CLEWISTON — With the first event of the Roland Martin Marine Center Series 2020 season postponed in April due to the national coronavirus pandemic, the season opener was moved to June 13. And with CDC guidelines in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, a near-record field of 156 teams (second-highest in series history) battled the elements and some of the top anglers in Florida at Qualifier #1 of the highest-paying team tournament trail in Florida. And when the final bass was weighed, the team of Jesus “Chunky” Villegas and Johnathan Stamm held up the big check.
The 95-degree Southeast Florida heat was another factor that didn’t seem to affect the appetite of the legendary Lake Okeechobee bass nor the competitive spirit of the 312 anglers competing for top honors and the big payday. Legendary angler and tournament namesake Roland Martin mentioned the bluegill beds as a key target, and that proved to be the winning pattern for our top team.
“We worked top water lures early and late,” said Villegas. “Picked up two in the morning and two in the afternoon, including a 7.33 pound bass. We were on bluegill beds with visible spots that I found last week and produced even more this week. They were eating the bluegill.”
“I picked up one early on a burner worm,” said Stamm. “I was junk fishing but we were on fish — we knew where they were at. I’m just glad he (Villegas) finally called me and asked me to fish with him. I’ve been wanting to fish with him for three years.”
The partnership paid off to the tune of $6,000 for first place and another $250 for the highest finisher in HUK Gear with the winning weight of 27.45 pounds. In second place was the team of Kail Stevens and Bradley McQueen that collected $3,000 along with $250 for the Mercury Contingency Award with a total weight of 24.59 pounds.
“We caught about eight or nine and ran all the way around the whole lake,” said Stevens. “We were junk fishing but mainly flipping Medlock Jigs and D-Bombs.”
Rounding out the top three was the team of Jason Blair and Colton Hester. Their total weight of 24.41 pounds, including a 7.08 pound bass, netted them $2,000.
As the highest paying team tournament trail in Florida, the payouts continued to 27 places. The contingency awards added even more ways to win. The Mercury Youth Award paid $100 to Brice Prowant as the highest finishing youth angler. Mary Ann Martin awarded highest finishing Female Angler Diane Willis with $100. The Gilbert Family of Cars awarded James Moretz and Harry Holstein with $250 as the highest finishing team with a Gilbert Family of Cars purchase. And the highest finishing Ranger Cup compliant angler, Buck Durrance, received a check for $1,000.
With even more ways to win, the limit of 6.54 brought in by the team of Wise and Infante earned them $300 for the Lowest Limit presented by AV-Inspection. Boat Covers Anywhere awarded the team of Litich and Dyer two new rods with the closest weight to 15 pounds without going over. And the team of Keyso & Perry collected two rods as well as the team closest to 20 pounds without going over.
For the complete standings and gallery of last Saturday’s action, visit rolandmartinmarinecenterseries.com/gallery/ and be sure to share, tag and subscribe to help spread the word. And let us know if we can do more to make our trail and the experience even better.
Until further notice, we’ll continue to follow CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of our anglers and staff. Please continue to wear your masks and practice social distancing so we can help stop the spread of this terrible virus. We’re all in this together and we look forward to seeing you at Qualfier #2, Aug. 22.