EVANS, Ga. — Kenyon Hill left Clarks Hill Lake's Wildwood Park boat ramp Sunday morning absolutely certain of one thing: he was going to have fun fishing on the final day of the Bassmaster Elite Series Pride of Georgia tournament presented by Evan Williams Bourbon.
It turned out to be more fun than the 43-year-old Oklahoma angler could have imagined: Hill practically lapped the 12-man field Sunday in catching a five-bass limit weighing 18 pounds, 2 ounces. It gave him a four-day total of 68-0 and earned him his first $100,000 first-place check in the two-plus seasons of the Elite Series.
"I'm going to go out, first and foremost, and have some fun," Hill had said prior to Sunday's 6:30 a.m. launch. "I'm going to enjoy the day for what it is."
Sunday afternoon, with an Elite Series trophy in hand, Hill explained how his father's illness had given him a new perspective on life. Dr. Loren Hill, a long-time professor at the University of Oklahoma and inventor of the Color C Lector fishing device, is suffering from both dementia and esophageal cancer — and has already lived longer than his doctors expected.
"We had a reality check in my family this year," Kenyon said. "You realize every day is a precious day. You learn to leave all the worrisome, whiny stuff back at the dock."
Fellow Oklahoman Edwin Evers led Hill by just over a pound going into Sunday, but caught only three bass weighing 6-0 pounds.
"I'd caught 'em all week on a Booyah jig, and I couldn't get a bite today," said Evers, who dropped to third with 57-1 overall. "I don't feel bad about it, because I fished as hard as I possibly could."
Evers shouldn't have felt bad, because everyone but Hill struggled on Sunday, when a cloudless sky and no wind made bass fishing extremely tough. Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C., won this tournament on Clarks Hill in 2006 and badly wanted another victory in front of his home-state fans. He ended up in second place with 59-8. (Interestingly, Hill was second to Hite here in 2006.)
Hite had talked about swinging for the fences no matter what, but Sunday's weather gave him a reality check of another sort.
"I've fished here before under these conditions," Hite said. "When I realized the wind wasn't going to blow, I knew a lot of guys were going to struggle."
So Hite put down the baitcasting rod and the Buckeye Lures Mop Jig that had produced so many big fish for him here, and instead picked up a spinning rod with a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko tied on his line. It allowed him to catch a 12-9 limit and moved him up from third to second.
"Kenyon finished second to me two years ago," Hite said. "When he was talking about his dad up there (on stage) I definitely couldn't pull against him. I'm proud to see him win."
Kevin VanDam finished fourth with 55-1, and Casey Ashley was fifth with 54-10.
"At 11:30 (a.m.) it got slick, and I never got another bite all day long," Ashley said.
Meanwhile, Hill was whacking 'em all day long.
"I caught probably four limits of keepers today," Hill said. "I caught quite a few fish all day long. When it got slick is when I caught those two big ones."
Hill's biggest bass Sunday weighted 7 pounds, 1 ounce and matched the previous big bass of the tournament, caught by Dave Smith on Thursday.
Hill's big bass Sunday hit a shad-colored Sebile swimbait. He also caught fish this week on a chrome-colored Cordell Pencil Popper topwater lure. But Hill said his go-to lure by far this week was a Carolina-rigged Zoom Trick Worm. He fished it on a 3/4-ounce Tru-Tungsten slip sinker paired with a Tru-Tungsten Force Bead, which Hill claims creates a fish-attracting sound as they click across the bottom.
Like almost everyone else in this Elite Series tournament, Hill was targeting shallow flat points where post-spawn largemouth bass were coming to feed on spawning blueback herring baitfish.
"I had about a half-dozen points I was rotating between," Hill said. "That Carolina rig was the safety net I had all week long. There was no doubt I could catch my five doing that every day, and catch some good fish too.
"And it let me free up and try some other baits to catch some bigger fish on."
Hill isn't planning to be back home in Norman, Okla., for a couple more weeks. But Sunday afternoon he was already planning how to get his Pride of Georgia Elite Series trophy to his father's house.
"He's the whole reason I'm out here," Hill said. "It was his dream to fish tournaments, but he never did. When I showed an interest in it, he supported me wholeheartedly.
"I'd like for him to have (the trophy) on his mantle for awhile. He'd appreciate it."