By Evan Mohl
Killeen Daily Herald
Craig Gilbert of Killeen didn't need a fishing partner last Saturday.
With his normal teammate – wife Carla – forced to work, Gilbert took to Lake Belton in the Skeeter Bass Champs by himself and made history. The Killeen angler hauled in 17.86 pounds of fish, more than 1? pounds ahead of the rest, to become the first-ever competitor to win without a partner.
A record 256 teams entered the Bass Champs Central Region event.
"My wife couldn't get off, so I just decided to go out anyway," Gilbert said. "I was really fortunate, blessed even, because my wife usually pulls in a couple of big ones."
Harsh winds made the day, especially the early morning, tough. Gilbert started out on the south side pitching, before switching to a Carolina-rigged watermelon red Baby Brush Hog.
The maneuver landed Gilbert his first and biggest catch of the day, at 7.30 lbs.
After the brief breakthrough, Gilbert began to struggle and didn't catch another fish. So he made another tactical move to shallower water and used a jigging spoon.
"You know a lot of people use all this technology, but I'm old school and stick to the stuff that I know works," Gilbert said. "The wind was really bad and I needed to move. I saw some seagulls and went over there. It was a rocky, shallow flat – usually a spawning site, about 4 feet deep."
It took an hour, but Gilbert started hauling in a lot of fish. White bass hit first before the black bass started to bite.
"I didn't catch any black bass for quite a while," Gilbert said. "Took about an hour, but I finally wrapped up a limit. It was a real blessing."
Gilbert, who is sponsored by Cliff Brown at Texas Boat World, earned a $20,000 check for winning the tournament. He paid off his truck and his wife's credit card while putting the rest to savings.
A total of $62,260 was handed out.
Gilbert, who's had success at these tournaments in the last few years, is trying to qualify for next year's Bassmaster Classic. He plans to compete in the weekend pro series.
Last year, Gilbert was ranked by numerous organizations, including Fisher of Men and the American Bass Anglers.
"It's a goal of mine I've been thinking about for the last year or two," Gilbert said. "I think now with my experience and some success there's a real possibility. My wife's certainly been encouraging me."
Joe Medrano of Temple and Sam Jones of Rogers came in second by four-hundredths of a pound at a total of 16.18 lbs. Jeff Pitrucha of Copperas Cove along with teammate Scott Dyer finished fifth at 15.76. Bret Stafford of Belton and Ronnie Trower of Harker Heights placed seventh (15.2) while William Vickers of Salado and Billy Hirschmann of Belton got ninth (14.48).