The 31-year-old professional angler from Magnolia, Texas has built a solid fishing resume over the last five years of his career, which includes an FLW Series win, a Stren Series win, a BASS Open win – and as of today, a Wal-Mart FLW Tour win.
With his National Guard Open win on Lake Norman today, Hoernke is not an up and comer any more. He has arrived as one of the top sticks in the professional fishing business with an impressive resume that will likely only get stronger.
Over the last two days of the tournament's final round, Hoernke demonstrated the kind of focus, adaptability and consistency is takes to be one of the best by checking in limits of 13-5 and 13-11 while his competition struggled to keep pace.
In the end, Hoernke amassed a two-day total of 27 pounds even, which gave him a 4-pound, 7-ounce margin of victory – an impressive gap on a lake where ounces usually separates winners from the rest of the pack.
"The four are complete," Hoernke said after his victory. "I've won at every level of FLW competition – BFL, Stren, FLW Series and now the Tour. Now I'll wake up in the morning and set some new goals. But I'm going to relish this win for a day or two first.
"I'm a competitor and the truth is I get mad when I don't win. I'll spend the whole drive home being mad at myself when I don't do well. So I'll enjoy my drive home for a change."
Though Hoernke got a super-charged start out of the gate with a shad-spawn bite the first day of the event for 15 pounds, that bite died on him and he spent the rest of the tournament sight-fishing new water each day.
"When I woke up each morning, I had no idea where I was going to fish," he said. "And that really turned out to be the key for me winning this tournament – no set agenda. Other than that shad-spawn dock I fished first thing each day, I fished the entire tournament on new water. New fish were moving up everyday and the key was to stay on 100 (trolling motor setting) and find the new ones as they moved up. I burned so much fuel and battery today just covering all new water. I skipped over dozens of little bass to find ones that had thicker shoulders."
Hoernke – like several other top-10 pros – also made a key lure change for his sight-fish late in the week. Instead of using weighted baits that dropped into the bed, Hoernke discovered that the fish would react to weightless wacky-rigged baits much faster.
For his win, Hoernke collected $150,000. And there's a pretty good chance that won't be his last big-time pay day in professional fishing.
Rest of the best:
2nd: BP pro Jim Moynagh of Carver, Minn., 22 pounds, 9 ounces, $50,000.
3rd: Scott Canterbury of Odenville, Ala., 22 pounds, 5 ounces, $40,000.
4th: Snickers pro Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala., 22 pounds even, $35,000.
5th: Berkley pro Glenn Browne of Ocala, Fla., 20 pounds, 6 ounces, $30,000.
The top local fisherman was Snickers pro Chris Baumgardner of Gastonia, N.C., with 12 pounds, 12 ounces, $20,000
Travis Wins 'Living the Dream' package for TBF Championship Win
It was Lake Wylie, not Lake Norman, but Brian Travis, of Conover, N.C., made pro-caliber decisions for three days to claim the win at The Bass Federation National Championship on Lake Wylie.
For the 2008 national win, Travis will be able to try his hand at going pro through the "Living the Dream" prize package. On Saturday he ended up with his third limit in as many days for a total weight of 45 pounds, 9 ounces.
The "Living the Dream" package includes $10,000 in cash, paid entry fees into either the Wal-Mart FLW Tour or Wal-Mart FLW Series, the use of a wrapped Chevy tow vehicle and a wrapped Ranger boat, sponsor merchandise and travel expenses. Travis also earned a slot in the BFL All-American and the $2 million Forrest Wood Cup, held on Lake Murray Aug. 14-17.
Now Travis is facing two of the biggest decisions of his life: the FLW Tour or the FLW Series? Quit his job, or try to squeeze in his dream of going pro? But even with such immense pressure, the 30-year-old angler is pretty sure what he's going to do.
"I'm leaning toward the tour. The money is better, and there are more tournaments," he said. "I've always dreamed of going pro. I'm going to have to have a talk with my boss."
Travis got his first clue about where to start on the morning of the final day as the National Anthem played at the launch ramp. As he held his hand over his chest, his eyes drifted to the still water of Lake Wylie, where he noticed shad flipping along a shoreline. That told him all he needed to know: The shad were spawning in the creeks, not on the main lake where he tried to find them the first two days.
He caught two solid fish right off the bat: one on a spinnerbait, the second only five minutes later on an unweighted Yum swim bait that he skipped under a dock. Those two bass gave him a 5-pound start, and it lifted a huge weight off his back. He also caught fish by casting soft plastics to bedded bass, something he did consistently the first two days of the event.
All told, Travis caught about 10 bass Saturday. His five best weighed 14-4, more than 4 pounds better than second-place angler Ron Hobbs Jr. of Orting, Wash.
The Rest of the Field:
After Hobbs, Pennsylvania angler Tom Belinda also caught a limit that weighed 11-1, which gave him a three-day total of 36-7 along with a check for $2,500 and a ticket to the All-American.
Bob Crino of Vermont put four fish in the boat on the final day for a three-day total of 33-12. He also takes home a check for $2,500 and a free ride to the All-American.
Terry McWilliams of Greenfield, Ind., took fifth place with a total weight of 30-1. He brought five bass to the scales today that weighed 9-2.
Co-anglers change places:
Friday's co-angler leader, Bill Roberts of Fairfax, Va., struggled Saturday. He and two others in the Co-angler Division only weighed a single bass.
Craig Fredrychowski of Lexington, S.C., however, brought five to the scales for a three-day total of 26-11. He won $5,000 and a free ride to the Forrest Wood Cup as a co-angler.
Fredrychowski caught all five fish on a 5-inch shaky-head worm cast toward deeper water.
"While my partner was working docks or bedding fish, I just cast out the other side of the boat," he said.