The Bergen Bassmasters held their annual Top Gun Championship Shootout event on June 5th at Lake Lillinonah. The tournament is a qualifying event made up from the top twelve finishers from last season's points trail, the top five finishers at the Classic, and the previous year's winner gains an automatic invitation. The qualifiers vote on the tournament location at the conclusion of the season and the tournament director works that site into the following year's trail. This year, a total of nine of the top club anglers competed for the Top Gun title.
To offer up a new facet to this year's competition, tournament director Rich Gerken divided the lake up into four "holes." Two or three boats were drawn to begin in each hole and the field would rotate through all four designated areas over the span of the tournament, fishing two hours in each. The concept was based on the old BASS MegaBucks events and provided an interesting challenge as angler had to try an develop a pattern through all four holes rather than sitting on a few key areas for the entire day.
Mark Scocco approached the event with the strategy of catching one or two fish in each hole. Not looking to bag his limit off of one spot and relying on both past experience and confidence in taking a simplistic approach to his fishing, Mark claimed the Top Gun honors with a 5 bass limit weighing 10 pounds 12 ounces. His catch was anchored by the 4 pound 4 ounce tournament lunker which was caught around 8:30am on a Sammy topwater along the outside of a deep weed edge in the southern section of the lake. The remainder of his fish were caught on a pattern that produced fish in each hole. He concentrated on flats with larger chunk rocks and boulders fishing a white Fin-S fish. His most productive are was hole number one, north of the Steel Bridge, which was third on his rotation. There, he caught four solid largemouth and began culling out smaller smallmouth.
Fishing the same hole rotation as Mark was the runner up in the event, Pat Van Wettering, who also managed a good limit weighing 10 pounds 7 ounces. After the first two holes produced numerous shorts and only one small keeper, Pat also scored big north of the Steel Bridge. Ironically, he and Mark both selected the same area to fish. In true sportsmanship fashion, the two shared the area, working back and forth and catching a total of 12 fish between the two boats, seven of which Pat boated on a white spinnerbait.
Club members and observers who do not qualify to compete for Top Gun are also invited to fish and compete in a separate event among themselves and exclusive of the Top Gun Shootout. Six additional anglers fished as riders behind the Top Gun anglers in the multi-hole format on Lake Lillinonah. The top non-qualifier was Alan Goldman with four bass and a total of six pounds. Runner up on the non-qualifier side and also taking big fish honors for riders was Joe Benevenia with a 2 pound 3 ounce bass.
With the event being a qualifying one, the field size is much smaller than the normal club event, thus opening up new options for tournament locals that the event can be held on. Mark automatically gains invitation to next year's event and this year's top twelve and top five from the Classic will have a wide variety of options when selecting next year's tournament location.