ANDERSON, S.C. – The TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship is indeed the championship of a “nation,” and there are anglers from 47 of 50 states on Lake Hartwell this week to prove that.
But the B.A.S.S. Nation stretches far beyond America’s borders, and that worldwide reach is on display this week as well.
A total of 18 anglers from 11 foreign countries are competing in the championship, including top sticks from Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Namibia, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Zimbabwe. Their presence gives an international feel to this tournament, and fans always find it interesting to see how the visiting anglers handle the strain of such long travels, not to mention how they adjust to the spotlight that comes with a tournament of this caliber.
The answer, so far, is they size up pretty darn well.
Justy Varkevisser of South Africa is in third place in the boater division with a Day 1 total of five bass that weighed 11 pounds, 6 ounces. That puts him a mere 9 ounces behind tournament leader Brock Belik, who traveled 1,300 miles from Orchard, Neb., for the championship, but whose journey pales in comparison to Varkevisser and his fellow foreign-born competitors.
Varkevisser isn’t alone among the international anglers faring well on Wednesday. Pedro Rodrigues of Portugal is in ninth place in the boater division with 10-10 and Matthew Langford of Australia is 10th with 10-9. Mexico’s Ricardo Gonzalez is tied for 14th with 10 pounds and Ramiro Ruben Tarazona of Spain is 16th with a Day 1 total of 9-15 total.
Things are just as intriguing for visiting anglers in the non-boater division. Luis Vilar of Spain is fifth overall with a five-bass limit of 9-1. Kuniaki Taga of Japan is seventh with 8-5 and Portugal’s Eduardo Fouto is 12th with 7-12. Four others are in the top half of the non-boater standings, too.
Vilar fished the back of Tim Johnson’s boat on Wednesday, and the pair had a fantastic showing. Johnston, fishing as team’s Team Montana boater this week, is in second place with 11-13, only 2 ounces behind Belik.
Johnston told the crowd during weigh-in that he had an electronic translator with him to better communicate with Vilar.
“I was looking for a way to say ‘Luis, please leave some fish for me to catch,’” Johnston joked.
Nobuyuki Terajima was born in Japan, but these days he lives in Hermitage, Tenn., just outside of Nashville. He’s helped translate for fellow Japan-born anglers in previous B.A.S.S. tournaments, but this year he’s focused on fishing. He’s in eighth place in the boater division with the 10-12 he weighed on Wednesday.
“Absolutely, it’s more fun fishing (than being an interpreter),” Terajima said with a laugh. “I live in the States now, but I don’t mind (translating).”
It could be one of the dozen and a half anglers from outside the U.S. who have the final laugh on Lake Hartwell, however. Several of them have put themselves in fantastic position to survive today’s cut and fish in the final round on Friday.
Even those who didn’t fare so well were having a great time on Wednesday. Just ask Namibia boater Thinus Williams, who was all smiles despite catching only two bass for a 2-4 total.
“Thank you so much for letting me drive this boat,” Williams said to B.A.S.S. Nation Director Jon Stewart, referring to the ride he was loaned this week. “It was incredible.”
Lake Hartwell has been the site of several premier bass fishing events through the years. Two of the past five Bassmaster Classics were held here, as was the 2017 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. Takeoffs and weigh-ins are being held at Green Pond Landing on the shores of the 56,000-acre lake, and Visit Anderson is hosting.
The anglers with the three heaviest overall totals in the tournament will earn spots in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by HUK. Competitors also are vying for part of $140,300 in prize money, an Elite Series berth and much more.
Follow all the action on Bassmaster.com.