But success on each of the five Saturdays he took off work before the event was the key to his first victory.
“I averaged about 13 pounds of fish on each of those Saturdays, fishing floating worms around the grass in the Fishing Creek section of the lake,” he said.
The 60-year-old Augustan wound up with a two-day, 10-fish limit weighing 25.30 pounds, edging Mason Miller’s 24.50 pounds of bass, and won $5,000.
“I really didn’t think my weight would hold up. Five guys in our club had 13-pound catches on that last day, so I was sweating it until the last man weighed in,” Smith said.
“It’s such an honor to be on the board with all the great winners of the past,” said Smith, a member of the River Rats Bass Club and the Wildwood Bassmasters. He also joined his brother, Byron, who won in 2009, and another “brother act,” Noel and David Brown, who won the event four times each.
On the tournament’s first day, “I was in the last of five flights of boats, but I made the long run from Wildwood Park to above the Highway 378 bridge in 20 to 25 minutes. I’ve got a Bullet bass boat with a 250-horsepower outboard motor and it will do 80 mph.
“I arrived at Fishing Creek about 8:30 on the first day, but I didn’t catch my first fish until around 11. I thought I’d blown the tournament, but then I caught three in a row. The last fish I caught weighed nearly 6 pounds, giving me a five-fish limit weighing about 15 pounds. After the weigh-in, I learned I was in the lead.”
Smith fished merthiolate- and yellow-colored floating worms around the gobs of grass jutting into the lake all along the creek.
The water was so clear, the fisherman could see the worm falling down and when it suddenly disappeared,
he knew a bass had grabbed it.
Smith found himself in the first flight on the second day and caught two good fish by 7:30.
“Then I missed a good one and after that, things got slow. My fifth fish came about 2:30 p.m., giving me a bit more than 10 pounds. I left for the weigh-in about 2:30 because I didn’t want to be late and get disqualified.”
He dates his interest in fishing to his grammar school days at Joseph R. Lamar.
“My grandfather, Carl Payne, would pick me up after school every day and take me fishing. But I didn’t start bass fishing until 30 years ago. My first fishing buddy was Jack Keane and we’d hit Merry Land Brickyard Ponds. Jack Mimmie is my current buddy” (after Keane died). He is supported by Annette, his wife of 42 years, and their children, daughter Holly and son David III.
It was the custom of the writer to interview previous Mr. Clark Hills in their boats on the lake, but Smith qualified for the American Bass Angler National Championship, which will be held Oct. 20-25 out of Wildwood Park. So the lake was off limits to him this week.