By Robert "Dutch" Linthout
To say that this tournament has grown over the past years is the understatement of the century. I can recall the very first Lay Lake Tournament. I think we had slightly over 200 boats, and at that time, this was already the most unusual tournament in Alabama’s bass-fishing tournament history. Just the idea of paying the first ten places $1000.00 each was unheard of. Not to mention, the crazy idea of buying fingerling bass with the proceeds of the tournament, and releasing them into the lake in order to replenish the resource. And look where we are now! Over 2.000.000 fingerlings released so far... !
Over the years, The Lay Lake Open Tournament has evolved into an event that draws participating fishermen from Alabama’s surrounding states and even further. This tournament has expanded beyond just being a tournament into a major event spanning several days.
Fishing Pros at the Store
The idea of inviting bass fishing pros to participate in this tournament,
and drawing a partner from Mark’s customer base, was unique
and overall extremely successful. So much so, that this particular
event has been repeated this year. All the participating pros arrived
at the store the Friday morning before the tournament. They talked
with fans and made hundreds of photographs with their fans. This
was the photo opportunity of a lifetime.
Fans had come, from as far as Kentucky, to rub elbows with the pros
and to fish “the” tournament on Saturday. Jimmy Houston,
Gerald Swindle, Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli, Jason Quinn, Randy
Howell, Jeff Reynolds, Mark Minendez, and Greg Hackney all came
to the store to enjoy their hundreds of fans. Cars were parked on
hills, across the street, and anywhere a place could be found. Kota
Kiriyama was at the lake during the test ride.
|Pros and fans all
had a blast! I was there that day to make photographs for them.
It really was great to see the pro’s sponsor wrapped boats
sitting on the grass field in front of the store, so that Montgomery
Highway traffic had a good view of the event. I made hundreds
of high-resolution photographs that you will be able to find
Check it out!
If you weren’t there, please make an effort to come to
the store in 2007. It is one thing to see these hardcore pros
fish their hardcore tournaments, but it is a lot of fun to be
with these pros when they are relaxed, totally approachable,
and as friendly (and professional) as can be.
By now, everyone knows the rules. In order to qualify for a 2006
fully rigged Skeeter and Yamaha, you had to participate in the test
ride in a Skeeter/Yamaha rig driven by Airport Marine’s Pro
Staff. Not many people get a chance to ride in high performance
bass boats. I overheard several people saying that they were impressed
by how well these boats ride on the water, in spite of the fact,
that due to many boats on the lake, waves were sometimes as high
as three feet.
I tried to make photographs of people riding in these boats and
had to hang on for dear life several times. The test ride is beneficial
to the sponsors, as well as the participating bass fishermen. As
usual, there was a large line of people waiting to go for their
test ride; and, according to the pro staff, the line had not let
up for three days in a row. Friday afternoon late, the best way
to describe the pro staff was “worn out”, and most of
them were fishing in the tournament the day after, so go figure.
Sometimes, people really underestimate the amount of work pro staff
do. A heart-felt thanks goes to the pro staff of Airport Marine.
By now, there are hundreds of thousands of Mark’s “fingerlings”
swimming all over the lake. Have you noticed that the strikes are
harder, the fight is better, and their teeth seem to be longer. Even
after a few fish, you begin to develop “bass thumbs”,
red, raw and swollen. GREAT! The best part in this program is the
fact that these fingerlings are being carried by the fishermen to
their favorite honey holes, this is resulting in as widespread stocking
program as you can get. I think it was last year that Mark decided
to add some T1’s to the standard mix by adding six inch T1’s
to two inch fingerlings. Southeastern Pond Management has always done
a great job in providing sacks of fingerlings to the fishermen in
the best possible condition that they can be in. Several hundred thousand
fingerlings will come back to us in a few years. Hopefully, they will
When the plan to buy fingerlings with the proceeds was brought
up, I don’t think anyone quite understood the results
of this “small” stocking program. Most lakes are
in one way or another, in decline, but not Lay Lake. I am absolutely
convinced that Mark’s “replenishment of resources”
was one of the best things that possibly could have happened
to Lay Lake. Rated as one of the top fishing lakes in the nation,
combined with the title “Fishing Capital of the Nation–
Birmingham, AL”, this lake has huge stringers of tournament
bass brought to the scales. Generally, it takes from fifteen
to twenty pounds per tournament event, and there are as many
as two to three per week during the season, to either win or
place in “the money”.
