Relentless determination and commitment to his game plan paid off big for Carl Jocumsen, who turned in a catch of 19 pounds, 12 ounces on Championship Sunday and scored a career-defining victory at the Cherokee Casino Tahlequah Bassmaster Elite at Lake Tenkiller.
His four-day total weight of 54-15 was worth $100,000 and made a nice birthday gift for the Queensland, Australia angler, who turned 35 Sunday.
Jocumsen said his first Elite win - which is also the first by an Aussie - has been a lifelong dream.
"Since I was four years old, I've loved fishing and I've dreamed of the day I would do this," Jocumsen said. "Today is that day. This is a lifetime of work; a lifetime of passion and loving this sport with every ounce of my body."
Yesterday, after placing third and trailing leader Kyle Monti by 4-8, Jocumsen boldly stated that he believed he was on the fish to win. He predicted he needed five keepers to have a legitimate shot, and he blew away that expectation with a limit of 19-12 that ranked as the tournament's heaviest single-day catch.
Jocumsen's winning program stood out from much of the field, in that he committed his tournament to fishing offshore. Relying heavily on his electronics to break down the lake and identify the most promising spots, he targeted six different offshore drop-offs with brush and other cover.
Day 3 revealed a particularly productive piece of cover that delivered his final-round magic.
"I used my Humminbird 360, side imaging and mapping to break down this lake in two and a half days. I stayed out here from daylight until dark," Jocumsen said. "Yesterday afternoon, I found this one tree off this island. It was one late in the day, and I caught one keeper. But I said, 'I want to hit this early on the final day to see if they're biting.'"
His intuition was spot-on, and Jocumsen experienced a phenomenal morning that saw him catch four quality largemouth by 8:30, including three in span of approximately seven minutes. Jocumsen would suffer through a long dry spell before completing his five-fish limit, but the 4-pound smallmouth that sealed his fate gave Bassmaster LIVE viewers a look at pure bass fishing emotion.
"I've waited my life to catch that fish," said a visibly emotional Jocumsen. "I had gone three hours without a bite and I said, 'It can't go down this way. I have to finish it.' When I caught that smallmouth, the weight of the world came off my shoulders."
Adding a 5-pound largemouth late in the day increased Jocumsen's total and gave him a 3-pound, 10-ounce margin of victory.
Jocumsen, who will marry fiancee Kayla Palaniuk in two weeks, caught all of his bass on a 3/4-ounce Molix football jig with a green pumpkin Strike King Rage Craw trailer. He made a couple of brief visits to fish the bank, mostly to let his offshore sites rest, but did all of his heavy lifting offshore.
In second, Day 2 leader Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, switched tactics Sunday and caught a limit of 14-7 to finish with 51-5. After focusing mostly on running shallow points for smallmouth the first three days, Zaldain spent the first half of the final day throwing a 1/2-ounce Santone wobblehead jig with a green pumpkin creature bait trailer.
"I caught two 16-inch-plus largemouth in the morning, and that kind of relaxed me to go fish all new water and search out those smallmouth," he said.
Zaldain added three smallmouth to his final bag. He caught those with a Megabass Spark Shad swimbait on a 1/8-ounce Megabass Okashira Screw Head.
Cory Johnston of Cavan, Cananda, finished third with 48-6. For the first three days, he spent most of his time working covered boat docks with jigging spoons and a Neko rig. But today's conditions kept the fish from positioning in predictable spots, so Johnston switched to his backup pattern.
"With the cloudy skies, the fish didn't position on the boat slips like I needed them to, so I ended up cranking rock banks with squarebills," Johnston said. "I caught one in a boat slip on the Neko rig and the rest came on squarebills."
In the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Race, Scott Canterbury took the lead with 761 points. Canterbury finished 19th this week, but maintained a slim advantage in the points race, which will be decided next week at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Lake St. Clair.
Zaldain follows closely in second with 752, while Johnston is third with 747. Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., is fourth with 741 and Drew Cook of Midway, Fla., is fifth with 733.
Cook also leads the DICK'S Sporting Goods Rookie of the Year race.