Bob Downey, in his first season fishing the B.A.S.S. Opens, rode a consistent but demanding pattern to his first career victory in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open on Grand Lake.
With a final-day catch of 16 pounds, 3 ounces and a three-day total of 48-9, the Wisconsin angler earned $29,200 and a berth in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic scheduled for March 6-8 on Alabama's Lake Guntersville.
By finishing fifth in the season points standings for the Central Open, Downey also earned an invitation to fish the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series.
"Holy smokes, I got it done," said Downey, who was fishing Grand for the first time. "I can't believe it."
Downey climbed steadily through the standings the first two days and was in second place going in Saturday's finale.
With this catch of 16-3 Saturday, he finished just 8 ounces in front of another Wisconsin angler, Caleb Kuphall of Mukwonago, with 48-1. Kuphall's finish also put him in the Top 5 of the season points race and earned him an invitation to the Elite Series.
Kyle Dorsett of Odenville, Ala., grabbed third place at Grand with 45-12.
Another chance for a first career win slipped away from the leader of the first two days, Kenta Kimura of Osaka, Japan.
A year ago the seven-season veteran led the pack on the Red River, fell off on the last day and placed fourth. History repeated for him Saturday as he boated three bass in the morning and could not find another keeper. With 43-4, he finished fourth.
Persistence, faith in his pattern, and some last-minute fortune got it done for Downey.
"When I got on that pattern early this week (in practice) and got that 6-pounder, I knew it was potentially a special deal," he said. "But I didn't know if it would hold up."
Downey worked shallow-brush lines the mid-lake area, specifically targeting isolated willows or knots of buckbrush a foot or so deeper than the shoreline cover. He used a Texas-rigged Reactions Innovations Sweet Beaver and 3/8-ounce All-Terrain A.T. jig.
Most days he had eight to 10 bites, he said.
"I love to get up shallow and flip and pitch," he said. "With those two rods on my deck, I felt pretty good but it was always just those five to eight bites a day."
Less competition on the water was key on the final day and allowed the angler to slow down and pick apart cover, he said. It gave him the confidence to rely on the pattern and eventually put five bass in the boat.
Key bites in the final moments of Day 2 and Day 3 made all the difference.
On Day 2, he culled up with one that went about 3-8 and another that was a solid 4 that was tangled in the brush. It was the kind of tangle "where they always come off," he said.
Saturday, he bagged his limit early but didn't cull up again until minutes before the end of fishing time.
"That one gave me a half pound. How much did I win by? Was it less than 8 ounces," he asked.
Another first-season Wisconsin angler, who also had some last-minute catches, Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, held on to post a total of nine fish for 24-2 and the win in the co-angler division.
Przekurat, 20, studies marketing at Mid-State Technical College and said his $14,400 in winnings might go toward his schooling.
"I want to go into the fishing industry," he said. "I can't believe I won this."
The final tournament of the Central Open series also sealed the point standings with invitations to fish the Elite Series going to the Top 5 anglers. That group includes Wes Logan of Springville, Ala., John Cox of Debary, Fla., Taku Ito of Chiba, Japan, and Kuphall and Downey.
Dave Redington of Winnsboro, Texas, won $750 for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass - a 6-10 lunker. Robert Paxton Jr. of Flower Mound, Texas, took the $250 prize on the co-angler side with a 5-11.