KISSIMMEE, Fla. — In a week of decidedly un-Florida-like weights, Ben Matsubu finally showed what the Sunshine state is capable of as the 2007 season wrapped up.
The American-born angler of Japanese heritage threw a monster 25-pound, 5-ounce pound sack on the rain-soaked scales, crushing the field by 14-1 on the final day of the Sunshine Showdown, presented by Allstate Boat Insurance.
Matsubu, who pocketed $111,000 for his week's effort, worked the sweetest of sweet spots for the majority of the week, tallying 66-8 in four days of fishing, anchored by an 8-13 pound giant: a long skinny fish most learned observers believed would weigh nearly 13 pounds in a healthy pre-spawn stage.
Additionally, the hidden grassy point put Mary Delgado into co-angler contention on Day Two (14-7 pounds) and closed the deal for co-angler Harry Potts' title run (14-11 pounds).
"It was the spot," Matsubu said. "Along the whole two-mile stretch of matted grass, there were only two small areas where the scattered grass made a point. I still haven't really figured out if the fish are coming in from the open water, or coming out of the mats."
Matsubu said he marked the submerged grass clumps with his Humminbird side imaging electronic system.
"Some days they were cruising in between the grass, some days they were in the grass," he said. "Today they were right up in there. But wherever they were, they were spitting up two- to three-inch bluegills."
Matsubu indicated that the presence of a surprising amount of clean water in his spot — a 30- to 40-yard stretch, punctuated by grassy areas varying in size from small clumps to 20- by 30-foot beds — turned the fish onto a Carolina-rigged, off-brand finesse worm with a relatively light 1/4 ounce weight.
"When the water was dirtier, the fish really wanted a chartreuse crankbait. Today I threw all around my spot twice and never got a bite," Matsubu said. "All of the fish were caught on the light Carolina rig, which is something I've done well with in Florida. It doesn't tear up the grass."
Around 10 a.m. he had approximately 13 or 14 pounds from four fish when he set the hook on what proved to be the biggest fish of the tournament. As seen in Sunday's edition of "Hooked Up", Matsubu gently plented the mother of all kicker fish, taking about three minutes to land, .
"I knew that fish would give me a great shot at winning," said Matsubu. "It really means a lot because I've worked so hard at it. Both of my wins (he also won a wild card event in 2006) have been in Florida — and I've never really done well here, especially in the spring. Guys will be coming in with 30 pounds, and I'll have 6."
It would have been easy for Bill Smith, Jr., to pack it in after what took place prior to the weigh-in on Saturday. Smith, who says this Elite Series event will be his last, was placing his limit of fish into his weigh bag when a near two-pounder jumped out of the bag and onto the back deck of his boat, before flopping back into the water.
The Kentucky native persevered and put together a 16-11 pound limit (52-7 total) Sunday, besting Day Three leader Brent Chapman by 2 ounces &mdas; and taking home $31,000.
"The biggest difference today was that I moved more outside of my area," Smith said. "There's a shell bed off of the grass and lily pads, and that's what they were keyed on today."
Smith's weapon of choice was a Texas-rigged Blue/Pearl Bass Assassin soft jerkbait with 1/8 ounce weight. Though earlier in the week he was able to coax quality bites on a topwater bait, Sunday's action — punctuated by a 5-7 and 5-9 pound fish — came by working plastic offerings slowly along the bottom.
"What really helped Ben is that he had an isolated area," Smith said. "The shell bed that I keyed on today was a pretty big area and I just had to pick it to death. There weren't any sweet spots on it."
Chapman said his drop from first to third place was a textbook case of running out of fish. The Kansas native said his area in its prime was capable of the type of bag Matsubu caught Sunday, but it's hard to be too disappointed when someone has a day like he did.
"I was more disappointed in missing out on second place," Chapman said. "When he goes out and catches a bag like that, he deserves to win. I was around those kind of fish if everything goes perfect. The biggest thing that hurt me was that I just didn't get anything off of my flipping bite."