Milling, Gross win Big Bucks


By Dan Cook

Outdoors Editor


Buddy Gross and James Milling made a long run in the annual Times Free Press Big Bucks Bass Tournament to find their fish Saturday, but the travel was well worth it.

   "We went to Nickajack, almost to the other dam," Gross said of the 16.5 pounds of bass that got him and his partner the first prize of $18,000. All their bass went for crank baits, Gross said.

   Former Big Bucks winners Freddie Lasley and Chris Coleman were second, catching 16.24 pounds and earning $5,000. Third were Chuck and Galen James, receiving $1,000 for 14.38 pounds.

   Veteran Roy Dye, a high finisher numerous times in the last three decades in tournaments headquartered on Lake Chickamauga, said early in the weigh-in that he lost a big fish that would have put him and Hixson Wal-Mart manager Tom Walker much higher in the standings. Dye added, however, that he felt their 14.1 total would be good enough to place them in the top 10. His prediction came true as they finished fourth, winning $600. John and Mitch Harden caught 14.04 pounds to finish fifth, but one 7.78-pounder was worth far more than just the $400 awarded for the team finish. John collected $2,060 as his bass turned out to be the largest of the day, and the Hardens added $700 to that as the hourly winner for the 60 minutes just after noon.

   The "Big Bass Fish-Off,’’ another tournament comprised of the top 35 anglers from last fall’s Big Bucks tourney and Saturday’s, will be held from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today as they compete for another $2,100 in first-place loot. Prizes of $40-$800 will be awarded through the 35 positions.

   Although Gross said he and Milling — both in the trucking business — didn’t start catching fish till noon, their fishing hole could be good for the future: Emcee Dewaine "Preacher’’ Reeves announced that the forthcoming fall TFP tournament would be headquartered at Hales Bar Marina, where he said $3.5 million of refurbishing is taking place.

   The 209 boats entered Saturday scattered from Watts Bar Lake to Nickajack Lake. This year’s fall event will have Chickamauga, Nickajack and Guntersville as legal fishing areas, Reeves said.

   Several anglers mentioned that they had made catches early in the day, only to see the fish quit biting, then resume about noon.

   "We caught them early and saw them go into a little flurry this afternoon,’’ said Stoney Johnson, who has teamed with Steve Kite to produce some of the area’s largest tournament stringers of the past.

   "That little cold snap sent them back early,’’ Johnson said.

   Several fishermen described the bass as showing signs of being headed to spawning grounds.

   "They’re staging,’’ Gross said in discussing his catch.

   He added that the bass should spawn within the next two weeks, if the weather stays warm.

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This story was published Sunday, March 14, 2004