CARTERVILLE — For Hunter Grounds and his boatmates the whole day on Crab Orchard Lake participating in the 52nd annual Bill Harkins-Don Sanders Four-Man Tournament was more than just another fishing event that ended with the team of boat three leading after the first day by 3.25 pounds.
“We just have to it again tomorrow because that’s the thing with a two-day tournament,” Grounds said. “We might have been pulling in quantity, but not quality today. There are a lot of good fisherman in this tournament and they were pulling in bigger fish that we were.”
The conditions weren’t ideal when the tournament started early Saturday morning with overcast skies and the temperature hovering in the low 50s. The sun never peaked out and the temperature reached just 58 by the times the fishermen had completed the first round. For day two, rain is in the forecast.
For Grounds the tournament was not as much about the fishing, but more about the emotions the tournament evoked about his father, goose calling legend and namesake of the Tim Grounds Goose Calling Championship at the Southern Illinois Celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Days, who died following an ATV accident on September, 30, 2018, after the tournament committee voted to dedicate the tournament to his dad this year.
“Pretty special for the tournament to honor him this way,” Grounds said. “I wasn’t ready for (him dying) even though we knew it was coming eventually but never did we realize it was going to be this soon. When you go from seeing him at noon on Sunday and 8 o’clock at night you get the call that he is gone. It’s special, you know.”
The tournament is split into two parts with each four-man team split into two boats of two fishermen each. The combined catch of the day counts toward the championship.
Grounds’ partners Zach Ziegler from Goreville and Jake Ziegler from Marion got the tournament off with a bang bringing in the first of just four two-man teams to bag the five-fish limit and take the lead with 14.70 pounds.
“We fished on the south side of the lake and had caught only two fish when our partners had already caught their five,” Grounds said. “We moved to another spot and was able to catch our next three pretty quickly.”
Travis Engram from Herrin and his boat partner Chris Hill from Vienna brought in just three fish, but one was a whopper that tipped the scales at seven pounds and 7 ounces, with the total being less than pound off the lead at 13.77.
“I caught that big one about 9:30 a.m.,” Engram said. “I caught it on plastics. I been competing in this tournament roughly 10 years and have been close a couple times to the big one, but always got beat out and who knows what will happen tomorrow.”
When all the entries were finally in no other boat had reached 11 pounds leaving Engram with the biggest bass after the first day and solidly in second place by 2.29 as a team.
Grounds and his partner Andy Rametta, who is from Johnston City, were in the second boat and they also bagged the limit with a total of 16.46 to solidify their lead with a grand total of 31.16.
“I could feel him all day, so it was meant to be, I guess, to be able to catch the fish we caught today and to be fortunate enough to be in the lead,” Grounds said. “Hopefully we’ll get five more bites tomorrow and get a big one. That’s another thing about dad. At this tournament he would catch his big ones on the second day.”
Engram’s second team of Chris Haub and Cody Ward from Herrin also brought in three fish that weighed 14.14 to up their total to 27.91 expanding their lead over the third place team by 5.32 pounds.
In third is the team of Tom and Tommy Burns from Carbondale and Mike and Trevor McKinney from Benton with a combined weight of 22.59, with Tom and Tommy pulling in the third five-fish limit of 15.91.
The fourth place team of Greg Marlow from Johnston City, Lou Marlow from Energy, Tim Whitecotton from Herrin and Kevin Whitecotton from Marion is not far behind with a total of 20.74, but it was the five-fish haul by the Whitecottons that made up the most of their total with the highest five-fish total of 17.96.
Standing in fifth place is the team of Dave Thompson from Marion, Clayton Campenella from Mulkeytown, Jeremy Sullivan from Cambria and John LeMaster from Herrin with a total of 19.44.