Auburn Bass Fishing Team Wins More Than $1 Million
The chance that college students Tucker Smith of Birmingham, Ala., and Logan Parks of the Auburn bass fishing team could win the Bass Pro Shops US Open National Bass Fishing Amateur Team Championship at Table Rock Lake on Missouri’s White River with its $1 million cash payout to the winners, plus two, 2022 Toyota Tundra trucks and two Nitro boats, motors and trailers seemed impossible on November 21, 2021. But on the final tournament day at Table Rock Lake on Missouri’s White River, Smith and Parks weighed in a limit of five bass, weighing in at 16.44 pounds and won.
Smith, a graduate of Birmingham’s Briarwood High School, had won several Bassmaster High School National Championships in his high-school bass-fishing career previously. Parks was a senior at Auburn University and president of its Bass Fishing Club.
On this last 50-boat competition day, Smith and Parks had only caught one bass by 10:00 am. The tournament would end at 2:30 pm. They drove their boat around the middle of the lake, searching for nomadic schools of bait, since the bass were relating to open-water bait balls.
“We watched seagulls and loons diving on bait, motored there and spotted large bait fish schools on our Humminbird Helix depth finders,” Smith explains. “With our Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, we watched two to four pound bass following those bait balls. We started fishing the bait balls and by 10:30 am had 15 pounds of bass.”
Next Parks caught a smallmouth weighing 3.90 pounds, and Smith caught a three pound smallmouth and three more spotted bass that weighed more than three pounds each. They culled their catch to 16+ pounds but didn’t know if this weight would be enough to win.
“Logan and I weren’t worrying about winning $1 million and new boats and trucks,” Smith said. “We wanted an opportunity to compete for three days in a big tournament,”
Qualifying for the $1 Million Bass Tournament
Parks and Smith had qualified for this largest-ever bass tournament with its largest-ever payout in money and prizes after fishing a qualifier at Bull Shoals Lake, also on the White River. They’d driven to Bull Shoals for 15 hours after fishing a collegiate tournament at South Carolina’s Lake Wylie.
The several qualifying tournaments to fish the three day $1 million competition had 350 boats from 34 states and 5 countries competing to be one of the 200 final boats to fish Table Rock’s elimination tournament. Parks and Smith finished 13th at the Bull Shoals tournament, winning $1,700. Parks had learned from searching the internet that the bass at both Bull Shoals and Table Rock in November could be patterned by locating large schools of bait fish suspended in the middle of the lakes.
“We fished down the bank for about an hour on the qualifier’s first day but didn’t get a bite,” Parks reported. “We went to deep water and targeted deep creek channels to locate bait fish.”
After identifying large balls of bait fish in the middle of the lake to see how the bass reacted to the Ned-Miki jigs (plastic fluke-type bodies) they were casting. Smith had learned this method from fishing guide Joey Nania of Cropwell, Al., while fishing at Alabama’s Lake Logan Martin.
“The Ned-Miki rig we fished was a 3/8-ounce Z-Man Finesse Eyez jig head that featured huge 3D eyeballs with a Berkley MaxScent Flatnose Minnow in the white-pearl color to catch these bass suspended with the balls of baits in 20-40 feet of water,” Parks explained. “I’d never used that rig before, until Tucker introduced me to it. But it certainly paid off for us.”
According to Smith, “The water was so clear, we had to stay well away from the bait balls and the bass to catch them. We couldn’t vertical jig to them.”
Smith’s dad, Drayton, had signed the students up for the last-chance qualifier on Bull Shoals for the $1 million tournament. He’d called them to ask if they were interested, knowing how tight their schedule would be to fish for their collegiate team and drive 15 hours to enter the last qualifier. “Logan and I thought to ourselves, ‘A chance for $1 million – let’s do it.’”
Fishing the Bass Pro Shop US Open Fishing Tournament for $1 Million and Prizes
The top-200 teams who had fished qualifiers competed the first day at Table Rock. The Auburn bass fishing team of Parks and Smith had finished in 10th place after the first day of the elimination tournament and then in 8th place next. Both days they had had five fish limits that weighed approximately 16+ pounds.
