MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. – Bass Cat Boats held the company’s 36th annual Owners Invitational this week as 309 teams converged on Lake Norfork in Arkansas seeking to earn the top prize and bragging rights. Largely on the strength of a huge nearly 20-pound limit, Jeremy Stone and Ted Carter, both of Salem, Arkansas weighed in two limits totaling 30.62 pounds to claim top honors and a prize of a 2023 Bass Cat Bobcat.
Brent Primm of Louisiana and Billy Littleton of Arkansas finished second with 26.71 pounds, and Norfork Guide Chad Bleeker, a perennial contender, weighed in 25.96 pounds with his father Randall to finish third.
There were also various “Wild Card” prizes given to teams finishing in specific spots, as well as prizes for the largest specimens of other species brought to the scales. The big bass of the event was a massive 5.80 pound largemouth weighed in by Allen Westfall and Wes Usrey on Day One. The biggest walleye was 4.31 pounds and the biggest striper weighed 15.28. Perhaps most notably, the team of Griffin Goodnight and Darrell Turner weighed in a 1.27 pound Ozark Bass on Day Two, a fish that weighed more than the current world record.
As with past Owners Invitational events, one random team was drawn out of hat to win a fully-rigged 2023 Bass Cat Eyra – this year’s lucky winners were Dillon Roth and his father Rickey.
1st Place – Jeremy Stone and Ted Carter
Jeremy Stone and Ted Carter, both locals and both past winners of the OI, made a formidable “super team.” Stone, fishing approximately his 20th Owners Invitational, won the event with his father in 2005, and still fishes out of the 2005 Puma that they won that year. Carter won the event in 2019. Stone stepped away for a few years after his father passed away, but eventually teamed up with his hometown friend and the winning results were evident. It’s still a family maters as “Tad is my wife’s cousin’s husband,” but they consider themselves part of the larger BCB family, too.
Although both are BCB loyalists, they fished out of Stone’s prize Puma. “Bass Cats simply last forever,” he said. “And the Puma is more stable than any other boat I’ve ever fished out of. It’s the only boat brand you can both stand on one side of it and it won’t tilt.”
While Stone’s father has passed, they still rely on his lessons: “He told me to always do something that no one else does. If everyone is throwing spinnerbaits at the bank, definitely don’t do that.” They surmised that big glide baits are still relatively new to much of the field, so that’s what they lived and died with after finishing 5th in the Cystic Fibrosis Tournament the weekend before.
Specifically they used a K&R Custom glide from ROX Outfitters in Highland Arkansas.
“When he builds them, they’re totally tuned,” Stone said. “He takes each one to the lake s there are no hiccups. They swoop left and right perfectly. What we fished was kind of a crappie color.”
Their first day played out as planned, and they were confident they’d catch another limit to at least keep them competitive, but with no wind on Day Two, the fishing got tougher. They had to get rid of a 15-inch squeaker that was plaguing them at noon. Finally Carter caught one to cull it out and the win was theirs.
They expect to sell the boat, and in doing so will grow the family. An angler who owns another brand fishing with a BCB Owner in the event has already approached them about buying the boat.
Now, with both Stone and Carter each two-time winners, they want to set themselves apart with a third win.
“I’ll probably keep on going until I can’t,” Stone said. “I really want to set that record.”
2nd Place – Brent Primm and Billy Littleton
Louisianan Brent Primm has fished seven or eight Owners Invitationals, but due to a scheduling conflict with an annual event on Toledo Bend, this was the first won he’s fished in nearly two decades. He an Littleton competed out of Primm’s 20212 Sabre FTD.
“It’s a boat that fits my fishing style,” Primm said. “It allows me to get into those tight spaces in between the cypress trees better than anything else.”
While some might expect an anger from Louisiana to be a shallow, muddy water expert, Primm noted that he fishes on Caney Lake quite a bit, which is similar to what he found in Arkansas.
“I do a lot of wacky worming and shakey heading in that clear water, and I still used the same 10- and 12-pound line I use at home.” They fished on the south end of the lake on the first day, and eventually culled up to nearly 11 pounds, but ran out of time before they could follow their instincts and run north to throw a swimbait.
When conditions toughened up on Day Two, they found themselves with only a single keeper that barely touched the 15-inch mark late in the morning, so they headed to a row of docks where they’d located some fish and got to work with a Megabass Magdraft.
