Beating The Odds On The Bass Tournament Circuit

Andy Koundourakis with the Hydrilla Gnats consistently makes the state championship, despite his battle with ALS.

For anyone who has fished with Angelo Koundourakis or had a conversation with him, you know it’s impossible to capture him in an article. But for those who have never had the honor of meeting Andy, we’ll try to give you a snapshot of this remarkable man.

My favorite Andy story happened in the mid-70s in Mobile, Ala. He was 12 and lived near the Alabama River in the area of Chickasobow Creek. One day Andy noticed a flyer in a local tackle store advertising a fishing tournament. The entry fee was $60, and Andy immediately made plans to start saving and fish this tournament.

Andy mowed grass, cleaned gutters and did other odd jobs to raise the entry fee. The day arrived, and Andy got up very early and walked to the tournament location. When he arrived, he was told by the tournament director that he needed a boat and a partner to fish the event. Disappointed, Andy returned home and told his mom they would not let him fish.

His mother put him in the car and drove him straight back to the ramp. She approached the tournament organizer and told him how hard Andy had worked to raise the entry fee. Andy said she gave them a real “talking to.” She said they must be afraid to fish against a little 12-year-old boy!

It worked. The director agreed to allow Andy to pay his entry fee and fish from the bank. He was informed his fish would need to be alive or he would face an 8-oz. penalty for any dead fish. When the group blasted off in their boats, Andy was allowed to walk the banks and fish against them.

Andy walked the railroad tracks down the river and began to wade in the oxbows near the boat ramp. Andy’s first fish came on a Hula Popper, and it weighed an impressive 7 pounds. He then caught two 5-pounders and finished his limit with two more 5-lb. bass that he pulled out using a Jitterbug plug. Now that’s a sack of fish. Andy had all of these fish by 10 a.m. and attempted to use a stringer to keep the fish alive. Unfortunately, the weigh-in was at 3 p.m. and all of the fish died before they were weighed.

But with more than 26 pounds of bass, Andy’s weight after penalties was still more than 22 pounds, and the next closest weight brought in by the boaters was just 9 pounds. Andy had won his first tournament and took home a fat $250 prize.

Andy used this method many times to catch some really big largemouth bass. Once he even had a 6-foot alligator take a fish off his belt loop as he waded through an oxbow. A young boy full of adventure doing what he loved best, fishing.

Andy made the papers a few months later for catching a line-test-record alligator gar on 15-lb. Berkley fishing line. Andy was fishing for shiners to use for shark fishing in the same area he won his first tournament. He was sitting on a treatment plant pipe reeling in one shiner after another, when a huge alligator gar snatched a shiner on the end of his line. Using a Zebco 33, Andy fought the beast. It took all the line that reel would hold, and he finally got it by the bank. The fish was bigger than Andy. He fell from the pipe fighting the fish. He had to roll the fish on top of him in the water and then push it up on the bank.

Andy used a bowie knife to dispatch the gar. He drug it back to the bait shop and learned the fish weighed 85 pounds. The Chickasaw Post put a picture of him holding the fish, which dwarfed Andy.

Andy began fishing from a boat in the California Redman Division. He fished events with WestCoast bass and Western Outdoor News. His first big-boy tournament win came with Team Folsom in Sacramento fishing with Rick Gonzalez, where they weighed a sack of 16 pounds.

Andy eventually moved to Georgia and began fishing with the Hydrilla Gnats of Lake Seminole. His club is a family oriented teaching club. Members share information and game plans. When it is time for a weigh-in, many people from the community arrive to enjoy the show.

Andy is a top performer with the Hydrilla Gnats. He’s placed first many times in their tournaments and made the Top-6 Bassmaster Federation Nation events every year he’s been a club member. Perhaps the most impressive fact about Andy is his success at the state level. In 10-plus years, he has made the State Team all but two times.

Fishing in the East is a completely different style, Andy explains. His methods out West typically involved a finesse approach. He likes the fishermen in the West, complimenting their innovative approaches and how they’ve developed new baits and tweaked the swimbait. He does not miss the lack of cover, the deep and clear lakes where it’s 30 feet deep, 10 feet from the bank.

In the East, Andy turned from finesse to power, found cover and fell in love with the grass. More bugs and more humidity, but Andy says it’s worth the creature discomforts to target the quality largemouth found in the Southeast.

Andy says he chooses to go after bass with a classic approach: Be good with watching the sunlight, moon phases and paying attention to storm fronts to help understand what the fish should be doing. Use finesse skills to find schools of fish and adjust that style to catch the bigger fish. Throw out the maps, locations and a GPS. Andy says, “I like old school methods to determine what bass are up to.”

Andy knows a thing or two about facing a tough road. Working in Foley, Ala. at a motel project in 2007, a fork lift moving material dropped its load from 28 feet high, nearly taking Andy’s right foot off. Because of the worker’s compensation claims, Andy lost his job.

Andy started a successful insulation business named AKA Installation. The company has taken off, offering jobs to several people and allowing Andy some free time to do the fishing he loves. Operating in two states, his business has become a name in the industry and one of the finest in the Lake Seminole area.

Andy was diagnosed with ALS in April 2014. Andy loves Bainbridge and its efforts to support fishermen. With a community full of love and care, Andy is in the right place to battle the disease.

“If I had a nickel for every prayer I have been given by others, I would be a millionaire,” Andy says.

A few years ago, when awareness of ALS reached its peak, many people did the Ice Bucket Challenge with a pledge to donate money in Andy’s honor.

Andy doesn’t let his ALS diagnosis get in the way of what he loves to do. He is still spending time on the water, enjoying every moment. He told me his bucket list has every line scratched off; now he just does the fun stuff.

Andy won a Media Bass tournament on Lake Eufaula and a Big Fish Event on Lake Seminole. Andy also won the $10,000 first-place prize at that Big Fish special tournament held in 2014. That’s what I’m talking about, Andy!

Interviewing Andy, he made a statement that touched my heart. He said, “I have a wonderful life, a wonderful wife, and I am gonna leave this world happy!”

The people who live around Lake Seminole are like family. When anything is going on, everyone shows up for the party. The Hydrilla Gnats weigh-ins are no different. They draw a crowd, and the fish these boys often bring in are worth showing up for. This club has sent Andy to the state championship over and over.

Despite dealing with the cramps and muscle trauma associated with ALS, Andy finds a way to succeed and overcome. We might just find Andy still making state teams a decade from now. He has a habit of beating all the odds.

Andy touches everyone he meets. And his wife Patty is standing strong as Andy battles ALS. Patty told me, “We are all proud of him and thankful for every day we get with Andy. Andy doesn’t even realize the impact he has made on those around him.”

Andy is a true sportsman by every definition of the word. It is an honor to know him and a pleasure to call him my friend.

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