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Frank Ippoliti of Maryland won the Bassmaster Southern Open in Decatur on Saturday with a three-day total of 38 pounds, 1 ounce. The fish earned Ippoliti $6,000 and a boat and motor worth $50,000.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Frank Ippoliti of Maryland won the Bassmaster Southern Open in Decatur on Saturday with a three-day total of 38 pounds, 1 ounce. The fish earned Ippoliti $6,000 and a boat and motor worth $50,000.

Enjoying a fall break
Maryland angler hauls in 38 pounds of fish to earn Southern Open title

By Paul Stackhouse
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

Frank Ippoliti of Maryland said he entered the Bassmaster Southern Open bass tournament on a whim. His busy lifestyle had taken its toll. He needed a break from his routine.

Saturday, in the final round of the tournament at Ingalls Harbor, Ippoliti got the break he was looking for and more.

His three-day catch weighed in at 38 pounds, 1 ounce, which won the championship in the professional division.

For his three days on Lake Wheeler, Ippoliti won a check for $6,000 and a Triton high performance bass boat powered by a Mercury engine valued at $50,000.

In the co-angler division, Massachusetts angler Lee Hannah won $2,000 and a Triton/Mercury rig valued at $32,000 for his first-place finish.

Hannah’s three-day weight totaled 28 pounds, 12 ounces.

After Friday’s day two weigh-in, the field was cut to the top 30 weights/anglers on the pro side and the top 30 weights/anglers on the non-boater/co-angler side.

Ippoliti’s day one catch of 15 pounds, 1 ounce had him fourth. Friday, Ippoliti weighed in another five-bass limit at 14 pounds, 5 ounces to move him into first place going into the final round. On day three, he didn’t necessarily want to change anything, just stick to his routine.

“I’m not a big grass fisherman,” Ippoliti said. “And Wheeler is a great bass fishery that is known for catching bass in the grass. With that in mind, I fished the lower end of the lake around rock bluffs on the south side of the river across from First and Second Creeks. That area is set up perfect for the way I like to fish. I found this area a couple of years ago while fishing an FLW tournament. I only had a few minutes left to fish, and I had been throwing a Rat-L-Trap in grass all day and only had two 12-inch fish to show for it. I get to this bluff throwing a jig and caught a 4-pounder and two 3-pounders.

“I didn’t know if that spot was still a good place to fish until I came up here and practiced. I was throwing a buzzbait and hooked a 6-pound smallmouth bass — I knew it was still good after that.”

One thing Ippoliti didn’t practice for was a boat breakdown while launching at safe light. The breakdown cost him a valuable 45 minutes of prime-time early morning fishing.

Decatur resident David Parks, who happened to be on the board that had the vision to build Ingalls Harbor, also was fishing in the tournament as a co-angler (fish from the back of the boat). It just so happened that Parks was partnered with Ippoliti on Saturday. Parks finished in 17th place on the non-boater side, but he said he enjoyed fishing with the champion.

“Frank is a class act and a classic gentleman,” Parks said. “It was tough for me to catch five fish like I did fishing behind him, and I’m proud of that.

“After the 45-minute delay swapping boats and swapping our tackle, I could see he wasn’t nervous. Frank was real cool and laid back. Everything that had happened would have rattled a normal person, but not him. He felt he had the fish located and I can tell you that he definitely had the fish located. He likes to fish at a slow pace and that’s just how he worked. He didn’t change a thing at all after what we went through and look at what happened — he won the tournament.”

Rounding out the top 10 on the pro side was South Carolina angler Todd Auten (36-14), Tennessee’s Kenneth Chapman 35-7, Florida’s Bobby Lane (34-13), Florida angler Kyle A. Fox (33-10), Terry Seagraves of Florida (32-11), Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals (32-10), Texas pro Sean Hoernke (32-8), Tennessee’s Bob Morin (32-7) and Alabama’s Russ Lane (31-0).

“I was fishing from mid-lake to the (Wheeler) dam,” Auten said. “I was catching my fish on a chatterbait with a Zoom Super Fluke on the back of it.

“I lost a fish today that probably would have won the tournament for me. But, that’s fishing and it happens all the time. I have really enjoyed this lake and especially this facility. It’s really nice here.”

The BASS Opens Southern Division is split into three tournaments. The top three points leaders receive a bid to fish in the Bassmaster Classic on Feb. 22-24 in South Carolina while the top five get to participate in the Elite Series, the biggest professional circuit offered by BASS.

The Wheeler Lake event marks the third and final tournament of the Southern season.

The top points winners are Charlie Hartley of Ohio, Auten, Florida’s Bobby Lane, Arkansas pro Mark Davis and Florida’s Terry Scroggins.

Hannah said it was a dream-come-true after winning the co-angler division of the tournament.

“This is an awesome place and an awesome fishery,” Hannah said. “I can’t wait to get the chance to come back here and fish again.”

Rounding out the top 10 on the non-boater side were Florida’s Frank Jones (26-11), Massachusetts angler Eric D. Johnson (25-14), Tennessee’s Dow Cox (24-1), Georgia’s Fred Hood (22-6), Jason Law of Georgia (22-5), Georgia’s Dan Morrow (22-4), Scott Reed of North Carolina (21-14), Georgia’s John White (21-13) and Florida’s Daren Mcdermott (20-15).

Bassmaster Southern Open

What: Bassmaster Southern Open featuring 318 anglers from across the nation.

Who: Pro fisherman Frank Ippoliti of Maryland caught 38 pounds, 1 ounce of fish in three days to win $6,000 and a Triton boat and Mercury engine valued at $50,000. In the co-angler division, Lee Hannah of Massachusetts caught 28 pounds, 12 ounces of fish and won $2,000 and boat/motor worth $32,000.

Where: Final weigh-in at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur after anglers returned from Lake Wheeler.

When: Thursday through Saturday.

Paul Stackhouse

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