2009 Skeeter Eliminator Lanier Tournament Diary
Mark Cornwell crowned 2009 Skeeter Eliminator Series Champion, earning a total of $5,480.
GON Staff | July 1, 2009
Mark Cornwell, of Lawrenceville, made his final stop in the 2009 Skeeter Eliminator Series a good one — finishing his season as Eliminator Champion and collecting $5,480 in the 32-man, heads-up fishing tournament. Mark’s victory has him rubbing elbows with past champions Mark Massey, Butch Pitts and Aaron Batson.
Fishing topwater baits and drop-shot finesse worms on brushed-up humps and flats, Mark was able to put together a 12.76-lb. bag of Lake Lanier spotted bass.
Mark defeated John Allen, of Columbus, who had a good showing to end his run at the championship. John’s limit of spots weighed 8.91 pounds, his best Eliminator sack in the five-round tournament, which started with Round 1 back on March 5 at Lake Sinclair.
Mark beat the odds in his impressive string of Eliminator victories. The day before Round 1, a boater had to drop out. Mark was the first alternate to fill in. So, with zero practice, Mark was facing a tough competitor for Round 1, Jim Windham.
With just 1.58 pounds, Mark beat Jim and moved on to face Buster Slocumb, a 2008 Eliminator Elite 8 contestant.
Mark beat Buster with 5.99 pounds and advanced to fish Round 3 at Oconee the next day, March 6.
Competition wasn’t any easier as anglers blasted away from Oconee’s Sugar Creek Marina. Again, Mark had no practice time to prepare for what fish were doing in early March on Oconee.
Cornwell was fishing heads up against Mark Fortner, a 2007 Elite 8 angler. However, with a 5.83-lb. sack at Oconee, Cornwell defeated Fortner and moved to the Final-4.
“I just can’t believe it,” Cornwell said after his Round 3 win against Fortner.
For Round 4, a seven-hour shoot-out on Clarks Hill in May, Mark’s road was looking pretty rocky. He had to face a blazing-hot David Lowery.
David fishes the FLW Series, recently finished 10th in the BFL All-American and was making back-to-back appearances in the Final 4 of the Eliminator.
“I’m the underdog in this thing,” Mark said before his Round 4 tournament against David.
Underdog or not, Mark went on to beat David with three fish that weighed 7.37 pounds.
Then it was on to John Allen and the championship. Mark saw John as another competitor who posed a threat.
“I heard John was good with soft plastics… at least that’s what he was doing on West Point (Round 4),” Mark said with two hours to go in his championship round. “That kind of worries me. I heard they were biting a Carolina rig up here pretty strong, too.”
Mark showed his concern at 12:02 p.m. just after catching his fourth keeper, a fish that pushed his weight to more than 10 1/2 pounds and sealed the victory. At 12:39 he’d catch keeper No. 5 on a Sebile swimbait, giving him his 12.76-lb. limit.
Big fish of the day for Mark was a 3.57-lb. spot that bit a finesse worm fished on a drop shot 20 feet deep in brush. The Lanier spot gave Mark the Rounds 4-5 big-fish check, worth an additional $350.
Because Mark was a registered Skeeter owner, $2,500 of his $5,000 first-place check comes from Skeeter.
Below are the tournament diaries.
Lanier: Round 5
6:01: Blasting off from the Balus Creek ramp, Mark goes across the lake to fish the outer wooden wall at Port Royal Marina, formerly known as LanMar Marina. With the boat in 82 feet of water, he chunks a Jackall Mikey, a wake bait, in Tennessee shad.
“There’s been some big spots coming off this wooden wall,” says Mark. “I caught two here Tuesday and saw some following. I’ll hit this a couple of times today.”
He fishes perpendicular to the wall.
6:10: “Thank you, Jesus,” Mark says as keeper No. 1 makes it in the boat. The 3-lb. spot goes in the box.
“The nerves have now left me,” says Mark.
He continues down the wall with the Mikey.
“This is the best bait I’ve fished in years,” says Mark. “The topwater bite hasn’t been good. They’ve been hitting it but not biting it.”
6:21: He gets near the end of the wall and picks up a Sammy.
“I’m going to go back down the wall a little ways,” he says. “I’m going to get a little more parallel.”
6:27: A few fish are busting. He changes to a Gun Fish.
“See if they don’t want a little smaller bait,” Mark says. “There’s more surface activity here than I’ve seen in other parts of the lake.”
6:39: Mark rolls down the lake to fish a brushpile on a hump at the mouth of Chattahoochee Bay.
“Let’s see if we can get another good one,” says Mark.
Water temperature is 79 degrees. A few baitfish flicker on top as big fish rollon them.
6:49: Next stop, just south on a small, rocky island in front of Holiday Marina.
