MANY, La. — Brent Chapman will turn 40 in early July. That’s a milestone he didn’t want to celebrate without having ticked the box next to a top career goal: a Bassmaster Elite Series win.
Let the party begin.
Starting at 11th place on Thursday, then jumping up to lead for the next two days, the pro from Lake Quivira, Kan., closed on the Toledo Bend Battle trophy Sunday. His winning weight of 83 pounds, 9 ounces gave him a margin of victory of 4 pounds, 4 ounces over Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., who tallied 79-5 for second place.
“I feel awesome,” said Chapman. “This is one more check-off on the list of my goals.”
His Elite win was worth $100,000, enough points to take over in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race, and a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
The Classic qualification was his second of the season; the first one came by winning a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open in February. Because he already had the 2013 Classic entry sewn up, it was the Elite victory that made his day. He was never sure he had the win until the scales stopped moving on his Sunday bag.
“I truly felt I needed 20 pounds today to have a shot at winning this,” he added. “I had a lot more than I thought I did.”
The Sunday scales settled on 23-11. The icing on the weight was a last-hour bass that almost offered itself to him.
“I throw my spoon out, go to reel it in, and I see the spoon at about 5 feet from the boat — and a 4-pounder is behind it. I ‘killed’ the spoon — kind of dropped it — and the bass sucked it in. I just whipped it into the boat. When stuff like that happens, I think, ‘Maybe I am supposed to win this deal.’”
Throughout the week, the winner’s focus went much deeper. He worked several spots, but particularly one area that held schools of big bass 25 to 30 feet deep. He used a 5-inch, 1 1/4-ounce flutter spoon with a silver finish modified with a 2/0 Lazer TroKar treble, or worked a Tightlines green-pumpkin UV Hog on a 3/4-ounce football jig.
The spoon was a lure he picked up at a tackle store, and it had no brand name, Chapman said. A lover of fishing banks and shallows, Chapman steeled himself to going deep during the Toledo Bend Battle, and turned to the spoon to help him.
“It’s a thing that Kelly Jordon made famous, and it’s a bait I’ve really fallen in love with over the past few years when it comes to this time of year and fishing deep,” he said.
Chapman had declared after Day 3 that in the final round, he would not live and die on the same spot he’d worked all week. Come later Sunday morning, he was ready to move, he said, but the bass changed his mind. He caught a 5-pounder and then a 6-7, his largest of the day and also the Carhartt Big Bass on Sunday in a tie with the 6-7 brought in by Greg Hackney. Then Chapman moved off his spot, but later returned for another dip. No go.
“When it dries up, it dries up in a hurry,” he said.
Through Sunday’s win, Chapman earned enough points to recover his early-season lead in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race. The closest he’s ever come to the AOY title is eighth in 2007.
But with three more Elite events remaining in the regular season, Chapman said he’s not obsessing over the crown. He’s not centering his fishing strategy on winning the AOY prize.
“Angler of the Year, I’ve got to keep off my mind until the last day at Oneida (the season’s final event). You’ve got to focus on one fish at a time, one day at a time, one tournament at a time,” he said.
Pace pulled up to finish in second place after leading the first day, then dropping to fourth by Day 3. His Sunday catch of 21-9 revived his bid for his first Elite win, but in the end fell short.
“Anytime you get to fish all four days, you’ve had a great week,” Pace said. “Second place is a great tournament. A win would have been much better, but that’s just part of life. Brent had a better group of fish found, and he beat me.”
Pace’s strategy was to work deep schools slowly and thoroughly.
“That was the whole deal for me,” he said. He made long casts with a 3/4-ounce V&M football jig, and spend about three minutes dragging it back to the boat. When the wind died, he turned to a Carolina rig with a redbug V&M Super Finesse Worm, same slow technique.
“When I say drag it, I mean at a snail’s pace,” Pace said.
Like Chapman, Robinson of Lyman, S.C., started slowly on Day 1. He bagged a modest 15 1/2 pounds, good enough for 23rd place. Then on Day 2, armed with a 21-12 bag, he fought his way up into sixth place. The third day was almost a cookie-cutter of the second: 21-5, but it did him even more good. He advanced to second place, just 1-5 behind leader Chapman.
The final day he pushed hard, finishing third, the best showing of his Elite career. He bagged 19-2, ending almost 6 pounds behind the winner.
“I just didn’t get a lot of big bites today. I had one place where I had caught some big fish, but I couldn’t get them fired up,” said Robinson, who used a peanut-butter-and-jelly Buckeye Mop Football jig in a 3/4-ounce size, and a Fish Stalker Lures’ Party Marty football jig with a Zoom Critter Craw.
Finishing fourth was Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., with 76-1. Fifth was rookie Cliff Prince of Palatka, Fla., who had 69-9.
Several anglers earned bonuses at the Toledo Bend Battle:
* Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, which paid $750, plus another $750 if the angler was wearing Carhartt clothing: Terry Scroggins for his 9-pound, 3-ounce largemouth on Day 3.
* Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Tim Horton’s 27-9 of Day 3.
* Power-Pole Captain’s Cash of $1,000 if the winner has Power-Poles installed on his boat: Brent Chapman
* Toyota $1,000 bonus to the leader in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Brent Chapman with 417 points
* Luck “E” Strike Comeback Award of $500 to the most-improved pro in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., from 63rd place to 41st place
The Toledo Bend Battle will air on ESPN2 at 8 a.m. ET June 23.
The Bassmaster Elite Series will travel next to La Crosse, Wis., for the June 21-24 Mississippi River Rumble.