The nation’s best anglers faced off last week, March 29–31, in The Bass Federation’s 2023 National Championship. Taking on Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, with a massive 54,000 acres that stretches 92 miles end to end. On the line, a championship trophy and the "Living the Dream" package. Valued in excess of $125,000 in cash and prizes, including a brand-new Ranger Z520L.
The weather was tough and the competition was fierce, but one angler was able to figure it out. While the weighmaster almost forgot about him on days two and three, he did not forget when it was time to announce the winner.
The angler was Ohio’s own, Andy Fryer.
Andy got here by fishing TBF and Ohio Bass Federation tournaments. He started by qualifying through the Wild Card tournament at Alum Creek. He would place well enough in the State Championship to move onto the National Semi-Finals. His streak didn’t stop there, as he placed 3rd overall and 2nd in Ohio at the National Semi-Finals, which would qualify him for the TBF National Championship.
Tackling the Lake of the Ozarks would be a tough task, it was a lake Andy had never fished before and was much larger than the average lake in Ohio. Prior to traveling, Andy scouted the lake and knew he would have to focus on specific areas.
“It was extremely overwhelming trying to decipher a lake that size. In pre-practice, I ended up spending an entire day only fishing three coves! That helped me build a game plan going into practice though. I picked a couple of five mile stretches that had a lot of different features and I tried to learn those areas well,” he said.
Two weeks prior to the tournament, he would travel back to the lake, ready to implement his plan. Practice presented its challenges, but Andy was able to key in on a few patterns. The days were long, but he was happy to find a few locations and techniques that produced quality fish. With practice a wrap, Andy felt prepared for the challenge ahead. Hopeful that the patterns he discovered would transition into the tournament.
The morning of the event had arrived. The weather had shifted, bringing a 29° frost to awaken the anglers. As Andy approached his boat, he walked to the motor and wrote, “Derby Day." It was time. The preparation and hard work were going to be put to the test.
After a quick live well check, the anglers awaited their number to be called. We asked Andy what was going through his mind, he had this to say.
“Honestly, an overwhelming sense of calm and readiness, right before takeoff. I was surprised because usually the size of the lake and conditions would have made me a nervous mess.”
Andy’s day would start off with a bang. Catching the biggest fish he’s ever weighed in a tournament, weighing in at 6 lbs. 3 oz.
“That was my first bite of the tournament at 8:00 a.m. and that was the only fish I caught flipping all week. I was extremely excited and at that point I thought something special might be able to happen. I still can't believe the biggest bass I have ever caught in a tournament was not the biggest bass of that day,” he said.
Andy would finish the day with five fish for 16 lbs. 2 oz., which would put him in the lead for the Northern Division. As the weigh-in concluded, John Levesque would take the overall lead, ahead of Andy by 7 lbs. 12oz. It would be a tough deficit to overcome, but Andy had one focus.
“Being so far behind first, my focus was more toward trying to win the division," he said.
Day two would bring warmer weather, and Andy would continue to work towards reaching a five-fish limit. Building on his pattern and fishing one of his favorite techniques, a ½ oz Blue Rock Tackle double colorado bladed spinnerbait, in the “kicker” color. Andy’s strategy would pay off, as he would get his limit, weighing in at 13 lbs. 11 oz. He would end the day with a two day total of 29 lbs. 13 oz. It wouldn't be enough to capture the overall lead, but his goal was achieved, as he secured the title of Division Champion.
This meant he would head into day three only 4 lbs. 8 oz. behind the current leader, John Levesque. When asked what the key to qualifying for championship round was, he had this to say.
“Not having as big of a bag as I did the first day, I was nervous that the three other Northern Division competitors directly behind me could potentially pass me during the weigh in. It turns out consistency was key and I was able to hold my spot as the Division Champion.”
On day three, mother nature would continue its erratic behavior by bringing in the heaviest winds of the tournament. Nerves would be high to start the day, as a cameraman would be joining Andy on the boat. By 8 a.m., those nerves had lifted. Andy had filled his limit and was feeling confident that the spinnerbait would continue to pay off, especially as the sun rose and the shad pushed into the backs of the creeks. The patterns he discovered while practicing were paying off and he was finding quality fish.
Day three also carried a memorable moment, one that Andy is excited to see when the event broadcasts on the Pursuit Channel.
“I am excited to see the TV show when it airs. There was a double that me and my co-angler caught the morning of the third day," he said.
With his body sore, fingers feeling numb, Andy had wrapped up the final day of fishing. The tournament was over, he gave it all he had. He felt good about the day, but knew the competition would be unyielding. As he stood at the tank, waiting to be called, there would be a new leader announced. Hunter Baird, with a total weight of 40 lbs. 10 oz.
As the weighmaster started to call the next angler, he almost skipped Andy. It was a funny memory that Andy remembered from the event. With a quick correction, Andy was called to the stage, with Hunter waiting in suspense.
As the fish lay on the scale, he knew he would need a solid bag to overtake Hunter and hold off John. The weight was read aloud “19 lbs. 2 oz.”, Andy's largest sack of the tournament. It would be enough to take the lead, for now. One angler remained, John Levesque, an angler who weighed almost 24 lbs. on day one. Andy was a nervous mess, worried it would be a repeat performance.
Andy stood in disbelief, as John weighed in three fish for 5 lbs. 13oz. The crowd erupted, as it was announced that with a total weight of 48 lbs. 15 oz. Andy Fryer was the 2023 TBF National Champion! Overcoming a 7 lbs. 12oz. deficit on day one, to win by 8 lbs. 5 oz. The win would crown him the TBF National Champion and secure him the “Living the Dream” prize package.
While it still hasn’t sunk in for Andy, and won’t until he picks up the new boat, he feels extremely blessed. He's also grateful to everyone, especially those who have supported him along the way.
“I'd like to thank my dad for getting me started in fishing, and my mom for supporting me. I'd like to thank my wife for encouraging me, even with me being gone many weekends, and everyone else who has mentored me along the way. A big thank you to Blue Rock Tackle and Venom Lures for their support throughout the years,” he said.
We asked Andy after the event what his winning pattern was, he had this to say.
“What ended up being the winning pattern for me, I found at 1:30 p.m. the first day of the tournament when I only had two fish. The cove I pulled into had the sun shining into it, warming up the water, and a nice breeze that got the shad active. That is when I picked up my Blue Rock spinnerbait and caught six keepers in the last hour!”
Up next for Andy is the All-American in June and the Toyota Series Championship in November. While he’s not sure what the future holds for his fishing career, he’s excited for the challenge.
Congratulations Andy on your big win!
Grab Andy's 2023 TBF National Champion's winning bait at Blue Rock Tackle. Use promo code ANDY10 for 10% off your order!