The diversity in the sport of fishing is truly endless. But one thing is for sure, and that is it takes dedication, time and a true passion to reach your goals. Not every angler has the same targeted achievements; in fact, most have their own personal quests and prizes at the end that only they can be rewarded by. However, when it’s your time, your day and the stars have aligned, nothing is going to stop you from achieving the target that you have in sight.
This perfect combination of events happened recently for a good friend of mine, Jeb Bunker, and his tournament partner, Luke Diener. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of guiding Jeb and Luke, and we had a day on the water that would be hard to beat. Jeb landed his personal-best bass weighing 10.70 pounds, and I thought for sure this would be their greatest accomplishment of the year. But I stand corrected. Together they topped this Xperience, and I’m honored to tell their story.
On Oct. 26, Jeb and Luke claimed one of the largest titles on the West Coast, winning the Wild West Bass Trail team Tournament of Champions on Clear Lake. They caught 38.43 pounds in a seven-fish limit, and won a brand-new bass boat. But, more importantly, they reached a goal that they had strived extremely hard to reach.
The tournament was scheduled for two days, but after high winds on the second day, the director made a call with the anglers’ safety in mind and canceled day two. Because of that, Jeb and Luke’s day one total put them at the top of the podium to claim victory.
Leading up to the event, Jeb and Luke devoted hours to the lake. They did some pre-fishing weeks in advance, and they established an in-depth understanding of the lake. Along the way, they made sacrifices: camping, sleeping in their trucks and eating Jack in the Box for dinner. Needless to say, they were not being frivolous. This level of sacrifice and determination deserves to be rewarded, and for them it was.
The team worked through many patterns throughout the weeks and found techniques that were sure to hold up. But during their final trip, just a few days prior to the event, things had drastically changed. Instead of spinning out or relying on fishing patterns of the past, they confidently adapted, knowing the right fish to win the event were there; they just had to get them to trigger on a different technique.
Having a hunch from years of fishing at Clear Lake, Jeb decided to tie on a lure he had little experience with and learned how to fish it.
“I’m gonna throw it until I lose it or catch one,” he said.
When most would abandon this last-ditch effort, he persisted. After hours of painstaking experimentation and incorporating a few techniques and strategies they had learned from me, a glimpse of success was found. A 3-pound fish was caught, but it was the way it was caught that would prove to be important. This one bite and the way he coaxed it, would open the door for one of the most epic days on the water.
On the morning of the tournament, they would wait in anticipation for their chance on the water. With the last opportunity to listen to music before launching the boat, they rocked out to “Eye of the Tiger,” knowing it was going to be a fight of a lifetime if they were going to win.
It was time to blast off, and everyone was raring to run full-throttle to their starting spots, including Jeb and Luke. Suddenly, on the worst day possible, the engine on their boat started to act up. They had thrown a reed on the outboard. As pumped as these guys were, giving up was not an option. They came to fish to win, and a little boat malfunction was not going to hold them back.
They settled in on an area and caught a few decent fish. Knowing the lake, Jeb told me that they would have to find 5- to 8-pound fish if they were going to win. So they abandoned the smaller-fish area and kept searching, finally ending up on one of their favorite spots.
Around 10:30 a.m. is when the bite started to take off and it never stopped. Jeb and Luke proceeded to put on a fish-catching clinic and landed one after another. There was even a time when they had one stuck in the net and one on the line, forcing them to scramble to land them both, which they did. And these were not average-sized fish. After filling their limit and continuing to catch them, they reviewed the weight in the live well, making note that the smallest fish was 4.4 pounds and the largest was 6.47 pounds. At the end of this frenzy, Luke had worn his thumb raw while managing their giant bag, which was a good problem to have.
With an hour and a half left to fish, they decided to quit while they were ahead, and limped the boat that was having engine issues back to the ramp while they still had time. At the end of the tournament, they stood victoriously. Jeb handed his trophy to his dad, who he credits for his mentorship in life and reflected on the annual guided trips with Terry Knight that he and his dad went on starting at the age of 7.
Both Jeb and Luke are very appreciative of their families and friends, and grateful for them and their contributions to having achieved such a memorable moment in fishing.
John Liechty is the owner of Xperience Fishing Guide Service in Angels Camp. Contact him at 743-9932.