Laura Gober was stunned when she pulled into Shreveport-Bossier City, La., to scout the Red River for the Oct. 16-18 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Women's Tour Championship.
"I found out that everybody else already had been there, some since the (Sept. 10-12) Tennessee tournament," she said. "I'm like, 'Gee, whiz!' I was able to practice Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Some of them had been there for weeks."
Perhaps the Pendergrass, Ga., pro's comparatively short look at the water will put her at a disadvantage. Perhaps not. With a win on the Red River when the WBT stopped there in September 2007, Gober has at least a confidence advantage when she and 19 other pro qualifiers meet there again this month.
They will compete over three days for a piece of $94,000 in prizes, including the winner's take of $5,000 and a Triton/Mercury boat package valued at $55,000. Twenty other qualifiers will compete in the co-angler division, fishing from the back of pros' boats for a $40,000 Triton/Mercury boat rig, plus $3,250, awarded to the co-angler winner. In both divisions, the second-place prize is a Skeeter/Yamaha rig.
Besides being the championship event, the Oct. 16-18 tournament is the finish line in the 2009 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Women's Tour Angler of the Year race, in which the big plums are a berth in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic and a new Tundra. With an entry in the Feb. 19-21 Classic on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala., the 2009 AOY will become only the second woman to qualify for a Classic.
Gober goes into the championship in third place in the AOY competition, tied at 807 points with Judy Wong of Many, La. They are 55 points behind leader Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., and 34 points in back of Juanita Robinson of Highlands, Texas.
"A lot of people have asked me, 'Do you think you have a chance at AOY?'" Gober said. "I do feel like I have a chance, but I know that Pam or Juanita are going to have to stumble. Pam, she doesn't stumble much, and neither does Juanita. I need a little luck on my side. I'm going to give it my all."
Martin-Wells, who won the season opener and stayed in first place in the points race the entire season, said she's done all she can at this point to clinch the AOY victory. "What's going to happen, is going to happen," she said. "All I can do is prepare the best that I can."
Robinson said two key factors, water clarity and water levels, are likely to change from what she saw in practice.
"The river started rising and got really muddy, and didn't crest until Sunday (Sept. 27), at 21.55 feet in Shreveport," she said. "Some of the oxbows were still clear until the wind shifted around to come out of the south and started blowing the muddy water back up in the oxbows. The fish really backed up where you can't get to them, or get to them easily."
Wong, who won the season closer on Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee, said her scouting time on the Red River showed her swift, muddy water.
"It isn't going to be the same for the tournament hopefully, it will be for the better as the river stabilizes," Wong said. "On the one official day of practice (Oct. 15), I'll be running and gunning to test some of the areas I scouted to see if I want to use them."
Wong said her hope of winning AOY and the Classic berth lies in taking the lead at the Red River and holding it, garnering leader bonus points.
Fishing fans are invited to watch the competition unfold. The pros will launch at 7 a.m. Friday through Sunday from Red River South Marina, 250 Red River Road in Bossier City. The daily weigh-ins will begin at 3:30 p.m. at the Bossier City Academy Sports + Outdoors location, 2801 Beene Blvd. All events are free and open to the public.
BASS has brought several tournaments to Shreveport-Bossier City, including the 2009 Classic in February, when the fan turnout broke Bassmaster event records. Many came to see 2008 AOY Kim Bain-Moore's historic step for women in sports when she became the first woman to compete in a Classic.
The Alabaster, Ala., pro is this season's No. 10 qualifier for the WBT Championship, which she won in 2008 addition to the AOY crown. Even though she's 103 points behind the leader, she has a mathematical shot at repeating her title.
Second to Bain-Moore last season, Robinson barely missed the AOY crown. This year, Robinson finds herself again in that all-too-familiar runner-up spot, but this time to Martin-Wells.
"She had bad days just like I had bad days," said Robinson, mentioning that she and Martin-Wells are on very friendly terms. "I think she's scratching her pencil now, trying to figure out what she has to do to keep me from passing her. She knows I'm going for the win."
Live, daily weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards will be available throughout the tournament at Bassmaster.com.
Local sponsors for the event include Shreveport Regional Sports Authority.
WBT Championship Qualifiers
Name Place Points
1. Pam Martin-Wells Bainbridge, Ga. 862
2. Juanita Robinson Highlands, Texas 841
3. Laura Gober Pendergrass, Ga. 807
4. Judy Wong Many, La. 807
5. Dianna Clark Bumpus Mills, Tenn. 800
6. Tammy Richardson Amity, Ark. 785
7. Janet Parker Little Elm, Texas 784
8. Sheri Glasgow Muskogee, Okla. 782
9. Debra Petrowski Arlington, Texas 776
10. Kim Bain-Moore Alabaster, Ala. 759
11. Melinda Mize Ben Lomond, Ark. 754
12. Meta Burrell Fort Worth, Texas 748
13. Lisa Sternard Clarksville, Tenn. 745
14. Paula Alexander Lincolnton, Ga. 739
15. Lisa Johnson Centre, Ala. 732
16. Lucy Mize Ben Lomond, Ark. 732
17. Cindy Hill Smyrna, Tenn. 732
18. Robin Babb Livingston, Texas 727
19. Emily Shaffer Mount Juliet, Tenn. 721
20. Patti Campbell Waxahachie, Texas 714
Name Place Points
1. Terri Bittner McKinleyville, Calif. 870
2. Donna Newberry Van Buren, Ark. 836
3. Martha Goodfellow Simpsonville, S.C. 823
4. Stacy Zhelesnik Hoboken, N.J. 822
5. Debbie Pegoli Loveland, Ohio 802
6. Colleen McKay Worcester, Mass. 781
7. Monica Altman Angier, N.C. 781
8. Bonnie Ward Snohomish, Wash. 768
9. Gail Wood Russellville, Ark. 761
10. Kim Martin Clayton, Ind. 757
11. Linda Owens Brandon, Miss. 756
12. Teri Cindric Hermitage, Tenn. 743
13. Barbara Gaskins Suffolk, Va. 741
14. Sherry Melton Monterey, Tenn. 727
15. Vicki Henderson Ashdown, Ark. 722
16. Charlotte Frazier Dallas, Texas 722
17. Diane Smith Fayetteville, Ga. 716
18. Bertha Cavakis Amity, Ark. 708
19. Kala Wright Spiro, Okla. 706
20. Linda Walker Beebe, Ark. 704