GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Trailing by more than 11 pounds heading into the final day of competition, Baltimore, Md., angler Russell Colwell figured he needed some good luck to win the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship on Alabama's Lake Guntersville.
On Saturday, the 48-year-old knew fortune was with him when his final-day weight of 16 pounds, 2 ounces, was enough to claim the champion's most coveted prize, a 2007 Bassmaster Classic berth.
Colwell finished with 48 pounds, 15 ounces in the three-day tournament, more than 1 pound ahead of Oklahoma's Todd Lee.
Colwell earned a $100,000 grand prize and guaranteed entry into the Bassmaster Open division of his choice. But most important to Colwell was qualifying for the Classic, Feb. 23-25, on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala.
"I'm going to the Classic," Colwell screamed to reporters after he found out he won. "I have had bad luck fishing tournaments all my life, but today I had more than enough good luck."
It almost didn't happen for Colwell. When he checked in his catch with BASS officials, it appeared at first that the BASS life member indeed was plagued by bad luck.
He had brought in six fish, one more than the tournament limit of five. Under BASS rules, Colwell lost the weight of the heaviest fish, but was allowed to get in line to weigh-in the remaining five.
Colwell later said he estimated that the dropped fish weighed nearly 6 pounds, and that as he waited for the outcome, he felt that he could not overtake Friday leader Lee. But Colwell triumphed despite his mistake of not accurately tracking the number of fish in his livewell.
"If I would not have won this tournament because of not counting correctly, I'm not sure what I would have done," said Colwell, owner of a construction business in Baltimore.
Prompted to make a strategy change on Saturday because of a drop in the water temperature, Colwell followed the advice of his non-boater partner, Tony Impellizzeri of Michigan, who had been randomly paired with Colwell. They went to the spot Impellizzeri recommended, and that's where Colwell landed the majority of his bass.
In what Colwell called a 20-minute "magical" stretch, he worked a Lucky Craft jerkbait on a main lake point along the shoreline just minutes from the tournament launch location. He caught all of his fish by 10:30 a.m., and despite not getting another bite all day, he held off Lee, who on Saturday caught only one fish that weighed 3 pounds.
"It's tough to put down a bait that you caught more than 30 pounds on the day before," said Lee of the jerkbait he stuck with on Saturday. "I thought I needed 20 pounds to win today, but clearly I underestimated."
Going into the final day, Lee led the tournament with a cushion of more than seven pounds, but he's not giving up: "I promise you will see me back next year on this circuit," he said.
Rounding out the top five were Tulsa, Okla., angler Bobby Myers, who placed third with 44 pounds, 15 ounces; 2006 ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series champion Jeff Coble (41-14); and Texan James Elliott (41-11).
On the non-boater side, Iowa's Darrin Hannah finished with 20 pounds, 14 ounces, capturing his division's championship and winning the $50,000 grand prize. Hannah bested Indiana's Rod Yoder (18-8) and Virginia's David Williams (18-0).