Alton Jones’ Sunday victory on the St. Johns River was all the sweeter for the redemption sprinkled on top.
He finally got the St. Johns Bassmaster Elite Series win that slipped
through his fingers last season. That memory, and the fact that he ran
out of time Sunday to entice a lunker he could see on a bed, gave the
pro from Woodway, Texas, a few tense moments as he was waiting for the
final-day trek to the scales. He was feeling shaky despite the 9-pound
lead he had going into the day.
But win he did, with 75 pounds, 9 ounces, and by a margin of 1 pound, 2 ounces, over runner-up Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas.
â€œI am absolutely speechless that I won. I entered the weigh-in line
today thinking I had lost this tournament. It was a complete reversal of
fortune from last year,â€ he said. â€œThat’s all gone now. It always feels
good to win.â€
What he won was $100,000
and an instant berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. He also is leading
the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
â€œThat’s what I’m most excited about,â€ he said.
â€œTo have a Classic qualification frees me up to really go for Angler of
the Year, take a few more risks in other tournaments this season.â€
Jones said on Sunday he tried to ignore his
9-pound lead, knowing one lunker off a bed by one of the pros chasing
him would be his undoing.
knew I had to go out and pretend like I was 2 pounds behind,â€ said
Jones, who won the Bassmaster Classic in 2008 and has won four other
Bassmaster events but had never landed an Elite Series win.
10-ounce bag of Sunday could have stopped Jones in his tracks if only
Jones had stumbled a bit. And Jones almost did. His 12-11 of Sunday was
his lightest over four days, and he had to work hard to get that.
â€œI left it all out on the water,â€ said Jones, a pro’s way of saying he did everything he could think of to win.
started the St. Johns River Showdown under the radar: 17th place after
Day 1. He became a big player with his Day 2 sack of 28-7 â€” the
tournament’s largest â€” and he snapped up the lead by more than 7 pounds.
By the third day, he was up by 9 pounds.
Jones relied on sight fishing all four days in several areas of the river’s Lake George.
wasn’t around a lot of fish, I was just around a few good fish,â€ he
said. â€œThe important thing was to be in an area where the fish were
wanting to spawn, and that I probably moved faster than a lot of the
guys out there. And not stopping and locking up on the little ones was
Each day, he
intentionally left some of the males on beds so that they’d draw the
bigger females he knew he would need to excel at the scales.
He said his primary lure of the week was a 6-inch junebug-colored Yum
Dinger. It was the bait that brought him all his fish heavier than 4
pounds. Junebug is the color he automatically ties on when fishing in
â€œI have a lot of confidence in that color, and if it’s working, I don’t switch it,â€ he said.
largest bass of Sunday, which he described as a â€œ5-something female,â€
he caught at about 11:30. He said he spent the remainder of the day
searching for larger fish and filling his limit with a few smaller ones.
He spent his last two hours of the tournament trying for a bedding
female in the 6-pound class.
â€œI really thought I was
going to catch her. She was behaving right, but there just wasn’t enough
time to do it,â€ Jones said. â€œI knew if I caught that fish, I’d win this
tournament. Honestly, I thought that if I didn’t catch that fish, I was
really leaving the door open for someone else.â€
And he knew the â€œsomeone elseâ€ was probably Faircloth, but Faircloth ended the day where he began it, runner-up to Jones.
Faircloth said he fished clean, with no mistakes and in keeping with a sight fishing plan that he stuck with.
â€œI really felt good about
today, like I had a shot at the win. I never felt like I was out of it.
I knew Alton would have to have a day like he had today for me to catch
him, but I was just that one fish short,â€ Faircloth said.
â€œI had a 3 1/2-pounder,
so if I had caught another 4- or 5-pounder, it would have been real
close. I could sit here and go through the â€˜woulda-coulda-shoulda,’ but I
trusted my instincts and I don’t know what else I would have done
Like Jones, Faircloth
fished Lake George, but he said they didn’t share water. His final two
days, he keyed in on a line between eelgrass and dollar-pad vegetation
that had a slightly harder bottom attractive to bass as good bedding
sites. The bass he got from that area was what pulled him up from 19th
place on the first day and into contention by Day 4.
Faircloth’s primary lures were a Yamamoto Senko in watermelon black flake and a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog.
other Top 5 finishers in the St. Johns River Showdown were Keith Combs
of Huntington, Texas, who climbed from 46th on Day 1 to take third place
with 71-2; Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan., with a steady
performance over four days for fourth place with 67-8; and Skeet Reese
of Auburn, Calif., in fifth with 64-5.
Local favorite Terry
Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., finished sixth with 60-11, a big move from
35th place on Day 1. First-day leader J Todd Tucker of Moultrie, Ga.,
finished 12th with 51-15.
Bonuses earned by anglers at the St. Johns River Showdown included:
Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, which paid $750, plus another $750
if the angler was wearing Carhartt clothing: Greg Hackney’s 10-9 fish
of Day 1
* Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Jones’ 28-7 of Day 2
* Power-Pole Captain’s Cash of $1,000 if the winner has Power-Poles installed on his boat: Jones
* Toyota $1,000 bonus to the leader in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Jones