FLORENCE, Ala. – Cody Hollen always will have a soft spot for the B.A.S.S. Nation and its championship tournament.
The grassroots fishing organization is, after all, where he cut his competitive-fishing teeth and winning its title event a year ago gave him entry into the highest-profile bass fishing tournament in the world – the Bassmaster Classic.
But that’s all in the rearview.
Today, Hollen finds himself squarely in the middle of a pack of 48 anglers vying for a win at the 2020 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at Pickwick Lake here in northwestern Alabama. The 36-year-old Beaverton, Ore., resident is in 26th place after posting a Day 1 total of four bass weighing 9 pounds, 3 ounces. That leaves him 7 1/2 pounds out of first place behind Louisiana’s Blake Sylvester, so Hollen will have some ground to cover if he’s going to survive today’s cut and fish for another championship on Friday.
Hollen knows all about come-from-behind wins, which he proved last November on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell when he caught a 13-12 limit on the tournament’s third and final day to vault from 10th to first at the 2019 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
Forget Hollen’s fishing career – that moment was one of the biggest of his life. And even though he’s 12 months removed from that glory, Hollen can’t help but reminisce this week while trying to defend his title.
“This is where it all started for me,” he said. “I’ll always be grateful to the B.A.S.S. Nation for giving me my start in professional bass fishing. I will hold that high for the rest of my life.”
Last year’s championship win paved Hollen’s way to the Classic, where he finished 51st of the 53 anglers competing on Lake Guntersville, also in Alabama. The Nation victory also earned him an invite to the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series, and he just completed his rookie season 65th of 88 men in Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. His best showing of the season came when he finished eighth overall in the YETI Bassmaster Elite on Lake St. Clair in Michigan.
Posting a Top-10 finish was a thrill, but Hollen said his fortunes unraveled with less-than-stellar results on the St. Lawrence River (78th), Lake Guntersville (74th) and Santee Cooper (76th). Because the 2020 Elite Series suffered so many disruptions due to coronavirus and efforts to contain it, everyone in the Elite field has been invited to return to the series in 2021.
For Hollen, it’s an unexpected bonus as he looks to make a permanent place for himself among the world’s best bass pros.
“I’m thankful to have two years to (acclimate) to the Elite Series,” he said. “I have to have a halfway decent year next year and probably need no worse than a 60th-place finish in any tournament to get back and fish a third year. That’s my goal going into 2021. The ultimate goal is to get back into the Classic. Hopefully I’ll have a good-enough year where I don’t have to worry about the points at the end of the year.”
Hollen is guaranteed a place in the 2021 Elite Series, but not in next year’s Classic, which will be held March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Texas.
His last shot at the world’s most prestigious bass tournament swims somewhere in Pickwick Lake here in Alabama, and Hollen will spend all day Thursday looking for the bites that could lead him back to the Classic.
“I’ve got to get fish in the boat instead of losing them,” Hollen said after Wednesday’s weigh-in on Pickwick Lake. “I lost what we thought was a 5-pounder,” he added, bemoaning a series of near-misses that have him farther down the leaderboard than he hoped.
“I didn’t catch a bunch of fish in practice, but I was around the right quality,” he said. “I think I can get a few of them to bite and can keep things interesting in the championship.”
Sylvester leads the angler division with a five-bass limit of 16-10, and Utah’s Terry Peterson leads the co-angler field (46 competitors) with five bass weighing 14-10. The co-angler champion will be crowned today and will earn $10,000, as well as paid entry into all 2021 Bassmaster Open tournaments.
The top co-angler also will fish Friday against the Top 10 in the angler division, as well as the top two anglers from each of the five B.A.S.S. Nation regions (Southeast, Northeast, Northern, Western and Central) not already among the Top 10. Any co-anglers whose two-day total exceeds the 10th place angler also will compete Friday.
The Day 2 weigh-in of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship begins at 3 p.m. ET at McFarland Park on the Tennessee River in the heart of Florence. A total of $176,800 in cash and prizes will be awarded this week.
The tournament is being hosted by Visit Florence.