Some of John Garrett’s earliest bass fishing memories come from days spent on Kentucky Lake. He remembers frequent weekend trips with his grandad — driving up from Union City, Tenn., to the fabled fishery about an hour away.
It started when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Garrett said. “For about four or five years, we’d come out here just about every weekend … He’s taught me everything he knows, and he knows his stuff pretty well.”
Those memories will always be with John Garrett, but now he has a few more for the mental scrapbook –– he’s earned a spot in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, and he did it on the same body of water where he learned to fish.
Garrett, a 20-year old incoming junior at nearby Bethel University, won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket presented by Bass Pro Shops on Saturday when he weighed a 14 pound, 13-ounce limit before a crowd filled with familiar faces in downtown Paris. That was more than enough weight to defeat Texas State University’s Evan Coleman, who had an unfortunate day on Saturday, and didn’t catch a weighable fish.
After Coleman took the stage empty-handed, the fishing fans in attendance knew Garrett had won the single-elimination tournament. Garrett was the only angler to catch a limit through two days of fishing, and he did so again on Saturday. Although total weight didn’t count in this event (only how you compared head-to-head against your daily opponent mattered), Garrett’s three-day haul of 46-9 was impressive. Coleman had the second highest total, and that was exactly 30 pounds, 4 ounces behind the winner.
Van Garrett, John’s dad, was one of the first to greet the angler when he wheeled his truck into Paris Town Square where the final weigh-in was held. The two embraced and fought back tears, as Garrett’s Bethel University teammates swarmed him; offering high fives and fist bumps.
“There’s a lot of emotion going through me right now,” Garrett said. “I’m just happy I got blessed today and how things turned out. I’m an hour away from my hometown, and I’m pretty sure the whole city is up there by the stage right now. If I had to do this, it’s a great place to do it right here.”
Garrett, the No. 4 seed in this eight-man tournament, established a pattern early in the week and stuck with it throughout. On the first day, when he defeated No. 5 seed Sam Stone of Texas State University, he boated five bass in the 2 1/2 - pound range by going first to a shallow hump about a miley from the launch site at Paris Landing State Park, and then moving another 15 miles south on Kentucky Lake where he fished a ledge in approximately 15 feet of water.
On Friday, he lit into his biggest limit of the tournament — a 19-7 bag that was by far the heaviest of the event, and handily dispatched No. 2 seed Taylor Bivins of Kansas State. Saturday, Garrett caught 35 keepers and had a few of his biggest bites break off, preventing his 14-13 from going even heavier.
On the hump, he threw a small crankbait for keepers, and his bigger bites later in the day came on a 3/4-ounce wobble head with a Magnum Green Pumpkin Trick Worm.
“That worm seemed to be the deal,” Garrett said.
Garrett and Coleman had duked it out since 5:45 a.m. on Saturday until they checked in at Paris Landing State Park in nearby Buchanan, Tenn. at 1:30 p.m. The anglers were trailered the 25 minutes to Paris, where the final weigh-in was held.
Exhausted from some intense shoreline work the first two days, sixth-seeded Coleman broke form on Saturday when bluebird skies replaced the expected cloud cover which he hoped would help his shallow-water bite. In an effort to find bigger fish, he ran 40 minutes north to where Kentucky and Barkley lakes meet, but he couldn’t find a bass to bite.
He was disappointed, but said he gave everything he had.
“It was extremely frustrating,” Coleman said. “I knew I had to catch them today, and John’s schools … he hadn’t been burning them. He did today and he caught them. I could have done the same thing I had been doing the other days and maybe caught three fish for 8 1/2 pounds. But I had to gamble. I went to an area I hadn’t seen. It looked good on the contour maps, and it matched my pattern. So I ran there, and all I did was catch a few shorts.”
He wouldn’t do anything differently, however, he said.
“I got to the finals of the bracket, and I have no regrets,” the 20-year old Coleman said. “I gave it my all.”
The top four teams at last week’s College National Championship traveled to northwest Tennessee for the bracket event. The eight anglers were seeded individually and fished in a head-to-head format, with only one angler being able to advance all the way through the finals and into the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
Garrett, who is a business management major at Bethel, said it’s his aspiration to use his education to be around the fishing business as a professional. But at least for a year, it’s his fishing education and expertise that will have him matching wits against the world’s best bass anglers in the sport’s marquee event. The 2017 Classic will be held on Lake Conroe near Houston, Texas, Marc 24-26h.
“I’m trying not to think about that too much and stress on it,” Garrett said. “I’m going to let this sink in. But I can guarantee when I get to the Classic, I’m going to have a good time and enjoy it.”
Bethel University bass fishing coach Garry Mason said he’s not surprised Garrett fished his way into the Classic.?“John is such a great angler, a great young man, and a leader of our program,” Mason said. “But anytime you win at this level, there’s some amount of surprise…We were very much in anticipation of seeing him win, and he’s very confident right now. He was on a lot of fish.”
In addition to the Classic berth, Garrett won $7,500 to cover fishing expenses, and he earned free entry to all nine of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens in 2017. He will have use of a Nitro boat and a fully-rigged Toyota truck for the year, as well.