Georgetown resident Gary Pope Jr. enjoyed all the comforts of home in the B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Regional last week out of the Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex on the Sampit River, right down to his home-made lures.
Pope took full advantage of fishing his hometown waters by winning the non-boater division of the regional tournament and securing a spot in the upcoming B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
The national championship will be held in November, with the exact date and location to be announced on Monday.
Seventeen states and the Canadian province of Ontario were represented in the Eastern Regional, with nearly 400 anglers competing.
The top boater and the top non-boater from each state earned a spot in the national championship.
Winning the non-boater division and reaching the national championship was a tremendous accomplishment for Pope, who is employed at International Paper in Georgetown, but extra special on his home turf, or waters.
"What was so sweet about it, was I had a lot of hometown support," said Pope, who is a member of the Conway Bassmasters. "Every day at work this week people have been congratulating me. I can't tell you how many Facebook friend requests I've had from all over the country.
"It's been humbling and exciting to have all that support. I tried to make Georgetown proud, International Paper proud, and the bass club."
The non-boaters hitch a ride each day of fishing with an angler from the boater division. The non-boaters can fish from the back deck of the boat only and can weigh in only three bass per day.
The boaters fish the bow of the boat and are allowed to weigh in the full limit of five bass per day.
Pope weighed in the maximum of three bass all three days of fishing and wound up with a winning aggregate weight of 17 pounds, 6 ounces for his nine bass.
Mark Hogan of Milford, Del., won the boater division after weighing in his limit of five bass each day for a total of 15 fish, and an aggregate of 31-15.
Pope fished the Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Little Pee Dee and Sampit rivers, but it was his first day on the Pee Dee that put him in position for the win.
Pope's three bass on opening day weighed 10-4 and gave him an early cushion. He was fishing with his own homemade 4 1/2-inch craw and Senko-type baits, plus he caught one of the fish on a KVD Square Bill Crankbait.
Pope was fishing with boater division anglers from Ontario, Maine and Florida, and they were willing to take advice from their local passenger
"Living here so long, I knew the key spots at the right time with the right bait," said Pope. "It's all about timing and tide."
On the final day of fishing, Pope was paired with Dave Turner, who wound up finishing second in the boater division.
"(Turner) thanked me after it was over," said Pope.
Another local angler, Stacey Proctor of Conway, finished second behind Pope in the non-boater division with an aggregate of 15-13.
Pope will be competing in his second B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. He also won a regional tournament at Paducah, Ky., in 2004 to qualify for the 2005 national championship.
Chris Jones of Conway, also a member of the Conway Bassmasters, was the top South Carolina angler in the boater division and also qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
Jones finished eighth overall in the boater division with a full 15-fish aggregate of 23-12.
Jones fished the Black River, the Pee Dee and the Little Pee Dee and caught fish consistently throughout the days, even in hot conditions with the heat index near or above 100 degrees all three days.
"Even in the middle of the day you have a lot of shade with all the natural creeks and shadeline along the rivers," said Jones. "The fish feed on the current and anywhere they have shade."
A Stanley Ribbit Frog was Jones' most successful lure.
Two more Conway anglers, Gregg Fogner and Hayes Hudson, finished 10th and 11th, respectively in the boater division.
Visit bassmaster.com/news/bass-nation-eastern-regional-standings-0 for complete standings.
S.C. Governor's Cup Billfish Series
After Mister Pete won the first two tournaments in the 2018 South Carolina Governor's Cup Billfishing Series, Reel Passion captured the Carolina Billfish Classic (CBC) out of Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina in Mt. Pleasant last weekend.
Reel Passion, owned by Billy Ingram with Capt. Gary Richardson at the helm, took advantage of a prolific sailfish bite to accumulate 1,700 points for the win.
With Ingram and Richardson leading the way, Reel Passion won the overall series championship in 2011 and 2015.
Richardson uses only natural baits in his trolling spread and naked ballyhoo were the ticket as the crew released seven sails and one white marlin.
Sportin' Life released two blue marlin and two sailfish for 1,600 points to finish second followed by Grander with two blues and one sail for 1,400 points.
Mister Pete remains in the overall lead in the series with 4,275 points with two tournaments remaining. Sportin' Life is a close second with 4,075 points followed by Artemis (3,275), Grander (3,275) and Full Pull (2,475).
Richardson and Ingram chose to fish the first two of three fishing days in the CBC, and the captain worked the 300 line in 450 feet of water, 51 miles southeast of Charleston both days.
"There wasn't any bait, we just got a bite or two, stuck it out there and then got a bite an hour," said Richardson.
On the first day, Reel Passion released three sailfish plus caught eight dolphin. On the second day, the crew released four sails and the white marlin. All eight billfish hit naked ballyhoo.
Up until the CBC, it had been a tough-luck series for the Reel Passion crew this year. Case in point, a missed opportunity in the Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament.
"We fought a (blue marlin) in Georgetown for six hours and lost it - (an) 800-pounder plus," said Richardson. "We had it close up jumping one time, as close as 150 feet.
"It's mostly luck in these things."
Go to www.govcup.dnr.sc.gov for full results from the Carolina Billfish Classic and the series.