“It was the first time I’d ever really fished it,” Primm said. “I bought them at the Classic last year at Lake Hartwell, but I’d say it worked pretty well for me.”
They didn’t suspect that they had a chance to win, but focused on history, which indicated that many first day leaders ended up falling off on Day Two. That might give them an opportunity to crash the top ten.
“We had no clue that we’d move up into second,” Primm concluded.
3rd Place – Chad Bleeker and Randall Bleeker
Longtime Norfork expert and guide Chad Bleeker has finished 3rd before, and while he was disappointed not to improve upon that, he knows that it’s tough to finish that high in a field this talented. His only regret was that he tried to fish history during the tournament.
“I spend so much time on this lake and now that I live here and guide every day, I went to my old haunts,” he said. “The lake level is 13 feet lower than what it normally is in the spring. On the first day, I tried to force it in places where I have a lot of confidence and it just didn’t work. The second day we went fishing about as far up as you can go, where I know some big fish live. It was cooler, 58 or 59 degrees, and I knew some pre-spawn fish would be up there.”
They sat adjacent to a drop where the water came up from 16 feet to 8 feet and proceeded to catch approximately 50 bass on crankbaits. There was a laydown sitting on the flat in 5 feet of water, and later in the day he caught six fish from it (two keepers) pitching a 5/8 ounce Jewel Finesse Jig.
Then they ran with the pitching pattern. At the next stop Randall fired a black and blue jig at a laydown and caught a 3.98. Chad threw his jig at the same target and caught a 4.10. “We went from 13.32 to 16.92 in two casts,” he said. “The game really changed.”
They knew that the first day leaders would likely catch at least 9 pounds with a limit, so even with an exceptional 16.92 they’d have to depend on Stone and Carter to falter, which they did not.
“I really love a top 10, and especially a top 5,” Chad said. “We were tickled pink with 3rd. Next year I’m just going to go fishing, not going to overthink it.”
They fished out of Chad’s 2022 Caracal, which he deemed the perfect tournament and guiding boat.
“The biggest thing is its fishability, especially the front deck,” he explained. “I can have three people on the front deck while jigging for stripers, and two comfortably when casting. And I love it in rough water – such a comfortable ride and the hole shot is phenomenal.”
Draw Boat Winner — Dillon Roth
Draw boat winner Dillon Roth has wanted a Bass Cat for a long time. Now, at least temporarily, he has two of them.
“When I was stationed in Little Rock, I saw them all the time and always wanted one,” he said. “When I moved to Florida I thought about selling my bass boat to go saltwater fishing. Then I had the itch to go tournament fishing.”
While deployed to Afghanistan in 2021, he found a Pantera II on Aquatech’s website and convinced his father to go take care of the paperwork and offer his down payment. It had already been put to good use – last year they won an ABA Military Team Bass Tournament and also some Quest money through Aquatech.
Now, they have a decision to make – keep the prize Eyra or the P2 that has served them so well, and to which they added Livescope and Power Poles in the past few months. They’re pretty sure they’ll end up in the Eyra, and carry the good mojo forward.
Special thanks go out to the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce for their incredible hospitality and organization. Additional sponsors included Mercury Outboards, Strike King, Lew’s, Minn Kota, Humminbird, Lucas Oil, Black Rifle Coffee Company and Power Pole.
“After all these years, the Bass Cat Family remains tight-knit, loyal and dedicated to the sport,” said Rick Pierce. “This annual event is one of the ways that we show our appreciation and maintain cohesiveness. It’s an important part of our culture and our history.”
About Bass Cat: Bass Cat, owned by Correct Craft, manufactures the industry’s premier bass fishing boats from its headquarters in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Family operated since its founding in 1971, Bass Cat is the longest continuously operating tournament bass boat company in the United States. For more information visit www.basscat.com.
About Correct Craft: Celebrating 98 years of excellence in the marine industry, Correct Craft is a Florida-based company with global operations. Focused on “Making Life Better,” the Correct Craft family includes Nautique, Centurion, Supreme, Bass Cat, Yar-Craft, SeaArk, Parker, and Ingenity boat companies, Pleasurecraft Engine Group, Indmar Marine Engines, Velvet Drive Transmissions, Mach Connections, Merritt Precision, Osmosis, Watershed Innovation, and Aktion Parks. For more information, please visit www.correctcraft.com