-pound, 12-ounce total came after he caught a five-bass limit weighing near 10 pounds during Saturday's final round to secure a berth in the 2018 Bassmaster Classic.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It’s so very likely Caleb Sumrall has seen clouds during a bass-fishing trip and feared the very worst.

Then there are other days, days like last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when clouds appear and all he could see were silver linings.

“A patch of clouds came over, and I recalled a tip from a friend about casting a (Zoom) Fluke into schooling fish under those conditions,” Sumrall said Saturday in the minutes after weighing in a five-fish limit that sent him to the top of any amateur bass angler’s high-in-the-sky dreams.

Those clouds, you see, gave him the edge he needed to work up the pattern he needed to become the second straight Louisiana angler to win the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.

Last year, it was Gonzales fisherman Ryan Lavigne pulling off a major surprise by taking the title on Lake Conroe in eastern Texas.

This year, it was the 30-year-old from New Iberia, who was in ninth place after Thursday’s first round and second after a solid Friday second-day catch. The field of 120 anglers was trimmed to the top 10 for the final round. Sumrall was the winner by more than two pounds when he weighed in nearly 10 pounds Saturday.

His final 36-pound, 12-ounce total on Lake Hartwell shot him past second-day leader Tray Huddleston of Arkansas. Michigan’s Luke Gritter and Alabama's Marty Giddens, the respective No. 2 and No. 3 finishers, ended with 34-8 and 32-10. Huddleston, who landed only one fish Saturday, with 31-15.

That was important because the top three finishers earned berths in the 2018 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell near Anderson, South Carolina, next March. Like Lavigne, Sumrall will be honored in the 50-plus angler field, and also received a spot in the field for next season’s Bassmaster Elite Series field along with $16,000 toward entry fees.

Sumrall told Bassmaster it was fellow Louisiana teammate Jamie Laiche who tipped him off to the winning pattern. Laiche was a Nation qualifier for the 2008 Classic, the first time the Classic was contested on Hartwell.

“I watched Caleb and the leader (Huddleston) sharing the same water, the same area Saturday,” Lavigne said. “Caleb had one fish and made a move, and 40 minutes later he had a limit. What he did was finally got on a school of fish he made them eat.”

Lavigne said he and most other anglers were frustrated because seeing schooling bass busting forage fish on the water’s surface was common, but couldn’t get the bass to react to artificial lures.

Sumrall told reporters the key area he was hitting was a point in 11 feet of water with grass growing to within 4 feet of the surface.

“I’m a Louisiana boy, and that made the spot even sweeter for me,” Sumrall said, adding he used a Zoom Super Fluke rigged on a quarter-ounce Gamakatsu Superline EWG Weighted Hook. He said he glued a rattle inside the fluke’s hollow body.

Lavigne said what Sumrall did on Hartwell was similar to what he did on Conroe in November.

“Clearly it was Caleb’s time,” Lavigne said. “He made all the right decisions. Last year, it turned out every decision I made was flawless, and that’s what happening to him right now.

“And it has to be known now that Caleb is the most deserving angler in the entire field. He showed up in south Louisiana four years ago and won a big tournament and ever since then I’ve fished against him and with him and I’ve never met anyone who prepares harder than he does,” Lavigne said.

“His life is devoted to his family and his fishing, and he’s got the best fishing instincts of anyone I know. It’s hard to explain, but he’s got a knack for catching fish.”

According to Bassmaster, Sumrall received the Bryan V Kerchal Memorial Trophy (Kerchal was the only Nation qualifier to win the Classic), and a Skeeter ZX200 rigged with Yamaha SHO 200 outboard, a Minn Kota trolling motor and Lowrance electronics along with the Elite Series spot, the entry-fee cash.

Like the other two Classic quaifiers, he gets paid entry fees in the division of their choosing for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens, and use for a year of a Phoenix Boat rigged out with factory accessories.

Gritter won a rigged-out Skeeter TZX190 and Yamaha SHO 150, and Giddens a Triton 189 TRX and Yamaha VF150LA.

The others

Sumrall headed a list of five Louisiana anglers, the most qualifiers from any state.

What makes Sumrall’s win so special is this tournament is the only one of its kind bringing anglers from across the world. In addition to fishermen representing 47 states, qualifying anglers came from Mexico, Japan, Australia, Portugal, Italy, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the Canadian province of Ontario and the Republic of South Africa.

Laiche and Lavigne, of Gonzales, finished 22nd and 43rd respectively in the Boater Division. Reserve’s Kevin Simon earned $250 for his 10th-place finish in the Nonboater Division, where Gonzales’ Neal Norman finished 56th.

Lavigne’s joy

“They made me leave the hospital Sunday,” Lavigne said, adding he was disappointed he’s not going back to compete in the Classic, but overjoyed about his wife, Jenny, giving birth to Mark Paul.

“I was scheduled to leave (Oct. 13), but that was the day Jenny had the baby, so I missed the first two days of practice (fishing) before they told me to leave,” Lavigne said. “Baby and mama are doing just fine.”