OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Tim Horton was only able to bring 11pounds, 7 ounces of Okeechobee largemouth to the scales on the final day, whichpushed his total four-day weight to 83-5. His success topped second-placefinisher Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., by 1 pound, 4 ounces.
Horton’s last victory was at the 2007 Elite SeriesChampion’s Choice on New York’s Lake Champlain. It’s been 10 years since the11-time qualifier of the Bassmaster Classic took home the trophy and $100,000first place prize.
“Today was a very difficult day, no question about it,”Horton said. “I’m so thankful and so very blessed that Thursday and Friday wentas well as they did. If it weren’t for those two heavy limits, I wouldn’t havewon.”
Looking back at Saturday’s semi-final round when Horton losta 9-pounder early on, he said that fish would have put his total near 26 poundsfor the day.
“If I would have caught and weighed that fish, I would havebeen ahead by 13 or 14 pounds,” he said. “Had that been the case, I would havestayed closer to the boat ramp and fished conservatively for the win — youcan’t always do that, but that big bass would have made today a lot easier.”
Horton caught his first keeper bass on Sunday at 11 a.m.,but not at the spot where he had been fishing the past three days.
“When I arrived at my spot this morning, the wind andfishing pressure made the water a big mess,” Horton said. “I knew catching thefish I needed to win from that location was a long shot, so I spent some timelooking at a couple other locations and ended up deciding on Harney Pond.”
Harney Pond is a 30-mile run from Okeechobee, Fla., on thesouthwest side of the lake. When Horton scrapped the game plan that had put himin the driver’s seat the first three days, he was taking a big risk.
“My family drove 13 hours to watch the final weigh-in, and Ireally felt like I had let them down,” he said. “I literally walked on stagethinking DeFoe had me beat, and it ended up that my 11-pound limit was the mostbeautiful 11 pounds I’ve ever caught.”
An emotional Horton said having his family present, andsharing the final-day stage with good friend Ott DeFoe made this victory thebest of his career.
“I have a tremendous support system, and I wouldn’t be herewithout my family,” he said. “So much happened this week; so many ups and downsthat I’m not sure the gravity of what’s happened has sunk in yet.”
Horton won a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on LakeOkeechobee in 2004. He relied this experience, but kept an open mind asFlorida’s renowned big-bass factory has dramatically changed over the years.
The big lake has endured numerous hurricanes, water-levelfluctuations and struggling habitat. But the potential for big fish hasremained the same thanks to miles of various vegetation types includinghydrilla, milfoil, hyacinth, pencil reeds, alligator grass, pennywort and lilypads.
“Everything I weighed in this week was on a 4-inch KloneCrawsome in two colors: black/blue swirl and a black/red copper,” Horton said.“I rigged the creature-style baits on a heavy-duty flipping hook beneath a 3/4-to 1-ounce weight — depending on how thick the reeds were I was flipping to —on 50-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS braid.”
Horton’s rod of choice was an 8-foot Duckett Flip Stick,Gary Klein Edition, paired with a Lew’s SuperDuty Speed Spool baitcaster in an8.0:1 gear ratio. On the final day, however, he made a few subtle changes.
“Today I caught my fish on a 3/8-ounce tungsten weightrigged on 20-pound test Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon,” he said. “I focused onHarney Pond because the water was a little bit clearer, which I felt required adifferent line selection, but the main presentation stayed the same.”
Rounding out the Top 12 are: Ott DeFoe (82-1), Cliff Prince(78-3), Fletcher Shryock (77-10), Greg Hackney (73-12), Dave Lefebre (73-0),Bobby Lane (72-10), Jason Williamson (69-10), Dean Rojas (68-14), AndyMontgomery (67-12), Stephen Browning (67-5) and Adrian Avena (63-14).
Tyler Carriere of Youngsville, La., earned the Phoenix BoatsBig Bass Award of $1,500 with a 9-5 largemouth.
DeFoe was awarded $1,000 for the leading the ToyotaBassmaster Angler of the Year points race at the end of the event.
Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., earned the Power-PoleCaptain’s Cash Award of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who isregistered and eligible and uses a client-approved product on his boat.