Premier six-man group becomes back-to-back winners of the world's top sportfishing competition
The USA Bass Team took top honors in the 2023 Black Bass World Championship. Image by Stephen McNelly / Realtree Fishing
The USA Bass team has done it again, winning the gold medal in the world’s top sportfishing competition. Torre de Moncorvo, Portugal was the sight of the 2023 Black Bass World Championship, where the US successfully defended their crown and repeated as world champions. With nearly every aspect of competitive fishing foreign to our traveling champions — from metric system weights to a pesky, whiskered predator fish — the competition was not without its hurdles. In the end, however, true teamwork prevailed for the gold.
Heading to Sabor Dam in northeast Portugal, the USA Bass team knew little of what to expect. Ace angler Jacob Wheeler had done extensive research, going as far as marking areas found on maps prior to the formation of the reservoir, but nothing could prepare the team for what was to come.
Fishing out of borrowed boats presented an initial hurdle. A saving grace was the attention given to electronics on each rig — something the European angling teams take very seriously.
After stocking up on hard-to-find lures at local tackle shops and sampling the incredible seafood Portugal is known for, the US team got a game plan together.
The Black Bass World Championship was held in Torre De Moncorvo, Portugal.
Made up of six of the country’s most notable anglers — Team Realtree’s Jacob Wheeler and Dustin Connell, as well as David Fritts, Scott Martin, Fred Roumbanis, and Scott Canterbury — knowledge and experience was on the side of USA Bass. But conditions threw them a curve ball.
With a brief practice period, the US team was only capable of viewing a small portion of the reservoir. The foreign settings brought a unique challenge to getting comfortable, where olive and almond trees presented the best bass-holding cover. And Sabor Dam holds incredibly clear water. At times, the teams could easily see 30 feet below the surface. Early on, fast-moving topwater baits produced a few bass.
Realtree Fishing team member Dustin Connell shows off a nice bass from Sabor Dam. Image by Stephen McNelly / Realtree Fishing
A major weather change scrambled pre-made plans. The initial round of competition was canceled due to strong winds and storms. The following day found the weather transitioning, and the team of Wheeler and Connell led the charge for the USA Bass team. Fritts and Roumbanis followed suit with a strong limit.
The final day of competition dawned clear and calm; poor conditions when bass fishing in ultra-clear water. Frustration ensued for Connell and Wheeler as numerous large bass — some in the 2.5 kg range (over 5 pounds) — swiped and missed their topwater lures.
Turning to fish they found using sonar, the team was disappointed to learn that barbell, a predatory, carp-like fish, were gorging on the lake’s prevalent baitfish population, pushing bass off the feed. Things looked grim for team USA.
Finally, the team of Martin and Canterbury cracked the code, bringing the heaviest limit of the event to the scales. Their 8.2 kg (nearly 18-pound) bag secured victory for the team, and the title of champions.
While a few winning techniques paralleled those in the states, each member of the team was surprised the bass wouldn’t react to “normal” finesse tactics. Drop-shots and worm rigs, heavily relied on back home, proved unproductive. The final day, spy-baits reigned supreme.
In the end, the entire six-man team was equally responsible for a first-place total weight exceeding 33 kilograms (72 pounds). Gold medals were presented to each, and the group looks forward to 2024 and the opportunity to become three-time world champions.