Last month Charlie Gantenbein and Wendy Randolph won the Texas Bass Couples Tournament Central Division on Lake Waco. It was their fourth tournament with this group, and their first win for the heaviest five-fish bag weighing in at 20.92 pounds.
The eight-hour tournament started before dawn. Charlie and Wendy caught fish all day and within the first two hours of the tournament Charlie said they were able to put a five-fish limit in the boat.
“As the day went on we were able to upgrade the fish with bigger ones,” Gantenbein said.
The weather was perfect. Clear blue sunny skies reflected off the water. The strong winds, common in early spring, were now a soft breeze across the lake.
“The weather was good for us,” said Gantenbein, who participates in more than 50 tournaments a year with various pro bass groups, including Texas Bass Couples with Wendy. “Typical conditions would have been a little more cloudy weather. However, we took what the weather gave us and adjusted our pattern according to the weather.”
Because of recent rains, however, Gantenbein said Lake Waco was murky brown. He said it’s easier to catch fish in cleaner water, but bass don’t leave their feeding grounds unless the water turns muddy brown.
Charlie said they knew they had a chance for the top spot, their first win since joining Texas Bass Couples about a year ago, but said it was a little questionable because “we were going against top quality fishermen.”
Bass have their own seasonal patterns, Gantenbein explained.
“Every season fish change where they live, how they feed. Lake Waco, because it’s a dirty water shallow reservoir, fish stay shallow all year round,” he said. Unless the temperatures heat up.
When it’s hot, he said the fish go deeper after their morning feed, and return to the shallows to feed in the evening.
In addition to knowing the lakes where the tournaments take place, proper equipment and the type of bait used play a huge part in bass fishing.
“The presentation of your bait is important,” he said. “There are three main sources of food for a large mouth bass: Brim, also called sunfish, shad, a multiple species type of bait fish that live in the lakes; and crawfish. Artificial lures are designed to imitate the shape and color of these particular fish foods.”
Charlie, a Salado native, picked up his first rod when he was 5 years old when his dad took him trout fishing. Wendy, a Belton native, was 3 when her dad took her cat fishing.
She recalled her family’s annual family reunion when she and her dad would go down the river to catch catfish and gar in Maxdale, and fishing at her grandfather’s stock tank. She said at first she didn’t understand why people liked the idea of bass fishing.
“It was cast and reel, cast and reel, I just didn’t get it,” she said. “But I was hooked from the first time Charlie actually took me. Now cat fishing seems boring.”
By day Charlie manages Salado Creek Antiques, his family’s business. He has been participating in tournaments for 11 years, starting when he was in his 20s. His competitive nature continues to lure him to the waters with the anticipation of catching that “once in a lifetime fish.”
“The next cast could be the one, you never know. With every cast you are trying to get the bigger one,” he said. But it isn’t just the competition that attracts Charlie.
“It’s being in the water, it’s a getaway. Peaceful. Any time I’m in the water sunrise to sunset, it releases stress, clears the mind, every day of fishing, sunup to sundown. All across Texas.”
Tournament fishing requires dedication and the ability to be an early riser. Gantenbein said some mornings require rising at 2 or 3 a.m.
“If you are in a tournament, it takes time to get the boat ready and launched,” he said. “Depending on the tournament, it could take two to three days prior the event to get the boat and equipment ready.”
Charlie and Wendy do their homework before a tournament, practicing on the lake where the tournament will take place, studying the lake and learning the habits of the fish.
“We study maps, try to figure out where and how to catch the fish,” he said.
They know the depths and the shallows of a lake, how the temperature, color of the water and sky affects the fishing, and use the maps to guide them to the areas where the fish are feeding.
Wendy, an area sales rep for an auto finance company, admits she was a beginner and knew nothing about bass fishing until Charlie took her out on the lake for the first time. It didn’t take long before the sport reeled her in and she traded buying shoes for buying fishing gear.
“It’s the anticipation of catching the big one,” Wendy said, echoing Charlie’s sentiments. “It’s fun to sit and catch the little ones. But it’s the anticipation of catching the fish of a lifetime.”
There is a lot to learn about tournament bass fishing, if you’ve never done it. Gantenbein said the best way to learn is to “gain knowledge through a local bass club like Centex Bass Hunters.”
“Make frequent trips to a sporting goods store,” he said. “If you own a boat, make sure your boat and its accessories are well maintained through a professional service.”
And be prepared to have a deep pocket. Charlie suggests buying high quality poles. “Don’t buy cheap,” he warned.
And keep an open mind as there is always something new to learn.
“Remember to always have fun,” he said. “If you’ve spent money on a passion, if you don’t enjoy coming to any sport, you can’t succeed. No one has a passion that doesn’t enjoy that passion.”
In addition to Texas Bass Couples and Centex Bass Fishing, other Texas groups include the Tuff Man Tournament Trail, the Texas Tournament Zone, Bass Champs and a Tuesday night “3 x 9: series, which is a 3-fish limit caught by 9 p.m.
“Ninety-five percent of tournaments any angler fishes have a five-fish limit,” Charlie explained. “You bring in the five biggest fish to the scales. The single biggest fish gets weighed for the big bass. Then it’s the total weight for the five bagged fish.”
When Wendy isn’t fishing in a tournament with Charlie, she brings their 6-year-old twin girls to the weigh-in. Wendy said the girls are being introduced to fishing by catching perch for bait, something she started to do when she was a young girl fishing with her dad.
More than just a sport
When Charlie isn’t fishing, working at the family store in Salado, or spending time with his girls, he keeps his competitive edge playing ice hockey in Austin. Wendy stays busy as a working mom, making sure their daughters keep up with schoolwork and outside activities, like fishing. But when Charlie and Wendy do get out on the lake together, it’s their time “to interact without outside interference,” Charlie said. “It’s our way of one-on-one time. Every couple has something they love to do, for us its fishing.”
Bass fishing is more than just a sport. Charlie said it’s an opportunity to teach a new generation about the sport and the responsibility that comes with it. Conservation is a big part of bass fishing and Charlie said anglers do what they can to provide a cleaner, healthier fishing experience. Also, he said “live release is a big deal.”
“We make sure the fish get to see another day,” he said. “It’s a big deal because it takes so long for a fish to become big. They become big because they are smart. If an angler is killing more fish than keeping them alive, we will lose fish.”