6:51: A 2 3/4-pounder hammers the Mikey. Keeper No. 2 is on board.
“That bait is awesome,” says Mark. “It should be illegal. They just come up and get it.”
Mark is begging for wind on a very slicked-out morning.
6:56: “I don’t know how much time to waste here,” he says.
7:01: Mark is just inside the buoy line at Aqualand fishing several hundred yards offshore. He targets underwater stumps and cement blocks with the Mikey.
7:06: He runs in Chattahoochee Bay and fishes some standing timber. A few fish are breaking. He quickly leaves.
7:18: Back up the lake within sight of Port Royal, he fishes a brushpile with the Mikey. He puts a 3-lb. striper in the boat.
“That broke my heart,” he says.
7:23: Catching the striper put him directly on the hump and over the brushpile. He breaks out a drop-shot rig with a 1/4-oz. weight and a natural-green Zoom Finesse worm. He drops it down 21 feet using 10-lb. fluorocarbon.
7:29: Fish break, and he slings the Sammy.
“Come on Sammy. Time for you to do something,” says Mark. “He’s overdue. He hasn’t done well for me this year.”
7:41: Fishing a different brushed-up hump, Mark decides it’s time to swim a jig over it. He uses a 1/2-oz. brown DBK jig with a Zoom Fat Albert twin-tail grub. He dips the trailer in J.J.’s Magic Dippin’ Dye.
7:58: Back down the lake he drop shots some brush.
“It’s simple to catch fish. The hard part is getting on it (the brush) just right,” says Mark. “I’m poor at vertical fishing.”
He positions directly over a brushpile and immediately connects on a 12-incher that goes back in the lake.
8:07-9:00: Mark runs a few brushpiles down the lake. He fishes the Mikey, drop-shot and jig but adds a white Sebile swimbait to the line-up. Wind conditions are beginning to pick up, which makes Mark happy.
9:11: Mark is back at the wall at Port Royal Marina. Conditions are right as the wind is blowing.
“We’re gonna get one,” says Mark. “Let’s get that 5-pounder.”
9:17: Throwing the Sebile, a magnum spot follows the bait to the boat.
“That was a moose,” he says.
His next cast is with the Mikey.
“That was a big ol’ magnum spot right there,” he says.
9:19: Mark changes back to the Sebile.
“Robbie (Sowash) says the slower you fish it, the better,” says Mark.
Although Mark hadn’t received any pre-tournament help up to the championship round, he wasn’t embarrassed to ask for help on Lanier. A good friend hooked Mark up with Robbie. Robbie competes on the Fishers of Men circuit, a Christian trail that often partners with local churches prior to the tournaments to share the Gospel. Mark, too, is a Christian.
“It pays to know Jesus,” he says, referring to his super hook-up with Robbie, an excellent angler on Lanier.
9:31: Mark is up the Chestatee trying to position himself over one of Robbie’s brushpiles.
“I like casting over humps and stuff like that, but I’m a shallow-water fisherman,” says Mark. “If you’re not straight over this stuff, you’re just wasting your time.”
9:37: He swims a jig before leaving.
“Fish were really on this hump Monday,” he says.
9:45-10:00: Mark fishes two brushpiles, catching a short fish swimming a jig.
“Aw, there’s a keeper following it,” he says. “It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they turned on this jig.”
10:10: Mark starts to try and locate a brushpile at the mouth of Chestatee. He’s got several line-up points he’s using to find the 20-foot brush.
“Robbie said you could limit out here,” says Mark.
10:15-25: He hooks up with three fish, one that appears to be a big spot, but all three fish come unbuttoned.
“It’s amazing… practice day and nothing ever goes wrong,” Mark mumbles.
10:38: Sticking with it pays off. A big bend is in Mark’s rod as line peels from the spool of the spinning reel.
After a minute of playing the fish, Mark nets a 3.57-lb. spot.
“I’m going to hang around here a while,” he says. “There’s some serious fish here. Sowash said I’d get a limit here. Just like he said, you have to drop it right on the edge of the brushpile. If I catch two more like that, I’m taking him to LongHorn.”
11:01-11:41: Mark runs to several brushpiles with no luck. He even makes a stop at the Port Royal Marina wall. Although he doesn’t add to his three keepers, a big school of spots follows his Mikey out. Before leaving, he tries swimming a jig with no luck.
11:53: Back to the brushpile at the mouth of Chestatee.
12:02: Vertically fishing in the brush, a 14-inch squeaker bites and puts keeper No. 4 in the boat.
“One more good one and I might have a shot at ’im,” Mark says. “I heard John was good with soft plastics… at least that’s what he was doing on West Point (Round 4). That kind of worries me. I heard they were biting a Carolina rig up here pretty strong, too.”
