He didn’t win it by the total weight of his 10-fish limit (24.82 pounds) since he was tied by Chris Hadden. But Atkins weighed in a 3.78-pound bass on the first day and that was enough for him to clinch the title. Hadden’s biggest fish weighed 3.28 pounds.
“I started fishing it in 1986 and had never placed in the top 10,” the 60-year-old said. “I didn’t get to practice before the tournament, my lock and safe business keeping me busy. But I’ve been fishing the lake so long I pretty much knew where I could catch some bass at this time of the year.”
He’s a longtime president of the Augusta Bassmasters, one of more than 20 clubs affiliated with the Mr. Clark Hill Committee which is required to qualify for the tournament that bears the lake’s original name.
He found himself in boat No. 169 (there were 186 in the field) in the last flight on the first day and caught his first bass on a square-billed crank bait about 8:30. It weighed 21/2 pounds. Fifteen minutes later, he caught another 2-pounder “and I had my five-fish limit about 10:30 a.m.” His catch weighed about 12 pounds.
About 2:30 p.m., he checked out a pocket containing a wad of grass (hydrilla) and, fishing a Carolina-rigged Zoom Green Pumpkin Magic plastic worm, caught the bass that would prove to make him the winner.
“During that first day, I was able to eliminate a lot of spots that I wouldn’t need to waste my time on the second day,” he said.
He stuck with a quarter-ounce Buckeye double-propped buzz bait with white skirt on the second day. “On my first cast, I landed a 2-pounder and had a 5-pound-class fish pull off. That hurt, but I still was able to catch another five-fish limit.”
He fished in the first flight on the final day and not only was Hadden in the last flight, he was the last man to weigh in. “I thought he’d beaten me,” Atkins said, “but after the weigh-in they declared a tie. Then they checked our biggest bass and that won it for me. I was sort of shocked, I didn’t know what to do or say.”
Before the tournament, he had promised his wife, Glenda, that any winnings would go to a baby fund. Virginia, the wife of his son, Brian, is due to give birth around Christmas Eve.
“When I got home, I handed my wife my $5,000 winner’s check.”