CARTERVILLE — Rick Cheatham and Scott Biggs pulled in just enough bass on an off day to win their fourth plaque on Saturday at the 22nd annual Midwest Bass Classic held at Crab Orchard Lake.
"This was the worst catch we've ever had in the whole tournament system," said tournament director Howard Grant. "No one caught the limit of five today and that has never happened. I have asked numerous fishermen — they are all good fishermen who went out there today — but nobody knows why it was so bad today."
Cheatham from Carterville and Biggs from West Frankfort caught four fish for a grand total of 14.80 pounds to win their second title in the last five years. They were the first ever winners in 1994 and repeated in 1996 before finally getting their third win 15 years later.
"We were fishing all over the lake, but the fish weren't feeding today and what we caught was more reaction bites," Cheatham said.
The win came as a total surprise to the Cheatham/Biggs team considering last year's event, given that last year's winning team pulled a whopping 24.08 pounds.
"We didn't think we even get a check, since we didn't have our limit and figured we would need to catch another fish," Cheatham said.
Instead, the duo earned $3,000. Cheatham and Biggs barely beat out their 1994 total of 14.29 pounds and were almost 10 pounds less than their winning total of 24.57 pounds in 2011.
"We've fished the lake for years, so we were fishing spots we knew traditionally had fish," Biggs said. "We caught some on plastic and some on crankbaits. I like high skies, but the east wind was bad."
Last year's event had 76 applicants, who caught a total of 209 fish for a grand total of 730 pounds after 57 boats caught 169 fish that weighed in at 558.2 pounds two years ago.
This year it was just the opposite going from first to worst with a total of only 36 fish being caught for a measly 128.02 pounds. In fact, out of the 68 applicants, only 23 boats came in to weigh their catch and only nine caught more than one fish.
The winning team was the only boat that caught four fish, with only two others catching three, including the Carterville brother team of Shawn and Shane Horn, who finished second with a grand total of 10.43 pounds to claim the prize of $2,000.
"We didn't practice for the tournament, so we were fishing in all our normal spots and got lucky," Shane said.
The Horn brothers also earned an extra $680 after Shawn hauled in the biggest fish of the day — a wide-mouth bass that tipped the scales at 6.25 pounds.
"I caught that fish at 6:30 this morning on a tube," Shawn said. "It was tough today, so we didn't even know if we were going to weigh in. But it turned out that was the biggest fish I've ever caught and a good day for us all the way around."
The third place team of Cole Moss from Carbondale and Andy Garrett from Marion were the only other boat to tip the scales at 10 pounds or more. Their two fish weighed in at 10.02 pounds for a $1,500 prize.
The team of Jim Sanson from Marion and James Hewlett from Royalton (8.99) took home the fourth place prize of $1,000. The Carbondale team of Jack Yates and Justin Looft (7.39) finished fifth to claim $500.
The tournament is fundraiser for the Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Day Committee, which provides assistant for hunter safety education classes at John A. Logan College, Kids Fishing Days, Youth Duck, Turkey and Dove Hunts and placing bass and thread fin shad in Crab Orchard Lake.