First Woman to win the BIG BASS SPLASH

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LAKE SAM RAYBURN – Two tears finally calmed Tonja Woytasczyk’s nerves. The Dayton angler paced beside the weigh-in stage in the waning minutes of the 2016 Big Bass Splash on Sunday afternoon, peeking at the fish of the approaching anglers to see whether they were larger than the 12.04-pound bass that earned her the lead she had held since Friday morning.

The three hours of sleep two sleeping pills permitted had not helped – nor did the Sunday morning catch that earned her $325. Even tournament host Bob Sealy’s whispered assurance that “history would be made today” just provoked another peek around the stage corner.

Only then, after the crowd of a thousand counted down the day’s final seconds, did the realization of victory brim under Woytasczyk’s sunglasses as she became the first female champion of the state’s largest amateur bass fishing tournament. She wiped the tears as far away as the 2.27-pound gap between her and second place. “Just amazing,” said Woytasczyk, 48, whose winning catch doubled as a tournament record for largest bass caught by a female. “I can’t believe it.” The other 3,100 anglers easily could.

“Once we heard what she caught, everybody knew we were fishing for second,” said Mike Gibbs, 45, who finished second with a 9.77-pound bass.

Woytasczyk’s two brothers, Walter and Norman Land, joined her next to the new boat, a 2016 Triton 21 TRX, part of a grand prize that included a 2016 RAM Truck and $10,000 cash. “I’m really proud of her; she’s been through a lot lately,” said Norman, who mentioned his sister had been stung by a stingray and bitten twice by a copperhead in the last two years. Woytasczyk laughed. “This is a better bite,” she said.

The brothers each experienced their own success in the Big Bass Splash. Norman, 53, won last year. Walter, 55, finished second in 2013. “I’ve always been known as Norman and Walter’s sister,” said Woytasczyk, who is a correctional officer in the Texas Department of Justice in Dayton. “Now, they’re Tonja’s brothers.” Tonja’s brothers drove her to Sam Rayburn when her husband, James, couldn’t and her son, Dwight, decided to go mudding with his girlfriend in Splendora. Walter served as her fishing partner and found a favorable spot of 18-foot depth just north of the Texas 147 bridge. “The decreased water level also helped,” he said. “It pulled all the big fish out of the woods for us to catch ’em. I caught a little bitty fish. She got the big one.”

Woytasczyk was approached by a man who asked her to autograph his camouflage hat. A woman and her husband also came by and gave her a hug.“It’s women’s day,” said Charmayne Hadnot, 45, an angler from Newton who competed with her husband, David, and returned on Sunday just to support Woytasczyk.

James and Dwight Woytasczyk emerged beside the stage and embraced the champion. They arrived when they heard Friday’s news. Their wife and mother was now the first woman to win the largest amateur bass tournament in Texas – a fact she humbly acknowledged. “Anyone can do it,” Woytasczyk said. “Woman, kid, it’s all in the luck. The fish are out there, you just have to catch them.” Woytasczyk, like her brothers before her, will sell her boat to buy a model that will suit their usual saltwater fishing. The decision for the rest of the grand prize is a question for the future. “I just came up here to fish,” she said. “It’s what I enjoy.”

Story by BKubena@BeaumontEnterprise.com

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