By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Josh Busby got the conditions he needed on the final day of the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off, and he took full advantage.
The 36-year-old from Rogersville, Mo. is typical of almost all Ozarks-bred anglers – he's a big-time crankbait enthusiast. With an abundance of sun and wind on Saturday at North Carolina's Lake Hartwell, he caught the heaviest bag of the two-day Fish-Off (16-05) to win the event with a 26-12 total.
He fished the lower part of the lake on the final day and had it pretty much to himself. He finished any main-lake or secondary point he came across that had both deep water and rock.
"Probably the biggest thing for me was staying down there in the roughest water," he said. "My trolling motor has 112 pounds of thrust and I was running it on 8 to 10 all day, just fishing the windiest points I could find.
He's accustomed to dealing with strong winds.
"We had three-foot rollers and there's a fine line between what's fishable and what isn't, but if I'm able to stand up on my trolling motor, I'll try to fish it."
Pre-Practice Visit Helped
Busby and Ozark Mountain Team Trail partner Tim Taylor combined to finish 3rd in the team portion of the event, giving them the last two spots in the Fish-Off (members of the top 3 teams compete individually for the Classic berth). Both caught 10-pound stringers on the first day of the Fish-Off, but it was Busby who shined in the final round to overtake initial leader (and eventual runner-up) Brock Reinkemeyer, another competitor from the Show-Me State.
"The only bad part of it is that both of us can't go to the Classic," said Busby, who's teamed with Taylor for the past six years (they've made the Team Championship five times). "It was a team effort over 12 months to get to this point."
They made a pre-practice visit to Hartwell just before it went off-limits and capitalized on a calm, sunny day to uncover quite a few offshore locales that were holding fish. The first day of official practice featured similar conditions and they employed crankbaits to entice several quality specimens, including a 5-pounder.
They caught an early limit out deep on jigs and Blade Runners on the second day of the team competition, then the wind picked and they started throwing the cranks. They ended up with a 19-05 haul to garner their place among the top 3.
The first day of the Fish-Off brought rain and 20-mph winds. Busby expected a strong cranking bite that day, but eventually realized that sunshine was a critical component for that program. The sun returned the next day and the wind shifted from the east to the west. He had a limit by 8:30 that morning that included a 4-pounder and caught approximately 10 more keepers throughout the day. At one juncture he boated 3-pound spotted bass at three consecutive stops.
"Those were the exact same conditions we had when we caught the 19 pounds (in the team competition)," he said. "If not for a couple of missed opportunities, I could've gotten up to 18 or 19 pounds again."
His fish came from the 18- to 24-foot depth range.
"They were either sitting on the bottom or suspending on the first or second ledge. I was cranking in the open water column and the movement of the bait would get them to come up and eat it."
Winning Gear Notes
> Cranking gear: 7'6" medium-action Lew's Ledge Series Small Crankbait rod, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 8-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line, SPRO RkCrawler 55 (spring craw or phantom) or original Storm Wiggle Wart (Tennessee shad).
> Busby is employed as a food scientist for the Dairy Farmers of America co-op. "I work on new product development like specialty butter blends – if a customer wants a flavored butter, we'll help design it for them. I also work with a lot of fast-food chains that are transitioning from margarine to butter."
> He'd like to give tour-level fishing a try at some point, but won't take a major financial risk to do it. "If something stupid happened, like I won the Classic, then I might take a stab at it, but I have a really good job and I don't mind being a guy who works 9 to 5 and fishes on the weekends. It's something I always wanted to do growing up, but since then I've seen how expensive it is and how hard it is to make a living."
> He'll make a pre-practice trip to Guntersville the weekend after Christmas (the lake goes off-limits for Classic competitors on Jan. 1). "Tim and I fished the Team Championship there in 2014 and we caught 28 pounds on the second day to jump up to 6th place. That was also in December, though; I've never been there during the Classic timeframe. I'm anxious to run around and look at it again."
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1. Josh Busby -- Ozark Mountain Team Trail -- 5, 10-05 -- 5, 16-07 -- 10, 26-12
2. Brock Reinkeyeyer -- Joe Bass Team Trail -- 5, 13-07 -- 5, 12-15 -- 10, 26-06
3. Timothy Taylor -- Ozark Mountain Team Trail -- 5, 10-01 -- 5, 11-12 -- 10, 21-13
4. Timothy Penhollow -- CBC -- 3, 4-08 -- 5, 15-08 -- 8, 20-00
5. Brad Jelinek -- Joe Bass Team Trail -- 4, 5-07 -- 4, 8-02 -- 8, 13-09
6. K.C. Choosakul -- CBC -- 3, 4-06 -- 0, 0-00 -- 3, 4-06