Belik Takes Lead At Opening Round Of B.A.S.S. Nation Championship On Lake Hartwell

Brock Belik is 1,300 miles from home, but he looked quite comfortable on Lake Hartwell on Wednesday during Day 1 of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.

Belik, who lives in Orchard, Neb., and qualified for the Championship via the South Dakota B.A.S.S. Nation, caught a five-bass limit of 11 pounds, 15 ounces to take the lead.

A total of 115 anglers from 47 states and 11 foreign countries are competing in this three-day event. They are fishing for a total purse of $141,300. But also on the line are three berths in the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.

Belik knows there’s plenty of work to be done if he’s to qualify for this Classic. Still, the 28-year old angler was pleased with his showing Wednesday, knowing it put him in good position to make Thursday’s cut.

“I’ve put everything I could into this tournament to try and put myself in contention on Friday,” he said. “I thought I only had 10, 10 1/2 pounds today, so I’m really happy with the weight.”

Belik said he covered lots of water looking for sizable bites. His heaviest bass, which weighed approximately 3 1/4 pounds, came soon after take-off. He added a 2 1/2-pound kicker with approximately 10 minutes of remaining, and that catch likely locked up the Day 1 lead.

Belik weighed four spotted bass and one largemouth in his charge to the top of the leaderboard.

“There are a lot of fish, it was just hard to get the big ones,” he said. “I’m fishing deep, drop shot kind of stuff. I think the key is hitting as many spots as you can. It’s a running-and-gunning kind of deal.”

Belik said Lake Hartwell is not much different than the fisheries he frequents in America’s heartland. He also said a two-week trip to Hartwell in September helped him get an idea of what to expect from the 56,000-acre lake here in the northwest corner of the Palmetto State.

“There’s clear water at home, and you have that here,” he said. “It’s setting up perfectly for me.”

Tim Johnston of Team Montana was the second boater to weigh-in Wednesday, and he’s in second place with five bass that weighed 11-13. Justy Varkevisser of South Africa is third with 11-6, Steve Lund of Team Arizona is fourth with 11-1 and Nicholas Prvonozac of Team Ohio is fifth with 10-15.

Barry Ward of Team Kentucky seized the lead in the nonboater division with a five-bass limit of 11-6. He only had six bites fishing from the back of Kenneth Reed’s boat, but the five he caught were good ones.

“The bite was really pretty slow today,” Ward said. “I was fortunate. (Reed) was a great guy to have in the front of the boat. I enjoyed every minute of it, and I hope I can catch some more nice fish on Thursday.”

Kyle Graham of Team Wyoming is second among the nonboaters with a 10-3 limit. Scott Seros of Team Oregon is third with 9-9.

Scott Perrine of Bonneau, S.C., caught the big bass of the day — a 6-1 toad that gave him the edge for the $1,000 prize that goes to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the Championship.

“I caught it late today,” Perrine said, adding he caught the bass on a Carolina rig. “We found a little pattern, fishing rocky points. I was just dragging.”

The 115 anglers (59 boaters, 56 nonboaters) competing at Hartwell qualified via their individual state tournaments and then one of three B.A.S.S. Nation regional events held earlier this year. The victorious boater and nonboater from each state participating in the regionals advanced to this week’s Championship, as did leading boaters and nonboaters from different countries.

The full Championship field will fish again beginning at 6:45 a.m. ET Thursday. The nonboater champion will be crowned Thursday afternoon, but his work won’t be done. That winner will compete with the Top 10 boaters on Friday, as will the top two boaters from each region who failed to make the Top 10 cut. Friday’s field also will include any nonboater who had enough weight to have finished in the Top 10 in the boater filed. Anglers with the three heaviest total weights of the tournament will qualify for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, set for March 6-8 on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. The winning boater will also secure a spot in the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series.

Takeoff and weigh-in in the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship are being held at Green Pond Landing. Visit Anderson is hosting.