Kansas wins Central by a hair

HAYS, Kan. — Kansas' victory in the CITGO BASS Federation Central Divisional at Cedar Bluff Reservoir, June 18-2, was a close shave for the team and its chapter president.

The host state team won its first Divisional title by only 2 pounds, 10 ounces, which was nearly the average size of the keepers being taken during the tournament. The host team weighed in 387 pounds, 12 ounces and collected $10,051.69 while runner-up Oklahoma tallied 385 pounds, 2 ounces and received $5,743.82. Louisiana finished third with 357-11 and earned $4,307.87 followed by Nebraska, 357-10, $2,871.91; Missouri, 309-3, $2,297.53; Arkansas, 305-2, $1,723.15; Mississippi, 299-4, $1,148.76; and Texas, 275-0, $574.38.

Kansas Federation President John Stewart lost a little hair after the tournament as he kept a promise to his team. The chapter president had lobbied for two years to have a Divisional held on Cedar Bluff and when the Federation granted his wish, Stewart told the state team members last November that he would shave his head if they won the event.

Stewart might have lost a few hairs before the tournament as he fretted about how his anglers would react to competing on their home waters. "I wasn't sure about how much information these guys would share with each other because it is such a small body of water, but they came through and worked together as a team," disclosed Stewart. "They were showing each other secret holes, knowing that two weeks from now they would be fishing against each other on this water." When his team won, Stewart kept his promise and let the Kansas anglers shave his head on the weigh-in stage.

The head barber for the Kansas team was Jason Baird, a 31-year-old Herrington, Kan., city parks and recreation director, who won the tournament with a three day catch of 14 bass weighing 61 pounds, 8 ounces. The Salina Bassmasters club member led from start to finish and earned his second trip to the CITGO BASS Federation Championship presented by Busch, to be held next spring.

The Gypsum, Kan., angler used his knowledge of Cedar Bluff to track bass making the transition from the postspawn stage to their summertime haunts. While prefishing, Baird caught bass pitching to shallow cover, but during the tournament he had to target deeper spots in the same area. "The big fish are moving out deeper and in another week they are all going to be out there," said Baird, who fishes Cedar Bluff about three times a month and has fared well in Federation tournaments there.

The first competition morning, Baird flipped to trees in the 12- to 13-foot range and caught a 20-pound limit in about 30 minutes. He tried five of the 36 spots he intended to fish during the tournament and caught 10 keepers to set the pace with 22 pounds, 11 ounces.

The flipping pattern failed to produce a bite the next morning, so Baird went to a dropoff at the end of a point that lacked visible cover and dragged a Carolina rig along the bottom. "The fish were in the (isolated) bushes anywhere from 15 to 28 feet of water," said Baird.

The move to deeper water paid off in heavyweight fish as Baird caught the biggest bass of the tournament (7 pounds, 8 ounces) and added a couple more 5-pounders. When his partner landed a 6-pounder and a 5-pounder and Baird saw two other 5-pounders follow one of his big fish to the boat, he was confident his spot could produce another hefty limit the final day. "I'll have 20 pounds again tomorrow," Baird told the crowd after weighing in a 24-12 limit the second day.

Two formidable challenges stood in the way of Baird and the Divisional title the final day. The first test was a face-to-face battle with his draw partner, Nebraska angler Mickey Jordan, who was in second place but trailed Baird by more than 9 pounds. A galelike wind posed the biggest problem for Baird though as he struggled to keep his boat in position to fish his deep water structure.

His best spot failed to produce any strikes the final morning, but the fish turned on there when the sun rose higher and the day got warmer. "It was so windy, but we got the bites," said Baird. The wind made it difficult for Baird to feel his lure, so he switched to a 1 ½-ounce weight to prevent constantly hanging up in the brush.

Although he failed to catch a limit the final day, Baird caught four fish to add 14 pounds, 1 ounce to his final tally and clinch overall tournament champion honors and a trip to the Federation Championship.