Chris Peters makes his living as a firefighter for East Ridge Fire & Rescue. But when the young man isn't working to save lives and property, he is most likely on the water. Peters is working his way up the ladder in professional bass tournament circles and he climbed several rungs on the ladder Saturday when he placed second in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Chickamauga, pocketing $21,900.
John Cox from Debary, Fla. won the event but it came down to the wire at the final weigh-in after Peters moved into the lead with a huge bag of bass. In the end Cox held a 4-pound margin over Peters. That means a lost fish on Friday will haunt Peters for a long time to come.
"My big fish Friday weighed 7.5," said Peters. "But about Noon I hooked a huge bass. It came up twice and was about five feet from the boat. It came up again and sure enough it slung (the hook). I've caught several 10-pound-plus bass. It was definitely a double-digit fish. My partner was from Florida. He looked at me and said, 'Dude, that was a 12-pounder. At 2 o'clock today I knew it was going to haunt me and sure enough it did."
That fish would have culled a 2.5-pounder for Peters, easily propelling him to the win. Of course that is part of tournament fishing. Chances are nearly every angler in the 219 boat field has a similar story.
With the typical "raccoon-eyes" suntan worn by every hardcore tournament angler, Peters looked out at his massive crowd of supporters in the Bass Pro Outpost parking lot at Saturday's final weigh-in. Besides his fiancé, family and friends, the crowd included several blue-clad firefighters.
On the weigh-in stand, being broadcast live online around the world, his dozens of supporters cheered loudly as Peters told the world, "I'm actually a fireman for the City of East Ridge. As I look around at my guys - I'm on shift today. I'm going to leave here and go to work so I'm going to be sitting on that fire truck here in a little bit."
Among the firefighters was the big dog, Peter's Battalion Chief, Eric Bowen. I stopped Bowen shortly after the weigh-in concluded to ask for an interview. The chief looked at me, smiled and said, "Sure, but can I go give Chris a hug first."
Firefighters spend as much time with their fellow smoke eaters as they do with their families. The guys at his hall have been traveling right alongside Peters' in his bass fishing dream.
After posing with Chris for a fire hall photo, Chief Bowen said, "It's a brotherhood. I'm extremely proud. He's a good boy. He's an excellent fireman with a huge passion for fishing. It's all he talks about. If it's not fire it's fishing."
The bass fishing on Chickamauga Lake is still in transition with a few fish still spawning while most are beginning to move offshore. Cox said he caught all of his bass in less than six feet of water. Meanwhile Peters fished offshore deep water all three days.
"I felt like the fish were moving to me," said Peters. "I had about 30 key areas I wanted to fish on the first day," he said. "I narrowed that down to five areas today (the final day). We caught fish consistently on every stop."
Peters gave credit to his success to a prototype lure called a Trixter Custom Tackle Rowdy Craw trailer
"It’s a hand-poured plastic so it’s a lot softer and has a lot of action," said Peters. "I think that played a key role today and all week. I gave one to my co-angler today and he ended up culling every fish he had in the box."
Peters is also a certified U.S. Coast Guard Captain and bass guide with Scenic City Fishing Charters. He fishes the local Chattanooga Bass Association tournaments along with a few tournaments on the FLW circuit. This event, however, is by far his biggest ever.
"I was pretty worked up and excited from the get-go," said Peters. "And then as it got closer to time I just went out there and do what I do."
If he keeps doing what he does, there is a good chance this won't be the last we hear of Chris Peters on the bass tournament trail.