LEESBURG, Fla. — Ten anglers had crossed the stage and nobody — still nobody — had caught Brian Snowden, who entered the final day with a 9-pound, 14-ounce-lead on second place Mike McClelland.
McClelland finally filled the empty hot seat on the right-hand side of the stage with a 15-pound bag, but was not optimistic about his chances.
"It's probably not enough," he said. "When Brian has a lead like that, you just hope to stay where you're at. If I finish second, I'll be tickled to death."
Snowden forced a smile and a wave to the crowd as the Toyota Tundra pulled his boat to the stage. Keith Alan stepped out and the deck and started a conversation. Snowden only needed 5-3 to win.
"In Florida, there's a lot of big fish, so I knew I needed about 5 pounds," he said before pulling the bag out of his livewell. "I certainly had my chances."
He opened his livewell and pulled out an empty bag. The focus shifted to McClelland, who just dropped his head and stood up.
"Brian and I have known each other for a lot of years," McClelland said. "It's really a shock. He's such a great angler and a great competitor. It's bittersweet in a way."
McClelland continued to talk about his win on stage and headed for the trophy. Snowden sat back down in his boat and folded his empty bag. He was watching McClelland with his back to the crowd, and was no longer smiling.
He motioned to his driver and they started to pull away. Snowden kept his eye on the festivities for a couple more seconds, turned around and headed away from the crowd.
His boat stopped hundreds of yards away from the stage, and he answered a call from his wife.
"She asked me why I lost all those fish," he said, forcing his emotion into a smile and a laugh.
Snowden said he had his chances on Sunday: He lost a couple 2-pounders and a 3-pounder early in the afternoon, but it was the 4-pounder late in the day that demoralized him.
"I hooked him and pinned him up against a reed and he's thrashing around," he said. "But then he calms down, and he's just sitting there and I'm headed over with the boat — and he came off.
"It was then that I knew it wasn't going to happen. I didn't have enough time and I knew I needed another fish on top of that one."
Snowden said the 10-degree drop in water temperature is what hurt him the most; he didn't have a bite two hours into his day. It was so bad Kenyon Hill, who had been sharing the area with Snowden all week, bailed around noon.
"There's still a lot of fish in that area, but the water got a little more color from that wind yesterday, then it dropped 10 to 12 degrees," said Hill, who was the only other angler to zero on Sunday. "Any time you have a sudden drop in temperature, these Florida fish can't handle it."
Snowden decided he was going to stick it out, and that started to pay off.
"It actually got better in the afternoon," he said. "The water got back up from 59 to 64 — and the fish became a little more active. They just wouldn't commit to the bait.
"When you got a bite, it was a pressure bite. By the time you felt them, they were just around a reed or a pad or they were just holding it."
Snowden wasn't sure what to say as he stood beside his boat, with McClelland holding the trophy in the far background.
"I definitely had my opportunities," he said. "I don't think they were taking the bait very well, and I should have downsized to a smaller bait.
"But when you've been doing something that is working so well, it's just hard to change. And that was it."