Brian Nelli won the 2022 Hobie Bass Open Series Tournament of Champions by a wide margin of nearly 20 inches.
His daily totals were 96.75, 96.25 and a commanding performance of 101.50 inches on the final day for a total of 294.50.
Brady Storrs took the top spot on Day 1, with the biggest single bass of the event, at 23.50, anchoring his 98.75. Nelli was 2 inches behind but caught up in the early minutes of Day 2 and never looked back. He built a lead of 10 inches by the end of the 2nd round before squeezing everything he could out of the most productive area of Caddo Lake.
The big grass flat on the Texas end of Caddo produced 4 of the TOC’s Top 5 finishes but Nelli found the spot-on-the-spot and worked it with a lure nobody else had.
A full-time kayak guide from South Florida, Nelli pulled a saltwater bait out of his tackle box. “It’s the Bomber Badonk-A-Donk,” revealed the Grand Champion.
“It’s a saltwater walk-the-dog type lure,” explained Nelli. “I doubled-up on it my very first two casts of the first day of the tournament.”
Nelli figures the Badonk-A-Donk’s high-pitched sound made it appealing to what are apparently some heavily pressured bass. Nolan Minor agrees. He placed 4th and shared the stretch of water Nelli all week. “The last day, Brian has it won, and we all know it so he’s like ‘come over here beside me and cast in here’. I did. I threw 4 different topwater baits from the old original Zara Spook to modern Japanese baits and could not get a strike. He gave me one those Badonk-A-Donks and on the 2nd cast, I hooked up.”
As the topwater bite waned each day Nelli switched to a worm and fished slower, expanding his search around the big flat.
While the whole big area held fish, Nelli’s best spot was a small, one-cast deal. “It was a grass line next to a ditch that the bait was getting pushed into. In practice I saw them busting there midday Wednesday. I went around looking at some other stuff and I came back and they were busting again. I didn’t throw in there, I just watched. The next day I came back and they were doing it again and was like, ‘ok, this wasn’t just a random kind of schooling thing’. They were doing it again in the same spot so I figured they would stay there during the tournament, and on my map, it looked like a spot where they would feed a lot of the time.”
The grass in this case was hydrilla that formed a thick enough wall for bass to coral big gizzard shad against. “They’re doing a lot of spraying and the grass was kind of chewed up, stringy, like it had lost a lot of its leaves, but it still had a decent color to it and the water clarity was good so it still looked alright.
“I had a limit in about 20 minutes each day and then I would upgrade throughout the day.”
Nelli pedaled his Hobie as he does when guiding people to exotic fish for his business, Pushin’ Water Kayak Charters. “It took about 20 minutes to get to my spot.”
Nelli was mindful of his own pressure in his best spot. “I managed them. I didn’t beat them up too bad, but I figured there were enough fish there to last all 3 days. Once I hit my 95 (inches) I felt pretty comfortable each day, so I kind of left it alone, wandered around on other spots where I caught fish during prefishing.
“But there were so many fish there that I don’t think it really mattered.
“It’s like I’ve been telling people – it was almost too easy. Nothing went wrong. Before getting there I figured you’d have to have 90 (inches) each day to be top 3 or so. To get what I got every day, it definitely fished better than I thought it would.”
It hasn’t always come easy for the champ. “This is my third year trying to do these tournaments and it’s been a learning experience. I give it up to these guys that are very consistent in the tournament scene. I personally think it’s way harder than saltwater fishing.”