PALATKA, Fla. — Even though he was in second place going into Sunday's final, Todd Faircloth had no reason to feel any pressure, trailing Alton Jones by a whopping 9 pounds and an ounce. But after catching bass after bass Sunday morning, Faircloth realized the St. Johns River Showdown title was suddenly within his grasp.
"I had no pressure whatsoever today until I caught that last fish and I had 20 pounds," said the 36-year-old Jasper, Texas, resident. "I was like, man, if I catch another big fish, I'm in this deal."
Faircloth was "in it" without another big fish, giving Jones a serious scare after the Day Three leader struggled to catch a 12-pound, 10-ounce limit. But Faircloth's instincts were correct: He did need one more big fish to bump up his 20-pound, 10-ounce bag just 19 more ounces. Faircloth finished with a four-day total of 74-7; Jones' winning weight was 75-9.
While Jones was struggling Sunday, Faircloth was smoking 'em on the opposite side of Lake George.
"The first two days, I mixed it up a little," Faircloth said. "I caught some of my bigger fish sight fishing, actually looking at them. But the last two days, I didn't look at any of them. I think that was the key.
"I was in a little bit dirtier water. The fish were more aggressive in the dirtier water, and there were more fish coming in there. I had a really good spot the last two days, and I didn't even fish it the first two days. That's probably where I messed up."
A year ago, Faircloth finished fourth in the Elite Series event on the St. Johns River. He was able to build on that in making a strong second-place showing this time.
"I was hitting holes in the grass by making long pitches or long casts," Faircloth said. "That was the key for me last year here too — staying back off those fish. They bite a little bit better when they don't know you're present.
"And the water I was fishing was deeper and dirtier than most of the water in Lake George."
Faircloth caught his fish the last two days on a watermelon red Yamamoto Senko with a 1/8-ounce sinker. He fished the Senko on 30-pound-test Spiderwire braid with a 20-pound-test Trilene fluorocarbon leader.
Faircloth came to his hot spot on Day One, but it wasn't so hot.
"The wind was blowing pretty bad," he said. "I caught one little bitty fish."
After getting so close to the $100,000 first-place prize, Faircloth needed a minute to gather his composure before answering questions about the tournament. He did break off two fish Sunday.
"I don't know how big they were," Faircloth said. "I fished a smart tournament. It just wasn't my time."
Faircloth caught a big bass in the last hour on both Friday — a 7-15 — and Saturday — a 6-15. He needed to do it one more time on Sunday.
"I really thought I had a legitimate shot at catching one of those big ones in the last hour, and it just never materialized," Faircloth said. "But when you have a day like I had today, you can't complain about it. I gave it everything I had."