Lynn Burkhead — For different reasons, Texas grabbing bass headlines again

Herald Democrat

It’s been a year of unbelievable bass fishing headlines in the state of Texas. In fact, 2021 started off with a run of ShareLunker big bass news that was almost breathtaking at times.

Now, as a start-and-stop spawning effort continues in the state with more cooler-than-average springtime weather on tap, the bass fishing spotlight turns to the professional anglers who are spending a few weeks in this largemouth rich state.

And once again, Texas is grabbing bass fishing headlines, thanks to the state’s varied fisheries themselves as well as some of the anglers who call the Lone Star State home.

This past week, the Sabine River near Beaumont and Orange was center stage as record size crowds watched Park Hill, Okla. bass fishing pro Jason Christie pick up a Bassmaster Elite Series win with a four-day total of bass that weighed 43-pounds, 15 ounces.

In securing his sixth B.A.S.S. victory, Christie weighed 15 pounds, one ounce last Thursday on Day 1 as he ran many long miles to find fish in the expansive southeastern Texas region that features a lot of smaller-sized largemouths. After his opening-round effort put him into second place, Christie followed that up with 13 pounds, 14 ounces on Friday’s Day Two, taking over the top spot for good.

While Christie slipped to 6 pounds, 12 ounces on last Saturday’s Day Three and 8 pounds, four ounces last Sunday on the event’s Championship Day, it was still enough for him to secure the win by one pound, six ounces over runner-up Brock Mosley, the Day One leader.

Removing 150 pounds of tackle and 14 of his usual 20 rods enabled Christie to reduce fuel consumption and make longer, straighter runs to get into the key area that he spent the majority of his time in. Some two hours from the takeoff ramp, Christie found the mix of shallow wood and cut banks in practice and knew that’s where he would win or lose the derby. Part of that was due to the visible cover he fished, part of it was because he knew there would be few competitors willing to gamble on such a long run.

“There’s a lot of backwaters downriver from this area, but then there’s like a 20-mile stretch where there’s nothing until you get to this spot,” Christie said to Bassmaster.com after his win. “The first two days of the event it was super treacherous to run; there were logs, sandbars, stuff like that. That’s what kept people from going up there."

On the first two days, Christie ran his aluminum bass rig many miles and picked apart visible cover in skinny water conditions. Then, as increased water releases upstream at Toledo Bend Dam raised water levels by a ½-foot, he had to alter his strategy a bit with the increased flows.

“Before the water came up, there were isolated targets and it wasn’t hard,” said Christie. “But once it came up, it was almost impossible. That’s why today I ran as far up that thing as I could.

“The further you get, the banks get higher and there wasn’t as much back flow coming from the river. That was my goal today — to get to where I could keep the fish between the bank and me.”

The win, which gave the Oklahoma pro a $100,000 winner’s check, also validated Christie’s decision to migrate back to the Elite Series this year from Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour where he competed the last couple of seasons.

“The thing about fishing at the professional level, or any level for that matter, is that you have to compete in your comfort zone,” he wrote in a column for Bassmaster.com. “It’s about doing what’s right for you. I grew up following B.A.S.S. tournaments and the anglers who fished them. It created an attachment that never went away, and it never will.”

Speaking of the Bass Pro Tour, the two and a half year old circuit didn’t fish in Texas this past week. But lessons learned in the Lone Star State certainly helped two Lone Star State fishing pros cash two big checks.

Alton Jones, Sr., the Lorena angler who captured the Bassmaster Classic title back in 2008, has fished in Major League Fishing competition since the organization held its first made-for-TV tournament on Lake Amistad back in Nov. 2011.

When MLF spawned the Bass Pro Tour in 2018, Jones made the switch from the Bassmaster Elite Series, where he had made a name for himself as one of the sport’s best angling pros in recent years.

Despite his longstanding commitment to MLF and BPT, Jones — that’s Jones, Sr. since his son, Alton Jones, Jr. also competes in BPT derbies — had never won a trophy from Major League Fishing

That changed in dramatic fashion on Wednesday as he captured the Major League Fishing Heavy Hitters event on North Carolina’s Shearon Harris Reservoir as he sight fished with a tube. In gaining his first MLF win and the seventh tour level championship of his career, Jones relied on the sight-fishing technique that he has perfected while fishing on numerous Texas waters.

“This feels so good and I’m so grateful,” the teary eyed Jones told MajorLeagueFishing.com after winning the top prize and Heavy Hitter’s belt. “It’s been a long time since I’ve won an event. I’ve always said the three most important things in bass fishing are: location, location, and location. That was absolutely the key for me today. You can be doing the right thing in the wrong place and not catch them.”

The win by the Waco-area pro comes in part because Jones made a commitment a couple of years ago to lose weight and get in shape so he could keep competing against the wave of younger anglers beginning to overtake the sport.

In grabbing the Heavy Hitters title, Jones proved that his commitment to physical conditioning has certainly paid off. But then again, so did his longtime skills honed by years of fishing in Texas, along with learning how to identify productive versus unproductive areas quickly.

Finding such spots is important at any time of the year, but especially so during the spawn. True to form, with his winning total of 45 pounds, 9 ounces on the SCORETRACKER live leaderboard, Jones told MLF.com that he looked at all 12 bass he caught during the Championship Round.

“I knew in practice I found several areas that were going to be productive,” noted Jones. “The place that I did my damage in (on Wednesday) was where I started Tuesday morning and I didn’t even catch a fish there. I pulled in there today (Wednesday) and there was a fish spawning every 20 feet. I was blessed with some really good fish.”

As he put on a sight fishing clinic, Jones took the lead in the 2nd Period and held on for the big win.

“(In the final round) every fish was on the tube,” he said. “It was easier to fish around the cover, and I was casting over little pieces of cover and working the bait up and down to work the bait and keep it in one place.”

As noted above, Jones wasn’t the only Texas pro to take home $100,000 during the Championship Round of the Heavy Hitters derby. Fellow Texan Jeff Sprague finished second to Jones, but also weighed a five pound, three ounce largemouth that earned him $100,000 for the biggest bass caught in the Championship Round.

Now, as the bass spawn continues and the post-spawn approaches in Texas, the bass fishing spotlight remains on the Lone Star State as two events will be held here in coming weeks. The first is at the state’s renowned lunker factory, Lake Fork, where an Elite Series derby will be staged from April 22-25. The Bass Pro Tour returns to the state a week later, holding its Stage Two event on Lake Travis near Austin from April 30-May 5.

With the state awash in big largemouths this year, not to mention a big supply of talented anglers, there seems to be little doubt that more bass fishing headlines are forthcoming from the Lone Star State.

Stay tuned, because in Texas, one of the best bass fishing spots on the planet, you just never know, now do you?