KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Co-angler Marlon Crowder has had a couple of second place finishes in his career, so he knew he had a good opportunity to do well on the final day when he drew tournament leader Gerald Swindle as his pro. Swindle had been on some nice fish, but Crowder didn't think his day on Lake Toho would be over so early.
"The second cast of the day I hooked the biggest fish and about 10 minutes later, I hooked the other big one," said Crowder. "Then I just sat down and chilled out a while and let Gerald fish. The way I look at it, these are his fish; he's been on them all tournament, and I'm really glad I didn't cost him the win by catching those fish."
Looking for his first win as a pro, Swindle was disappointed he didn't catch either of the two big fish that comprised the majority of Crowder's final three-fish bag of 21 pounds, 6 ounces. Crowder only needed 14-pounds, 15-ounces to qualify for the Top 12 and fish the final day.
"The guy is fishing his heart out, trying his best; he wants to make the next leap and fish as a boater, and today gave him the opportunity to do that," said Swindle. "He caught the two big ones before I had a fish, so I know he's got 20 pounds and it's a mixed emotion — I'm excited because I see a lot of what I used to be in him, so I'm excited and at the same time I'm thinking, 'I've got to catch them.'" "I've had my heart broken a couple of times, so I still didn't believe it that I had it won today," said Crowder.
Winning his first tournament at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open is not only a milestone that will help Gerald Swindle's career, it'll also allow him to be more aggressive in the 2011 tournaments. All winners of the Bassmaster Open Series qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, so Gerald Swindle is in for 2012. "The thought of going to next year's Classic hasn't even set in yet," said Swindle. "I was just fishing. I didn't have any intention of winning. I knew I had one offshore spot and I was going to fish it and hope it works.
It most definitely takes a lot of pressure off from the point system." Under new rules for the 2011 season, the top 28 anglers at the end of the Elite Series season (plus the eight event winners) will qualify for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
Joining those pros will be nine winners of Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open events in 2011, six Federation Nation qualifiers, the defending Classic champion, the Bassmaster Weekend Series champion and the Bassmaster College Bass champion.
"To win an Elite Series event is tough," Swindle said. "I've been close a couple of times, and sometimes I think I've been a little scared to be too aggressive because if you back up in one tournament, it's so hard to recover. Now I can do what I want knowing I'm already in."
Anglers fishing the final day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes were greeted with 10 to 15 mph winds at launch time. Those wind speeds steadily increased during the day, making it tough for a lot of the finalists to effectively fish the locations that got them into the finals.
"The wind was blowing directly into the bay where we fished the first two days," said Open pro Tony Chachere. "It was solid 2-foot rollers. It was tough to control the boat, much less fish." Chachere said the wind had muddied up a tight area of lily pads in 3 to 4 feet of water where the bass were coming in and spawning on the base of the pads. "I really didn't have anything else to run to, so it was just do or die. It was brutal," he said.
Elite Series pro Marty Robinson was also on the windy side of Lake Kissimmee, trying to fish bedding fish in 2 feet of water. "I had to fight the wind all day, and it just got progressively worse," Robinson said. "As the wind picked up the water got dirtier and it just blew us all over the place. It was incredibly tough."
Entering the final day of fishing, Elite Series pro Bobby Lane was in second place, just 3 pounds, 8 ounces behind leader Swindle. At the weigh-in, Lane thought he might have the weight it was going to take to win the event based on two big fish that anchored his 26-pound, five-fish limit. "I was throwing a Rat-L-Trap today in Lake Kissimmee and moving it through some grass, and thought I caught a big wad of grass," Lane said. "I'd actually foul hooked the fish in the tail."
Lane's largest fish on the final day weighed 10-11. He also had another fish in the 9-pound range. "I caught a fish over 9 pounds every day, and it's just a sign of how healthy Lake Toho is," he said.