Jordan Lee became only the third pro angler to win back-to-back Bassmaster Classics Sunday on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, coming up with a winning combination of spotted bass early and culling with largemouth later in the first and final day in the 2018 Classic.
The spots came on Strike King's Rage Swimmer. The largemouth came off boat docks in coves, falling for no-weight 5-inch green pumpkin and blue Ocho rigs and a Shim-E-Stick.
That combination was enough for a three-day bag that totaled 47 pounds, 1 ounce, exactly 1 pound more than what second-place finisher Brent Ehrler brought in.
"You shouldn't win this time of year on this lake on spotted bass. I don't think that's how you win tournaments. Except this one," Lee said.
Bassmaster Classic-winning lures
Nevertheless, spotted bass taken on the Rage Swimmer were critical for Lee because they filled out his bag. Lee caught spots early each day, having found a hole that was 35 feet deep in the middle and 10- to 12-feet deep at the top. That hole was home to a lot of bait, and that meant spotted bass were there too.
The spots alone weren't enough — his heaviest fish were largemouths — but they provided a baseline for him on the first and final days of the three-day tournament.
The first day, he limited out in that spotted bass hole then upgraded with a hefty largemouth that was suspended under a floating dock. The largemouth fell for a weightless Ocho, which he was fishing on a 7-foot 2-inch, medium-heavy rod.
Friday — day two — was a much tougher day for most anglers. Late sun the first day seemed to organize largemouth around cover and docks, and many anglers in the lead after that first day had concentrated on boat docks and shallow cover.
There was a significant amount of flooded vegetation because the lake had come up nearly to full pool. The consensus going into the second day was that the warming trend and cloud cover would make shallow fishing come on strong.
But a cool rain with some thunder before dawn the second day seemed to spread the largemouth out, and perhaps pushed many off them off the shore. The lake had been under a general warming trend, but Friday's rain and cloud cover made the bass harder to pattern.
Lee said he didn't weigh a single largemouth on day two â€“ he had a limit, but they were all spotted bass. After limiting on spots, he tried to find largemouth. "I went up the lake looking, but couldn't find any," He said.
Lee took the lead on the last day by finding a cove that had some willing largemouth after fishing what he said was "probably 200 docks. I was having trouble getting bit."
Lee noted that his percentage was not that high most of the tournament, but the largemouths he found were good-sized. And when he did find the right pocket, he was ready.
"That pocket was definitely the best thing I saw all week. There were schools of fish under the docks. There were fish everywhere. I could see them," Lee said, noting the visibility was nearly 7 feet. "I'd throw a worm in there and one would bite it and I'd see others come out," Lee said. "It was the best place I rolled into all week. I don't think the fish were there the day before. I know they weren't."
The Ocho and the Shim-E-Stick are relatively similar plastic stick baits. Lee said that he used both simply as a way of "mixing things up." Lee also pointed out that he also weighed in one fish that he caught on a home-made chatterbait.
The leaders in the tournament were fairly closely bunched, with a number of the top anglers having a legitimate chance to win going into the final day. Even on the last day, while he was coming from behind, Lee thought he lost the tournament on one of his last casts.
"Close to my last cast I thought I lost the tournament â€“ I cast a worm under the dock and [a big fish] ate it, but then the worm popped out. I was going to have trouble sleeping at night if that fish lost it for me," Lee said.
Lee had reason to be concerned. The difficulty anglers had on the second day patterning fish mean the field was bunched up — one big fish could make the difference.
Lee had won the 2017 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe in Texas with a three-day bag of 56 pounds, 10 ounces.
Hartwell was a stingier lake this year, and Lee's winning weight was also 3 pounds lighter than Casey Ashley's Classic win on Hartwell in 2015.
But in the end, the Rage Swimmer on spots and the Ocho on largemouth oriented on docks put Lee in the record books. The only two other anglers to win back-to-back Classics were the legendary Rick Clunn in 1976 and 1977 and Kevin VanDam in 2010 and 2011.