Photos by B.A.S.S. Communications
Leading for three days, Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Mo., closed on the Bassmaster Elite Series Diamond Drive on Sunday with 52 pounds, 2 ounces, posting a winning margin of more than 7 pounds.
Brauer had a 10-plus-pound lead going into the final round, an insurance policy he didn’t need. Adding 7-5 on the fourth and final day, the legend of the sport clinched a wire-to-wire victory.
His prize was $100,000 and a berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., was the pro who went after Brauer hardest in the final hours of the Diamond Drive. But Martens, third after Saturday’s competition, weighed 10-11 Sunday for 45-1 overall and second place.
Finishing third was Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., with 40-8. Fourth was Ish Monroe of Hughson, Calif., with 36-9, and fifth was Brauer’s hardest charger on Saturday, John Murray of Phoenix, Ariz., who ended in fifth place with 35-9.
Brauer’s victory was the 17th of his long Bassmaster career and the first since 2006. His many career accomplishments include the most prestigious two titles of the sport, Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year (1997) and the Bassmaster Classic (1998). But Saturday’s victory was special for Brauer for two reasons.
â€œIt’s a relief to get into the Classic,â€ said Brauer, 62. It will be his 21st Classic appearance; he had missed Classic 2011.
The other reason, said Brauer, is breaking the five-year dry spell without a win.
â€œI think this has been the longest stretch in my career that I haven’t won,â€ he said. â€œThat makes it extra-special right there. Every tournament you win, you wonder if maybe that was your last one. This is huge for me.
“If I had lost this tournament because of commercial traffic bumping me out of the lock it would have been my most frustrating event of my career. But the lock guys did a great job getting us in and out as fast as they could. They won this for me and so did my fellow competitors who put me to the front of the lock to make sure I got out before them. They helped me win this too.
“At one of the tournaments on Eufala, the night before the tournament … [Brauer chokes up] … I told my wife I was going to win. I went down to the Pine Bluff pool and had 37 jig bites in practice. I knew some of them were good bites but I didn’t set on a single fish so I knew they were all available to be caught. And I told her I’m going to win this tournament.
“I practiced in the river and I got stuck three times and hit a rock jetty and decided I didn’t much care for fishing the river anymore so I trailered down to Pine Bluff the next day and fished down there.
“Every win is special, because it’s so hard to win on this tour against these guys. Everyone of them is a great fisherman or they wouldn’t be here. I wasn’t sure I could still get it done and this win means a lot to me.
“The flipping stick didn’t come out of the locker this week.”
Most of his fish came from the back of the Pine Bluff Harbor in one spot about the size of two football fields. He described it as a â€œwashout hole.â€
â€œA lot of the fish, as they were done spawning, related to the edges of the washout,â€ he said. â€œAnd to a bar in there, too. I’d drag a jig, and find a little â€˜rough’ area, and that’s when I’d get bit. I don’t know if the rough spots were gravel or shale or what, but the fish related to those even more than to the brushpiles there.â€
His main bait was a 3/4-ounce Strike King football jig in green-pumpkin craw color with a green pumpkin Rage chunk. One big fish he caught came on a Strike King crankbait in sexy blueback herring color.
His fishing time, as for many in the field who elected to fish Pine Bluff Harbor, was mere hours because of the long run from the Little Rock pool, a trip that included locking through twice. On the final day, 10 of the 12 anglers competing, including Brauer, incurred late penalties because they had to wait at a lock for a commercial barge to come through. Most of the anglers who checked in late were 6 or 7 minutes behind the official time. At a pound a minute penalty, several anglers lost credit for their entire day’s catch.
Jonathon VanDam’s big bass, a 5-0, was enough for him to win the Diamond Drive’s Berkley Big Bass of the Tournament bonus of $500.