More than a sport

By Kevin Eckleberry

It’s a fellowship.

The men and women who get together on a regular basis to fish in tournaments at West Point Lake are competitive, and no one is angling for second place. In the same breath, however, the group has formed a sense of community and family.

When the day is done, when the final boat has docked and the fish are in the bag, the anglers gather together to swap stories, share refreshments around the picnic tables, and just enjoy each other’s company.

Fortunately, they get plenty of opportunities to be a part of that fellowship throughout the year.

While the schedule of tournaments has thinned a bit over the years, there are still plenty of events dotted throughout the calendar, including the prestigious Georgia State Championship in November, which offers a first-place prize of $25,000.

Many of the fishing tournaments at West Point Lake begin and end at Highland Marina Resort, but there are other launch points as well.

The West Georgia Bass Club, which has been in operation for more than 20 years, holds its events on West Point Lake at Pyne Road Park, which was also the location for the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament in 2013.

The bulk of the tournaments are held at Highland Marina Resort, though, and the man that runs most of them is Mark Biagiotti.

It’s a position he has held for a couple of decades, and it’s one he enjoys immensely, in large part because of the opportunity it affords him to re-connect with old friends, and to be a part of that tight-knit community of tournament anglers.

“The majority of the guys that fish with me I’ve known for 20 years almost,” Biagiotti said.

While he said “everybody fishes for first place,” participating in a tournament is always an enjoyable time, regardless of the outcome.

“There’s probably two teams that I’ve fished with throughout the 20 years, that I’ve known them and they’ve never won money,” Biagotti said. “But they enjoy coming out.”

While most of the tournaments held at West Point Lake are on a smaller scale, there have been some marquee events over the years.

Twice since 2011, in fact, West Point Lake has been host to a Bassmasters tournament.

In 2011 and 2013, the Elite Series made a stop at West Point Lake, and it brought the most accomplished bass fishermen in the world to town.

A year ago, the Rod Benders Tour came to West Point Lake, with Pyne Road Park serving as the launch point.

One of the competitors in that tournament, Steve Walker, said it’s always a treat to be able to put his boat in the waters of West Point Lake.

“I come down here at least twice a year,” Walker said. “We love the area. It’s a beautiful lake.”

Danny Lavoie and Todd Mahoney, who regularly fish in tournaments on West Point lake, won the Rod Benders tournament, one week after capturing an event on the West Georgia Bass Club series. Lavoie used his knowledge of the lake to help find the big ones during the tournament.

“We probably have six places we go this time of year,” Lavoie said. “If you don’t get it in the right rotation, it’s going to mess up. We just got lucky the last two weekends with the rotation.”

Ronald Adams is another man who spends plenty of time patrolling the more than 30,000 acres of West Point Lake for the big bass. Adams also participated in the Rod Benders tournament.

“We have a good time (on the lake),” he said. “We always do.”

For the tournament anglers, the trick isn’t catching the fish. The goal is to catch the ones that will make an impact when it’s time to weigh them in.

In most tournaments, teams are allowed to weigh in their best five fish, so it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.

During the Rod Benders tournament, Kenny Carroll and Ricky Carroll didn’t win, but they caught the biggest fish. They frequently fish in tournaments on the lake, so they had an idea of where to go, and that local knowledge paid dividends.

“It was just a little spot we’d caught the big one before,” Kenny Carroll said. “We learned. We came back.”

One of the longest-running tours on West Point Lake is the Highland Marina Team Trail, which offers tournaments throughout the year. The series usually begins early in the year during the winter months and wraps up at the end of summer.

There is also a West Point Kids Extreme Tour, which is held at Highland Marina Resort.

That tour, as the name indicates, is for young anglers ages 18 and younger, and it’s something that Biagiotti enjoys being a part of.

“That’s my favorite tournament trail,” he said. “The guys that fish my Highland Marina team trail, those guys, they’ll come up, and weigh their fish, and they’re off the stage. All these kids, they come up and they’re smiling whether they caught a little tiny fish, or whether they caught 12 big fish. It’s cool to see those kids come up, and they’re real excited about it.”

One thing Biagiotti said fishermen of all ages have in common is a reluctance to share their knowledge with their competitors, which he finds amusing.

“I run the Kids Extreme, and they’ve actually taught the kids to not tell me anything,” Biagiotti said. “Whenever I bring the kids up and try to interview them and ask them where they caught them, they’ll tell me, in the mouth. They always do that stuff now. That’s fun.”

All of the tournaments this year have been held on a lake that has been full.

There have been times over the years where the lake level has been low, but that’s not the case this summer, which means anglers aren’t limited as far as where they can go.

“The lake level has been great this year,” Biagiotti said. “It’s been relatively full pool this year, which is very unusual.”

As for the weights during the tournaments, Biagiotti said it has been better in the past, although there is never a problem finding enough fish to fill the basket.

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