Longtime fishing buddies Joey Zielinski and Bill McKie weighed in a five-bass, 12.63-pound catch Saturday and captured the Angler's Choice Southeastern Regional Team Championship on Strom Thurmond Lake.
The North Augustans held off a late charge by Jeff Moore and Roger Perkins of Verbena, Ala., to become the first team in Angler's Choice history to win on its home lake, according to the Texas-based organization's records.
Zielinski and McKie, who led after the first round, caught a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 31.40 pounds, while the Alabama duo rallied from 13th place and brought in nine bass weighing 27.12 pounds, a difference of 4.28 pounds.
The shocker was what happened to the first-round runners-up, Derek Caldwell of Fort Payne, Ala., and Bobby Luttrell of Powder Springs, Ga. They did not weigh in a fish and had to settle for 16th place and $1,100 in prize money.
The North Augustans won two fully rigged bass boats worth more than $40,000. As the top South Carolina finishers, Zielinski and McKie also qualified to compete in the Angler's Choice Mercury Team Nationals on Lake Granbury, Texas, Dec. 6-9.
The runners-up and anglers finishing in third through fifth places also won bass boats, while cash awards totaling $28,000 were split between fishermen placing sixth through 35th.
In a bizarre case, Chris Rutland of Montgomery, Ala., was not able to fish in the tournament because his wife, Tina, was due to give birth "at any time," said Rutland's partner, Russell Lane of Prattville, Ala.
"Since everybody else was making two casts to my one, I just went out and fished twice as hard," said Lane, who finished third with a solo catch of nine bass weighing 24.43 pounds.
The champions stuck to the same fishing patterns that scored for them on the first day. They found the area in practice off Little River not far from Little River Marina, where the weigh-ins took place.
"We fished buzz baits on this one area that was good to us on Friday and had three strikes, catching all of them, including a 4-pounder," said Zielinski, 36, a machinist at United Defense. The same area produced a 6-pounder on the first day.
"Then we started looking for schooling bass and caught all of them on the Sammy," a surface lure manufactured in Japan. "I had a spot that was producing 2-to-2'-pound fish, while Bill had another that had 3-to-4-pound fish."
The duo has fished the Angler's Choice circuit for five years, qualifying each time for the regionals.
"I think we'd better thank our wives for putting up with all of this," said McKie, 49, a private land surveyor.
Two Augusta area teams finished in the top 20, and five wound up collecting checks from Angler's Choice president Johnnie Davis.
Norm Attaway of North Augusta and Mike Guilbeau of Evans, in 44th place going into the final day, wound up 10th. Donald Miller and Thurston Hall, in 11th place after Friday's first round, slipped to 19th.