Off, and it was!
In case you all wondered why Mark, the guys from Airport Marine,
and I did the blast off from a small off-shore boat, when boats
begin taking off left and right with some at the same time, and
many others following, this results in wave after wave along with
several rogue waves. Man, we got wet! I have also learned that it
is very hard to make good quality photographs from a rollercoaster
of bass boats taking off for a tournament. I got several good shots
If the photos are not sharp, you were probably going too fast anyway.
I tell you though, it is very, very impressive to be out on the
river looking towards Paradise Point Marina and seeing a sea of
bobbing lights from the bass boats waiting to take off. All went
without a hitch, and it is amazing to see how quickly that many
boats can take off at those speeds without accidents or swamped
I have always viewed Bill Dance's videos as a source of information
and an insight into the lighter side of fishing. If you have not
seen Bill Dance's Bloopers, you are absolutely missing out on some
of the best bloopers in the world. I don't think that Mark has any
of them left, but you can ask. They are absolutely great, I promise.
But, I had never met Bill in person, and I was really surprised
at how genuine he truly is. To be at the weigh-in with Bill Dance
was no less than perfect.
|Weigh-in, and the most
Crowds already began arriving an hour before the actual weigh-in.
Several clusters of chairs were sitting not ten feet from the
stage. I knew that those would be disappearing soon to make
room for the hundreds of people that would be viewing the weigh-in.
The famous Bill Dance, himself, was the MC, weigh master, joke
teller, and provider of constant entertainment for the next
couple of hours. It was really funny how there seemed to be
a division of labor among all the self appointed weigh masters,
with Mark, then Jimmy Houston, and Gerald Swindle. There were
plenty of jokes getting better and better, but it got to the
point where Mark had to demand the microphone.
The weigh-in proceeded very smoothly and fast. Consider the fact that
five hundred boats were running all over the place, and it was really
tough to fish that day. Randy Vetrano and Skeet Watts caught the winning
stringer of 17.30 lbs.. Tenth place took a little over fourteen pounds;
so, yes, this was a tough day.
By now, everyone almost takes for granted the huge number and value
of door prizes given away at this tournament. Here is a short list
of company representatives to company presidents. Two representatives,
Akio Sekimoto and Wataru Tsutsumi from Daiwa flew expressly from
Japan to participate in this tournament’s giveaway of hundreds
of Daiwa rods. Gary Loomis, himself, gave away several very high
quality G. Loomis rods, including, three priceless prototypes specifically
designed for the “shaky head/weeny worm” combination.
Travis Owens (Costa Del Mar) was there, as well as, John Kushnerick
of Quantum, Alan McGuckin from Terminator, and Ty Ono (Jackal Lures)
who flew in from Japan, as well.
|Drawing for the Skeeter/Yamaha Rig.
After all was said and done, there was the drawing for the Skeeter/Yamaha.
Everyone understood the rule specifying that you needed to have
completed a test ride in the previous three days in order to
be eligible for this boat drawing. When the name was drawn,
a hush fell over the crowd, because you had to be present to
win. I know matter how well meaning the fisherman, they all
wished that the man with that boat number had already gone home.
After a full minute of repeating the boat number, someone in
a boat in front of the marina was waving his arms up and down.
I’ve never seen anyone run so fast to the stage. Totally
out of breath, arriving at the same time as his daughter, who
was his partner for the day, George Hulsey and Leslie Brosz
were the winners. It took Leslie a full thirty minutes to settle
down and start breathing normal again. That was one of the most
emotional boat winners I’ve seen in a while. And you know
what, I think every one of us would have felt the same way.
I wish them all the luck and tons of fish from their new boat!
I'm proud to be able to participate in a tournament of this magnitude.
Only one word can describe it: “HUGE”. You can not miss
this next year! There are only five hundred slots, and they are
filling up fast! You can go on-line at www.marksoutdoors.com/treg.html
Sign up for “The 2007 Mark's Lay Lake Open Tournament”