Cifuentes beats Fujita, wins 2023 Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite

Published 10:41 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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A large crowd gathered at the Boat Basin on Sunday to see the final weigh-in of the 2023 Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite fishing tournament. The tournament began last Thursday, and marks the first time in 10 years that Bainbridge has hosted a Bassmaster tournament.

Pat Schlapper, of Eleva, Wisconsin, quickly took the lead, with a total catch weight of 73 pounds, 4 ounces, placing him in the tournament’s YETI Hot Seat. “Two of the best days of fishing in my life happened this week, the second day and today,” Schlapper said at the weigh-in. “Just insane, so much fun. It was awesome, I can’t even describe it.”

However, Schlapper was quickly overtaken by Kyoto Fujita of Minamitsuru, Yamanashi, Japan. Fujita had a catch of 19 pounds, 15 ounces on Sunday, bringing his total catch weight for the tournament to 76 pounds, 6 ounces, placing him in the YETI Hot Seat with the lead. “It’s been less than a year since I came to America for the first time,” Fujita said. “I can’t speak English much, and I don’t understand the culture, but I appreciate the warm welcome.” Fujita experienced some hardship during the tournament, damaging his boat during the practice round, requiring him to acquire a new one.

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Fujita would maintain lead and stay in the Hot Seat until the very end, when Joey Cifuentes III, of Clinton, Arkansas, brought in a catch of 18 pounds, 7 ounces, bringing his total tournament weight to 85 pounds, 2 ounces. This was Cifuentes’s third time fishing Lake Seminole. “Every time I fish Lake Seminole, it’s got a lot of big fish in it,” he told the Post-Searchlight. “I love fishing here, it’s a good place, not tough at all.” Cifuentes also addressed the Bainbridge community, saying, “I wanna tell all the people from Bainbridge that came out here, I’m a rookie, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I want to make sure all the fans and everybody around Bainbridge that came to see me and all these other guys, and come to a Bassmaster event, knows that we really appreciate it, and look forward to seeing them again.”

Bainbridge Community Affairs Director Crystal Hines was largely responsible for Bainbridge hosting this year’s tournament. “Bainbridge being a host city of the BASS Master Elite Series that was held here last week was the culmination of discussions and negotiations dating back to 2019,” she said. “The anglers fishing here were the best of the best and spoke so highly of our community, facilities and the tons of people who came out to support their weigh-ins with enthusiasm. The tournament winner Joey Cifuentes even said that Saturday’s crowd was the largest he had ever weighed in in front of!”

Hines concluded by saying, “Thanks for everyone who came out last week and those who followed along live of Fox Sports, and we are looking forward to being able to showcase our river and lake in the future!”

The Bassmaster anglers that have qualified will move on to Knoxville, Tennessee, for the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, which will last from March 24-26.