12:24-12:31: Mark tries to fill his limit on the Browns Bridge rip-rap. He catches one short fish on a drop shot in 13 feet of water that’s right on a piling.
12:39-1:01: Mark ends his tournament fishing a brushy hump at the mouth of Mud Creek. He catches keeper No. 5 on the Sebile. The fish will go better than 2 pounds.
“At least I got a limit,” he says.
He guesses he has about 12 pounds.
Lanier: Round 5
6:00: Blasting off from Balus Access, John Allen motors through the narrow cut at the mouth of Balus Creek to his first stop, a point in Flat Creek at marker 5FC. He starts with a Super Spook in American shad color, fishing it on a 7-foot, 1-inch G.Loomis rod. He’s working the Spook in long, slow sweeps.
“I was missing them in practice, working it too fast,” John says.
6:10: John makes a cast across the point over a sweet spot he found. Halfway back to the boat, a fish swirls on the Spook, and John connects. He quickly has keeper No. 1 in the boat, a 2-lb., 16 1/4-inch spotted bass.
“Thank you Lord. They come up here in that little spot no bigger than this boat. The water comes up to 26 feet there and slides off some on all sides,” John says.
The boat was sitting in 50 feet of water.
6:19: John gets a hit, but the fish doesn’t take the Spook.
6:29: “We’re going to be going in a minute. It was interesting in practice. Out on these points, you’d catch maybe two, and then they were gone. I guess it interrupts the whole school.”
6:32: John moves around the corner, heading up Flat Creek to the next point. It juts out with a cove on one side and the main creek on the other.
“Look at ’em!” John says. Fish are chasing bait well off the bank over the point.
6:38: A fish hits and misses the Spook as soon as it touches the water.
6:41: John catches a short fish on the Spook.
7:01: John makes a move up the lake past Brown’s Bridge. He stops to fish the Chattahoochee River side of the island at the mouth of the Chestatee. “There’s a little bar that comes out, and it comes up to about 8 feet, with 14 feet on either side and behind it.”
He picks up a spinning outfit and casts a GrandeBass RattleSnake worm, watermelon-red colored, that is threaded on a Spotsticker jig head.
“I’ve never thrown a Spotsticker until I came to this lake last week.” John likes a Carolina rig, and he caught bass on a rig while practicing, but he’d heard that C-rigs aren’t the ticket on Lanier.
“This is a slow way of fishing. I noticed Mark had all that topwater tied on. He said he’s a power fisherman. I can’t do that. I’m more of a finesse fisherman.”
7:35: John makes another move, heading farther up the river past the Highway 53 bridge. He stops just inside the mouth of the Chattahoochee Country Club cove on the north side just before Thompson Bridge.
Mark Sullivan, a Lowrance rep from Flowery Branch who helped John set up his new HDS10 unit, also showed him a few locations, including this one.
“No way I could get around this lake without my new Lowrance HDS10 and Mark’s help,” John says.
“We’re going to be here a while.” He starts with the Spook.
7:43: John gets a hit. “He was up shallow,” he says, swinging his second 2-lb. spot of the day into the boat.
7:49: He gets another hit on the Spook.
8:01: John picks up the jig-head worm.
8:08: A short fish is caught on the worm. He’s methodically working a little secondary point.
8:59: Still fishing the worm, John gets a bite.
9:00: On the next cast, another bite, and this time the hookset connects. Keeper No. 3, a 2 1/2-lb. spotted bass, goes in the box.
9:49: John catches an 8-inch spotted bass on the worm, and while bringing it to the boat, at least two big spots were flashing all around the smaller hooked fish.
10:08: John announces it’s his last cast at this location. He then idles to the back of a small pocket and picks up a spinning reel spooled with 10-lb. test line, rigged with a RattleSnake worm on a 2/0 hook and a PSO1 Gremlin weight. John is at home on Lake Harding (Bartletts) and its numerous docks, so he’s going to something he knows, although he comments on how Lanier’s floating docks are different than Harding’s post-constructed docks.
10:14: John gets a hit under a dock. He’s deftly skipping the jig-head worm way up under dock structure.
10:20: Another hit, and this one is brought to the boat. It’s a 13 1/2-inch spot, just under the length minimum for Lanier.
10:29: John moves down the lake and stops in another pocket to fish docks.
10:35: A 14-inch spot almost comes out of the water to inhale John’s jig-head worm as he’s reeling it quickly back to the boat. It’s keeper No. 4.
10:51: Another short move down the lake, back past Gainesville Marina. John stops on a main-lake point. His first cast produces a 16-inch spot that fills his limit.
10:53-1:00: John moves several times, fishing either main-lake structure or boat docks with the Rattlesnake worm. He gets a couple of bites but isn’t able to cull the smallest bass from his limit.
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