Bassmaster had some bad events over the years. Events where half the field blanked at least one day. Today in Folkestad Finesses Florida, we’re going to look at an event where this happened and in doing so, set a new record low weight for a three-day event.
The scene was Florida’s Harris Chain, a place where only two years earlier Larry Nixon had won the Megabucks event with 84-pounds, 5-ounces. But since that event, things had changed at the famous chain of lakes.
A labyrinth of waters where aquatic vegetation and big bass flourished, had turned into a baren desert, devoid of life-giving cover. Over the past two years the waters had been sprayed to eradicate weeds, and with the spraying, went the fish.
The first day started out dismal at best. A total of 271 bass were brought to the scales for 310 anglers, total weight 355 pounds. To add insult 163 anglers failed to weigh a bass, over half the field.
Ron Click (TN) seemed to have the bass’ number when he brought in four bass that weighed 8-08 and took the day-1 lead. Jim Bitter, a local Floridian, held down the second spot with 8-03 (3 fish), and Mike Saleeba (OH) was in third place with 7-03 (3 fish).
It was reported in The Orlando Sentinel 23 January 1992, that Saleeba caught a 7-pounder the first day. This must have been a typo as Saleeba weighed in three bass that day for 7-03. Plus, Bassmaster reported big bass for the day at 5-12.
Rounding out the top-5 was Charlie Reed (OK) with 7-00 (6 fish) and Mark Davis (AR) with five fish for 6-10.
Day two continued the trend of fishless anglers. But the second day was worse due to a massive storm that blew through and concentrated the anglers in the canals. Bo Dowden had about as good a day as you could have, weighing in four bass for 4-11. That brought his two-day weight up to 10-02, putting him in the pole position.
Californian Mike Folkestad, who weighed in 6-06 for the day, climbed into second with a total of 10-00 (9 bass). First day leader Click was only able to bring in one 12-ounce bass to the scales and fell to third place with a total of 9-04.
Rounding out the top 5 was Mike Saleeba who added another fish to his creel for a total of 9-04, and Charlie Reed dropped one spot to fifth with a total of 9-03 (8 bass). Jim Bitter, who was in second on day one blanked and dropped to seventh place.
Totals for the day were worse than on day one. A total of 246 bass were weighed for a paltry 297 pounds.
Dowden’s lead going into the final day of competition didn’t give him any leeway. Anyone in the top-25 could make a move based on one big bass.
By the end of the final round, Dowden couldn’t muster up a single fish and relinquished his lead to Folkestad. Folkestad had brought three bass to the scales for a total of 4-10 giving him a total of 14-10 for the event. The lowest winning weight ever in Bassmaster history.
George Kuzemchak (PA) made a final charge from 13th place with the event’s only 7-fish limit. He weighed a 6-10 bag and finished in the second spot with a total of 13-11. Texan Randy Fite followed suit jumping from 18th place the second day to finish in third place. He weighed 6-01 the final day for a total of 12-09.
Rounding out the top-5 was Jim Bitter with 12-04 and Mike Saleeba with 12-00.
Folkestad reported that he had to finesse his fish, something he was very familiar with in his home waters of southern California. He primarily fished 6-pound line and a 4-inch hand-poured Iovino Mini Worm. He also caught fish on a 4-inch pumpkin Berkley Power Worm. Both were rigged with a 1/8-ounce slip sinker.
Where every other angler was throwing hardware, Folkestad’s California finesse tactics won over what few bass were in the area.
Due to the poor showing of the Harris Chain during this event, it would be 11 years before Bassmaster would venture back to the once famed waters. The area Chamber of Commerce was duly worried about the poor showing, especially since B.A.S.S. was showing interest in coming back every year. By the end of this event, Tournament Director Dewey Kendrick said they would not be coming back in 1993.
I’m not sure if the spraying stopped after this event but I can confidently say that the loss of revenue from Bassmaster events put a hurt on the coffers of the area. Did the spraying stop after this event? I’m not sure. But something got better because by the time Bassmaster returned in 2003 for Tour Stop #1, the weights had recovered a little. And wouldn’t you know it, another Californian by the name of Skeet Reese would win that event.