MANY, La. — Toledo Bend Reservoir produced a little something extra — lagniappe in Louisiana French-speak — for Dean Rojas on Saturday.
Actually, that something extra was very large: a 7-pound, 2-ounce largemouth bass. And it proved to be the catch that made all the difference for Rojas on the third day of the May 1-4 Evan Williams Bourbon Bassmaster Elite on Toledo Bend.
Because of the big cull his 7-2 made possible, Rojas turned his day around. The so-so limit he would have had became a good day’s catch of 17-14.
Best of all, the 7-2 helped him to a 2-10 advantage over Friday leader Jacob Powroznik.
“I was fortunate today to have that big one that separated me from having a small limit,” said Rojas, who’s from Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
It helped that Powroznik tripped. He managed just 11-13 Saturday. Those bass put his total to 60-1, good enough for second, but not enough to stay in the catbird seat, the spot Rojas captured with his 62-11 total going into the final competition on Sunday.
But the Elite event hasn’t come down to a Rojas-Powroznik face-off. The pro in third place, Jared Lintner of Arroyo Grande, Calif., trailed Rojas by less than 3 pounds. Lintner, the first-day leader, produced 17-8 Saturday for a 59-12 total.
Randall Tharp, 4-5 out of the lead, may not be as big a threat, but when Toledo Bend is still producing big spawning bass, anything can happen. The pro from Port St. Joe, Fla., stepped into fourth place, up from sixth place with 58-6.
Fifth after Saturday’s round was Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, an old hand on Toledo Bend. Faircloth has a three-day tally of 57-4, just about 5 1/2 pounds out of first.
The leader in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., was seventh after three days, a position that will help him protect his 30-point lead over Lintner. Lintner, though, could gain ground if he ends up with a much better finish than does Davis.
A big crowd turned out at Cypress Bend Park to see which 12 pros of the 50 semifinalists would qualify for Sunday’s championship round, when the stakes are a first-place prize of $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Rojas had to work for the 7-2. He spotted her on a spawning bed Saturday.
“When I Power-Poled down, I must have spooked it,” he said. “She would just wander around — even came up to the boat and looked at me — but she wouldn’t commit.”
Rojas let her “rest.” He left the bedding area, then returned about 50 minutes later.
“This time, my boat position was a lot different. I stayed way back, off to the side, and threw my (Big Bite) WarMouth up there. I was far enough away, I couldn’t really see. On the second pitch, the line felt heavy, and I thought I had her.”
Rojas set the hook and began to reel the bass to the boat. But as the fish got closer to him, he saw that it was the male that had chased his WarMouth.
“But as I was fighting him, I saw a green coloration in the water moving toward the area where I caught him. I released the male, and made one more pitch up there. I never saw her eat it, but she started to swim with it, and the fight was on.”
“That was the game-changer. Without that fish, I’d have had an 11-pound limit,” he said.
“I just need to find one more tomorrow,” said Rojas, adding that he planned to zero in on bedding bass on his final day of competition, working, if necessary, the several areas he has staked out.
Powroznik’s shad spawn bite — a key to his 20-plus-pound weights the first two days — didn’t happen Saturday in the several areas he planned to try it.
“There were no shad there,” said the pro from Port Haywood, Va. “That’s just part of that deal. Tomorrow they could be right back up there and I could catch another big bag (of bass feeding on shad). You have got to try it for at least an hour and a half or two hours in the morning. To win this thing, you have to make that big gamble.”
Then, when he went to one spot he knew held big spawning females, the smoke from a controlled burn of forest land on the Texas shore was so thick he could not see.
He targeted other bedding fish the rest of the day, but the big bite eluded him.
Saturday’s largest bass was Rojas’ 7-2. But the 8-12 posted Thursday by Chris Zaldain of San Jose, Calif. — one of the Top 12 who will compete Sunday — led the competition for Carhartt Big Bass honors, which are worth up to $1,500.
Lintner continued to lead the Berkley Heavyweight bonus competition for $500 for his big bag on Thursday of 25-7.
“Championship Sunday” will begin at 6:20 a.m., when the dozen finalists will take off from Cypress Bend Park. They will return to the park by 3 p.m., and weigh their catches beginning at 3:15 p.m. The all-day action will be covered by Bassmaster.com with from-the-water catch reports, videos and blogs; updates from the War Room presented by Lowrance; photo galleries; and more. Live, streaming video of the weigh-in and a real-time leaderboard will gear up at 3:15 p.m.
Also on Sunday, the Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will continue with demos, giveaways and products from the tour’s sponsors, including free boat rides in Nitro, Triton and Skeeter boats powered by Yamaha and Mercury engines. The rides will be offered after takeoff is complete and continue until 2:30 p.m. The event’s title sponsor, Evan Williams Bourbon, will offer free tastings.
All activities will be at Cypress Bend Park (GPS help: 3463 Cypress Bend Drive, Many, LA 71449). There’s no admission charge, and free shuttles from parking areas will be provided.
The local hosts of the Elite event are the Sabine Parish Tourist Commission, Louisiana Office of Tourism, Sabine River Authority, Cypress Bend Resort, TanMar and other local businesses.
The Bassmasters on ESPN2 will feature the Toledo Bend event May 18 from 8 to 9 a.m. ET.