ROCK HILL -- Rusty White hoped to raise a ton of food for the needy Saturday, and he did. Twice.
An event record 127 boats launched in the second annual Rusty White Charity Bass Challenge, making it the largest tournament on the lake two years running. Participating anglers collected a more than 4,000 pounds--two tons--of food for delivery to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.
"There's nothing like this around," White said. "When the guy came this morning to pick up the food, he was shocked at how much there was."
Last year the event, which features only a non-perishable food item for its entry fee thanks to corporate sponsorships for prize money, collected about 1,500 pounds of food. This year Second Harvest needed more than in past years, making the tournament timely as well as charitable.
"Need is way up this year," Second Harvest executive director Kay Carter said prior to the event. "The fishing tournament couldn't come at a better time."
Despite the low cost to enter the tournament, thousands of dollars in prize money still arrived thanks to area businesses. Gray Bennett, president of general contracting business DSS Corp. in Charlotte, raised $2,000 from his subcontractors for the first place prize. Still, he said, the success Saturday came from the tournament organizer.
"I just can't thank him enough for what he does for us," Bennett said of White. "We're not here to advertise. We're here to help out."
The big weight of donated food Saturday also helped to overshadow an unusually difficult day fishing. Even with 127 boats, only a handful of limits approached the scales.
"It was terrible," said veteran Lake Wylie and cold weather angler Doug Gilmer. "We only got three bites all day."
Gilmer, along with partner Tom Russell, finished 32nd with 3.88 pounds of bass. Scott Willis and Misty Beason, who finished highest a year ago and again this year among couples, fared even worse.
"There's no fish in that lake," said Beason, on the team finishing 35th overall with two bites and one fish all day, weighing 3.73 pounds.
Even Parks Jones, arguably the hottest angler going on Wylie, could not reel in a limit. Jones has four wins the past two months in tournaments on Wylie, but finished 13th with partner Daniel Hill without a fifth fish.
"We didn't lose any today," Jones said, after totaling 11.29 pounds. "We just didn't catch five."
Even the anglers who did reel in limits were hardly sharing secrets. White noted the upcoming Southern Anglers Challenge event this weekend as a possible reason.
"These guys are tight-lipped," White said. "They don't want to give away anything."
Fortunately, that attitude only applied to fishing techniques. Entry fees came in from Alabama, Georgia and Virginia along with both Carolinas. A fishing club from Raleigh, N.C. -- the Elite Bassmasters -- gathered $500 worth of canned goods and brought it down, vowing to double that number next year and challenging other local clubs to do the same.
Even event sponsors sweetened their partnerships with anglers for their generosity, including Burns Chevrolet in Rock Hill who offered any new vehicle at $500 below invoice for participants. And then there were anglers who are not even anglers, competing just for this tournament.
"Todd caught most of the fish," said Tim Reid of Lake Wylie, who finished sixth with multiple Bassmaster Classic qualifier and Elite Series pro Todd Auten. "I haven't been (bass) fishing in 35 or 40 years."
White plans to make the event an annual staple on the first Saturday in December. The unique entry fee format is what sells the tournament. With qualifiers to some of the richest tournaments in bass fishing participating, White's event should draw out the best in area fishing, too.
"You guys are fishing against, arguably, some of the best anglers in the world," White said.
So who won?
The team of Adrian Parsons and Billy Dumas won the $2,000 first place prize after catching five fish weighing 16.37 pounds. Of the 127 boats, only 45 registered weights. The top parent/child team was Mike and Corey Stone, who finished with 5.03 pounds. Scott Willis and Misty Beason won top couple with 3.73 pounds. The top Champion boat team, as well as big fish winner, was Artie Phillips and Dan Moore with 10.09 pounds.
1. Adrian Parsons/Billy Dumas, 16.37
2. Matt Simpson/Robbie Usher, 15.21
3. Todd Moss/John Schohn, 14.87
4. Jerry Thompson/Tom Hucks, 14.80
5. Bryan Thrift/Louie Hull, 14.05
6. Todd Auten/Tim Reid, 13.66
7. Michael Carson/Keith Holley, 13.24
8. James T Jackson/Derek Nicely, 13.06
9. Erick Brink/Scott Ellis, 12.99
10. Clyde Gibson/Kenneth Moore, 12.64