BUFFALO — Edwin Evers' week on Lake Erie began with a minor wreck and ended with a major check.
The 32-year-old pro from Talala, Okla., won the Empire Chase presented by Mahindra Tractors, capturing his first Bassmaster Elite Series win and a $100,000 payday that pushed him into the rarified ranks of million-dollar bass fishing career earners.
He did it despite breaking a bracket on his motor "a pretty good ways" onto the lake after blast-off on Day One. (So grateful was he for the BASS staff who braved the driving rain to pick him up, that he thanked them when he received his trophy.)
But after that initial bad break, nothing bad befell Evers on his way to sacking 65 pounds, 7 ounces during the three-day tournament. That total included a 23-10 Day Three sack that turned a 3-ounce Sunday morning lead into a 4-pound runaway margin.
"It was one of the most awesome fishing days of my life," Evers told the crowd before he weighed in the biggest sack caught in this tournament. "It was a day from Heaven."
"It was unbelieveable," he elaborated later. "Unbelieveable. Hundreds and hundreds of them. It's sick how many fish were out there. It's sick. Dude, I found them. Everybody that does well out here is an excellent, excellent fisherman with mechanics. Anybody out here can catch a bass if you put a bass in front of them. The difference with Kevin (VanDam) and some of those other guys who do really, really good is finding them. That's the hard thing in this game is finding the fish.
"I found the mother lode. I really did not want to come to the weigh-in. I told my cameraman, if I didn't have a chance to win this thing, we might just stay out here and take the last-place check."
He said he stopped counting the fish he had caught when he had 27 at 9:30 a.m.
One of his closest competitors in this tournament was Evers' brother-in-law Terry Butcher, who pointed out that Evers would be more of a threat in the Angler of the Year points (he entered this event in 16th) had he not blown a great first day in the California Delta. There he accidentally arrived at the weigh-in an hour late and finished that event in 102nd place.
"He's real versatile," said Butcher, who moved from 12th to fourth place on Sunday. "HE can do anything. He can flip, he can finesse, he can crank. He can do it as well as anybody. He doesn't have one strength. He can do it all."
Evers' wife, Tuesday, said Evers has been unusually focused lately, even for him. Usually tight-lipped about his tournament chances, he admitted to her after the final day of practice that he was excited about the fish he had found.
"For him to say he's excited was pretty big," Tuesday said. "I was excited for him. I've never heard him say, 'I'm excited, I found some.' I knew it was going to be a good one."
It was Evers' first tour-level win since 2005 and his first north of the Mason-Dixon Line. "I didn't think it would be on smallmouth, with a flippin' stick in my hand," he said.
Until Evers sank the scales, it looked like Kota Kiriyama might win his first Elite Series event after four previous second-place finishes in tour events.
He began the day in ninth place, ran to a spot west of the Dunkirk, N.Y., area that anglers mobbed this week, and proceeded to catch a limit in 20 minutes on the way to a 22-3 bag.
That return trip on Day One took him four hours (so grateful was he that his boat didn't crack apart that he thanked Yamaha and BassCat in an interview) but he weighed in 20-8. He might have pushed closer to Evers had he not slipped to 18-12 on Day Two, which Kiriyama blamed on his own errors in positioning his boat.
Asked about how his tournament went overall, Kiriyama said, "It was the best and the worst, because I'm the first loser, right?"
Less than a pound behind Kiriyama was John Murray (60-8), whose third-place finish ensured that the top three this week all enjoyed their personal-best Elite Series event.
Greg Hackney (59-15) began and ended the final day in fifth place. Boyd Duckett (59-1) moved up to sixth, Kevin Wirth (58-1) slipped from 3 ounces behind Evers to seventh place, and Day One leader Paul Hirosky (57-14) fell from third to eighth place.