You can forgive Guntersville Lake fishing guide Lonnie Cochran if he can’t help but think of what might have been.
A few weeks back, he fished his first-ever Bassmaster Open tournament on Pickwick. He was 11th on the leaderboard the first day, then catapulted into 1st the second day.
Just about everyone in the bass fishing world back home in Guntersville was watching and pulling for Lonnie to do the unthinkable and win in his very first outing as a pro angler.
He came oh-so-close, finishing 2nd in the tournament by a single pound. Two recreational anglers were parked in his sweet spot the day of the championship round. He caught fish there, but it wasn’t what it might have been.
As it was, Lonnie earned $25,500 for his runner-up effort in the 3-day tournament. The winner earned $52,500.
Had he won, he also would have earned a berth in the Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing.
Of the $25,500 payday, Lonnie simply said, “I’d give them all of that back just to have gotten that blue trophy.”
Lonnie cattle farms in addition to guiding fishermen. He’s built his guide business up to the point he has cut back on the cattle. He guided nearly 200 days on the lake last year in 11 months. He was out the month of December with COVID.
He’d built his business to the point, and gotten enough fishing sponsorships as a guide, that he decided this year at the age of 52, it was time to chase a dream.
“I entered the Bassmaster Central Opens with the goal of fishing for points,” he said. “I want to qualify to fish the Elite series.”
The Opens are a 3-tournament series. The top 3 finishers for the year will be invited to fish the Elite series next year.
Lonnie had not fished Pickwick a lot over the years, maybe a dozen to 15 times tops.
“I had a little familiarity, but nothing like what I have on Guntersville,” he said.
He had a few places to start, but found nothing in practice. So he and his travel partner “just went fishing,” covering water, looking for something that could pay off.
“I found these fish, but they were scattered,” Lonnie said. “A cold front had come through and it was a tough practice for everyone. A lot of people were crying the blues.”
But the fish he’d found were good ones.
“I called my buddies on the phone and told them I might zero,” he said. “They asked if it was because I hadn’t found anything. I told them, no, it was because I had found the fish that could win the tournament and I was swinging for the fence.”
His travel partner was on similar fish in a similar spot.
“He lost 3 big ones or he and I would have gone into the final day in 1st and 2nd,” Lonnie said.
Lonnie didn’t go to the spot until 1 p.m. of the first day. He immediately caught 4 keepers. But he also noticed on his graph that the scattered fish were pulling together and stacking up.
“I had 18-10 the first day and I was sitting in 11th,” Lonnie said. “I told my buddies that night, ‘I will smash them tomorrow if I can get to that spot.’ The asked if I was serious. I told them I was, because I could see how it was setting up.”
A recreational boat was 50 yards from the spot when Lonnie got there after a 30-mile run on Day 2.
“The guy said, ‘Don’t worry about me. I’m just fishing.’ So I could get in there and do what I needed to do,” Lonnie said.
By 8:30, he had 25-3.
“I told my co-angler I needed two 5-pounders,” Lonnie said. “I caught two 6-pounders.”
His co-angler was great, he said. He quit fishing and filmed Lonnie.
The co-angler told him not to beat the spot up for him, as he’d caught only one fish the day before and it was a great learning experience for him.
“He was the best co-angler I could have gotten,” Lonnie said.
On Day 3, Lonnie got to his hole and there were 2 boats there – the same fisherman as the day before and one of his buddies.
“They were nice, they let me come in and fish,” he said. “But the fish were beat up. They were spooky. You could see them on the Garmin 360.”
Lonnie’s strong bait the previous day had been a Scottsboro Tackle ¾-oz. Hellcat jig in Alabama Thunder color. The fish just didn’t respond to it on the 3rd day.
The spot was a shell bar with scattered young hydrilla just off the main river channel. Lonnie said there were pre-spawn, post-spawn and possibly even spawning fish all on that same bar.
He caught 2 pretty quick in the spot on the last day. When he saw it wasn’t going to work out, he left and caught some fish in some other spots.
“It was Saturday,” Lonnie said. “Everyone has to contend with the same type thing I dealt with. I checked back at the spot a few times through the day. The last time, I caught two keepers but the fish were already moving around by then.”
The fellow who won the tournament, Joey Nania, had an 8-pounder early in the tournament and a 6-pounder on the last day. That 6-pounder turned out to be the difference in Lonnie winning or finishing runner-up.
Everyone – even James Overstreet of BASS – has told Lonnie what an achievement it was to finish as runner-up in his first tournament in a Central Open.
“I’m still hung up on not getting 1st,” Lonnie said.
But he is sitting in 2nd in the points. And the Central series next visits Smith Lake in Jasper October 7-9.
“Man, I love that place,” Lonnie said. “It is my second favorite lake next to Guntersville.”
In October, he thinks it could be a grind-it-out, tough tournament which might play to his strengths.
Then the Central Opens finish the year at Grand Lake in Oklahoma October 21-23. Lonnie has never been there, but is a master at electronics and figures he can find something.
So while he didn’t get the blue trophy at Pickwick, he is still situated very well for his original goal of finishing strong in the points.
“If I don’t qualify for the Elite Series this year, I will fish again next year and I might fish more of the Opens to give myself a better chance,” Lonnie said.