Local angler to battle other bass fishermen for $100,000 prize in national championship

When fisherman Joe Raftery laments that "the big one got away," he really means it.

Raftery, a Summerlin resident, is an avid bass angler and enters competitions.

"I had a 13-pounder hooked up at the California Delta that got away … I thought my co-angler was going to have a heart attack … this fish, its mouth was probably 10 inches in diameter," he said.

Bass generally weigh 1 to 8 pounds, he said. His largest one to date was a 9½-pounder caught in the San Diego area about eight years ago. But the big news happens this week.

Raftery is scheduled to compete in the 2011 Bass Federation National Championship at Nickajack Lake in Kimball, Tenn., a three-day event that starts today. It is run by The Bass Federation.

Such tournaments are won or lost on the weight of the fish. As much as $1 million can be at stake, so tournaments have cut off dates for "pre-fishing." This includes soliciting information about the lake.

Those in the running, for example, are not allowed to talk to locals to determine prime fishing spots. Nor can they go scope out the lake where they’ll be competing after the pre-fish cut off dates. The winner often is called upon to take a lie detector test.

"When it’s big money, a $100,000 package, that’s what they’ll do," Raftery said.

Last year, he said, a winner was caught cheating even before a lie detector test could be administered. It seems he’d slid 1-ounce weights into the fishes’ stomachs. But the fish died and sank to the bottom of the live tank on the live-release boat.

That was the "dead" giveaway. Dead fish float.

Tournaments are won and lost on mere ounces, with the top challengers being separated by hundredths of an ounce.

"I once lost by, like, .04 ounces," Raftery said.

Brent Becker, a fellow fisherman, said Raftery is the type of person you’d want as your best friend.

"Us bass fisherman are a tight-lipped group," he said. "You have to be tight-lipped, because there’s a lot of money on the line. Joe’s not that way, he’ll (share information) then, go, ‘OK, now that I told you that, go ahead and try to outfish me.’ "

Raftery has been fishing since age 5 — he’s now 38 — and 14 years ago, he ramped things up a couple of notches by entering area tournaments. That led to bigger tournaments. He began taking titles in 2010 when he was named the American Bass Anglers Angler of the Year for the Overton region and the coveted ABA Travelers’ Angler of the Year .

In 2010, in his first attempt to qualify nationally, Raftery earned the single boater position for Nevada in the 2011 TBF National Championship presented by the National Guard.

Each year, Raftery shares his passion with youngsters, teaching them the in s and out s of the sport.

"The Federation has never been simply about fishing for money," said Robert Cartlidge, TBF president.

Raftery’s goal is to become a professional bass angler and have sponsors so he can devote his full attention to it. Right now, he travels almost every weekend to fish. Raftery likes to fish in California, Arizona, Idaho, Utah and Nevada, with his favorite sites being Lake Mead, Lake Mojave and the California Delta region near Stockton, Calif.

"I eat, sleep, dream fish," he said.

This month, he is one of only two sportsme n representing Nevada in the TBF tourney, an invitation he got after winning the Western regionals for Nevada.

The winner of this week’s event will be presented with a package valued at $100,000 , including a new boat and a truck to tow it.

"I’ve got to tell you, it’s a dream come true," he said. "I’m trying not to let my nerves (get to) me."

The results will be posted at bassfederation.com.

Contact Summerlin and Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 387-2949.

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