COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho Oregon’s Mike Baskett began the final day of the BASS Federation Nation Western Divisional with a slim lead, but he was worried that pressure from other anglers on his waters would make it difficult to clinch the win.
“I knew that ‘the zoo’ was getting a whole lot of pressure,” Baskett said.
“The zoo” is what the locals call Hipton Lake, an old, flooded pasture along the Coeur d’Alene system’s St. Joe River.
Baskett, who won last year’s divisional and went on to earn a slot in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic through the Federation Nation Championship, began the day determined simply to beat out the rest of his state team members to move on to the national championship.
“I wasn’t real confident I could win the overall competition,” he said.
That soon changed, however. Baskett’s confidence was boosted early when he changed from flipping a ditch to working a spinnerbait along the edge of some dead coon tails.
“Last night, during the team meeting, one of the team members said he found a pattern on spinnerbaits, so that’s the first thing I did this morning,” Baskett said. “I caught three fish for about 11 pounds in the first half hour. That really put me at ease.”
Chatter with other anglers in the area also helped Baskett focus.
“When we started talking to anglers on the water, we realized it was a tough day,” he said.
After the spinnerbait bite died, Baskett went back to his primary pattern: pitching a 4-inch, Texas-rigged tube along a submerged grass line in the back of Hipton Lake off the St. Joe River branch of Coeur d’Alene Lake.
While Hipton Lake averages a depth of about 3 feet, Baskett found a ditch that held 6 feet of water running right along the bank. Pitching his tube along the inside of the grass line, using a ¾-ounce tungsten weight to pull the plastic lure through the vegetation along the ditch, he filled out his limit.
“I finished my limit just before noon,” he said. “My scale said I had 17 pounds and, at that point, I thought I had the team thing locked up.”
As it turned out, Baskett had built a 17-pound, 2-ounce stringer that not only earned him the top spot among the 11 Oregon state team members, but maintained his overall lead by more than 2 pounds.
Winning the overall title sets him up for another strong run at the national championship, scheduled for November at Kansas’ Milford Lake.
“I think this is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome,” he said of the divisional. “We had a lot of top-quality anglers at this event.”
The top finishers for the other 10 state teams that participated in the divisional event will join Baskett at the national championship. Those qualifiers and the states they represent: Jeff Guerrette, Arizona; Pat Wilson, California; Dave Gerhardt, Colorado; Brandon Palaniuk, Idaho; Jay Evans, Montana; Tim Myers, Nevada; Franco Vallejos, New Mexico; Rick Culver, Utah; Les Whitley, Washington; and Bubba O’Neill, Wyoming.
Idaho’s 12 home-state members claimed the top team prize of a Triton/Mercury/Lowrance package valued at more than $30,000. Those anglers built an impressive 375-pound, three-day total to outdistance their nearest competitors by almost 13 pounds.
The Oregon Federation Nation team came in second with 362-5, while New Mexico took third with 298-6.
This is the second of six regional qualifiers for the BASS Federation Nation National Championship. The next qualifier is the Central Divisional, set for June 22-27 at South Dakota’s Lewis and Clark Reservoir Yankton.
Regional CastingKids and Junior Bassmaster contests also are being held in conjunction with the Federation Nation divisionals this year. Both Western Divisional youth competitions will be held Saturday at Coeur d’Alene, with the Junior Bassmaster competitors launching at 6 a.m. from Higgins Point. The CastingKids event will begin at 12:30 p.m. at Higgins Point, and will be followed by the Junior Bassmaster at 2 p.m.