RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Jason Christie pulled off a 4-ounce “wonder” win Sunday in the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Dardanelle.
It wasn’t a case of anyone thinking that a Christie victory would be a wonder. After all, the pro from Park Hill, Okla., was already an Elite champ from the 2013 season, and has a very successful career going. It was Christie himself who was kept guessing.
“At what point did you know you’d won this?” a reporter asked Christie, who had started out the championship round in fourth place.
“When they announced on stage I was the winner,” Christie replied. “To be 3 pounds back, and feeling like I needed low 20s (pounds) to win, makes the win special,” he said.
His prize was $100,000 and a win-you’re-in qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Christie produced a final-day weight close to what he thought he needed to win: 19 pounds, 2 ounces. His four-day total was 72 pounds, 3 ounces.
His margin of victory was 4 ounces over Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., finishing in second place with 71-15 after producing the day’s largest weight of 20-1.
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., who led the field on both the second and third days, finished in third place at 71-11. Christie bested him by 8 ounces.
“I could go back and look at lost fish,” Hackney said. “I lost a 3-pounder one day, but that happens to everybody. But otherwise I fished clean this week.”
Hackney said he caught a 4-pounder with five minutes left in Sunday’s competition. “But I still felt like I was coming back short one big one,” said Hackney, who weighed 15-3.
Thanks to Hackney’s strong Dardanelle performance, he gained a lot of ground in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Hackney had been in seventh place, 79 points behind leader Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark. Now Hackney trails Davis by one point.
Davis remained in the lead, a positioned he’s held for four events in a row. Davis had a 42-point advantage coming into the Dardanelle event, but his 81st-place finish almost erased that.
Rick Clunn, who started the final round at Dardanelle in second place, finished in fourth at 70-15. The bass fishing legend from Ava, Mo., had been just 13 ounces behind leader Hackney after Day 3.
Fifth place was claimed by Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas, at 68-3.
Christie described his climb up the leaderboard over the first three days as “steady Eddie.” On Day 1 he was in 26th, Day 2 he climbed up into 10th, and by Day 3 he had moved to fourth. He said Day 1 began his learning curve.
“I was learning where they’re setting up, and what time of the day they’re feeding,” he said after Day 3. “I found there’s two times of the day when they’re really eating, and if you’re not around them at those times, you can fish right by them.”
His main game keyed in on current in Illinois Bayou, he said, triggering reaction bites by swimming a jig.
“I saw every bass that came up and got it,” he said.
The lure he stuck with was a 1/2-ounce Booyah jig with a black-and-blue Yum Craw Chunk.
“I was fishing pretty dirty water, and that jig has really loud rattles,” he said. “I would stroke that jig, trying to get the big ones to react.”
On his way back to check in each day, he would make a few stops in clearer water. There he would remove the jig’s rattles. He caught a 3-pounder that way one day, but most of his weight came from the stained water of the Illinois Bayou around vegetation by swimming the jig up high.
“Every fish that bit didn’t come up to get it. They came horizontally,” he said.
Christie searched for larger bass by looking for matted weeds.
“All of a sudden you’d see a point that had a mat. That’s a perfect place for a big one to be,” he said.
He hit transition areas between where bass are known to spawn and “choke-down” currents, where the channel narrowed.
“Once I felt the current really, really get moving, I cast where the current hit it directly. Wind helped too. If I could get current and wind, that’s what I needed,” he said.
In the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race, Chad Morgenthaler of Coulterville, Ill., took over the lead from Jacob Powroznik of Port Haywood, Va. Powroznik had had six points on Morgenthaler. Thanks to his 40th-place finish at Dardanelle to Powroznik’s 77th, Morgenthaler now leads by 31 points.
Bonuses that Elite pros earned at the Dardanelle event were:
* Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $3,000 to the highest eligible finisher: Christie.
* Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $2,000 to the second-highest eligible finisher: Combs.
* Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Bonus of $1,000 to the leader in the Elite Series points race: Davis.
* Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Zell Rowland of Montgomery, Texas, for his Day 2 bag of 25-5.
* Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament worth $1,000 plus another $500 for wearing Carhartt apparel: Rowland for his 6-10 of Day 2.
* Power-Pole Captain’s Cash award of $1,000 to the highest finisher equipped with a Power-Pole anchoring system: Christie.
* Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for being the Day 2 leader: Hackney.
* Rigid Industries Jackpot: Not awarded. Rigid offers a daily prize of $250 to anglers registered for the program who produce a 25-pound or heavier bag. Unclaimed daily awards roll over into the next tournament day of the season; the jackpot is now $1,750.
Next up for the Bassmaster Elite Series is the No. 6 stop of the season on June 11-15 in Dayton, Tenn., for the Bassmaster BASSfest at Chickamauga Lake. A new type of competition stretched over five days, BASSfest features not only the 108-pro Elite field, but another 60 pros from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens presented by Allstate. BASSfest also will include the big BASSfest Expo, seminars by top pros and activities for kids.