The 50-top teams fished the last day of the Table Rock tournament when all the fishermen’s weights were zeroed. Then whichever of the remaining 50 teams caught the heaviest limit of five bass that day would be declared the winner. Parks and Smith fished the same way on the last day as they had on previous days with Ned-Miki rigs, after seeing birds diving on bait balls.
“We were fairly confident we’d make some money at the $1 million tournament,” Smith explained. “Each top-50 individual would take home $2,500. Second place would win $200,000, and third place would win $75,000.”
As in most tournaments, the competitors were lined up for preliminary weigh-ins before the official weigh-ins. Generally the top-place finishers would be placed at the line’s end to weigh-in the final time. Parks and Smith were lined-up next to last, causing them to believe they’d come in second place.
“Our bass weighed in at 16.44 pounds,” Smith recalled. “When the last team to weigh-in had 16.20 pounds, we realized we’d just won the biggest amateur tournament ever held in the history of bass fishing.”
Learning What’s Next for the Parks/Smith Auburn Bass Fishing Team
Parks graduated from Auburn University with a double major in supply-chain management and information systems in December, 2021, and plans to pursue a full-time fishing career after graduation.
“I’ll fish the Bassmaster circuit. I’ve studied and taken business courses to prepare myself to run my business of bass fishing,” he said.
Smith plans to continue fishing while at Auburn for his 2-1/2 more years of school, learning all he can about fishing and then going pro.
Most anglers probably didn’t think these two college students had a chance to beat the top amateur bass-fishing teams in the world. However, Parks and Smith and their families believed they could win. Their faith was repaid when Smith and Parks each received a $500,000 check, a Toyota Tundra truck and Nitro boat. Parks and Smith cried tears of joy on the weigh-in stand and looked out in the crowd to see their families and friends crying too.
Understanding How the Parks and Smith Team Came Together
Smith had had an outstanding high-school bassing career but knew Auburn University didn’t give scholarships for being a part of its bass fishing club, although other colleges did award scholarships. But Parks promised Smith he’d be Smith’s partner, if he’d come to Auburn and join the bass-fishing club.
Parks remembers that, “The first time Tucker and I fished together was on a saltwater fishing trip that I’d won at a raffle. Our personalities and philosophies of fishing meshed. We also had great chemistry. One of us would make a suggestion of what and how to fish, and often the other person would say, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too.’”
Parks is strong on catching smallmouth bass, Tucker excels on fishing river systems and catching spotted bass, and both of them know how to catch largemouth bass. In their first year of fishing together, this Auburn bass fishing team won the Bassmaster College Series at Stop Number 4 on Saginaw Bay in Michigan and the title of Bassmaster College Team of the Year. They also won the Southern College Bass Open Series on Alabama’s Lay Lake.
What is a Ned-Miki Rig Is and How to Fish It
Joey Nania has guided full-time for the past six years for 150-200 days per year on all the Coosa River lakes in Alabama, as well as Smith and Martin lakes. He says, “I like to fish a Ned-Miki head jig with a Z-Man StreakZ 375 plastic body, a small minnow-sized soft plastic with a forked tail at the end of the bait. This bait tracks true in the water, while wobbling and vibrating as you reel it fairly fast with the plastic minnow on its back.
“I use my Garmin LiveScope echo map to study the suspended balls of bait and learn how the bass are relating to that bait. Then I’ll know right where to swim or drop my Ned-Miki bait. Bass and bait fish move around and probably swim further than anglers think they do. I use this tactic to catch spotted, largemouth, smallmouth, striped and white bass and even gar.
“Tucker Smith is a very smart fisherman and can master any technique of bass fishing quickly, as he did fishing this Ned-Miki strategy,” he concluded.
Auburn University’s Bass Fishing Club
Bass Pro Shops
Garmin Panoptix LiveScope
Joey Nania – Fishing Guide
Full Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links. There’s no extra charge to our readers for using these.
John Phillips has about 100 books available on Amazon in Kindle, print and Audible versions, and you can find those at this link www.amazon.com/author/johnephillips.