PRATTVILLE, Ala. — As he waited to weigh in his fish Sunday during the final day of the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship, Mike McClelland worried that he didn't have enough weight to maintain the lead he held since this event began Thursday on the Alabama River.
Turns out his hand wringing wasn't necessary.
McClelland, who hails from Bella Vista, Arkansas, went wire-to-wire to claim his first Bassmaster victory since 1996. He caught a limit of fish each day with a four-day weight totaling 46 pounds, 9 ounces. He earned a berth in the 2006 Bassmaster Classic by finishing in the top five in the Open Championship and collected $80,000 in cash and prizes for the win.
Rick Morris of Lanexa, Virginia finished second with a four-day total of 44-14. Chad Brauer of Osage Beach, Missouri placed third with 41-15, Randy Howell of nearby Springville, Alabama was fourth with 41-3 and Mark Menendez of Paducah, Kentucky was fifth with 30-9.
Each of the five anglers who fished Sunday earned spots in the Classic, which will be held in February in Kissimmee, Florida.
McClelland landed a 7-pound, 8-ounce bag on Sunday — the fourth consecutive day that he brought in a progressively lighter bag of fish. But the 2-pound, 9-ounce advantage he brought into the final day was enough for the victory. His first day total of 17 pounds, 12 ounces propelled him into the lead and consistency from his selected fishing spot less than one mile from the launch kept him ahead.
A slow current and slow bite on Sunday kept the other four anglers from catching McClelland.
"We just didn't have the quality bites today," McClelland said. "And I kind of expected that. We haven't had current for two days, nothing to push these fish around. But I actually caught the fish I'm weighing today in the same trees I caught my 17 pounds in on Thursday. I actually haven't gone more than five miles the whole tournament."
McClelland also fished on the Alabama River and in Cooter's Pond close to the launch site. He flipped jigs on the river and used a variety of worms, jigs and buzzbaits in other places.
Earlier Sunday, McClelland said he felt he would need at least 12 pounds to fend off his competitors. That wasn't the case, however, because his chief competitors also struggled to find big fish. Morris, who was in second place coming into Sunday's action, caught an 8-pound, 6-ounce sack and Brauer weighed in 7 pounds.
The biggest catch of the day came from Howell, who landed 12 pounds, 5 ounces.
That no one was able to make a closer run for the championship surprised McClelland.
"It really did surprise me," he said. "I thought today would be a good fishing day. We had wind, we had clouds in and out. And typically those days are good fishing days. I really expected some guys to bust a good sack or two ... It kind of shocked me, because I thought I needed 10 to 12 minimum to stay where I was."
Morris came the closest to surpassing McClelland. He said he missed a couple of sizable fish on the Tallapoosa River Sunday — fish that could have vaulted him to the title. He only weighed in four fish, however, and had to settle for second. He did have a spot that weighed in at 5-1.
"I had another grab the tail of my jig and ripped it off," Morris said. "I had a buzzbait bite and I missed it. I missed all kinds of stuff. I missed three or four fish and I caught four."
Brauer, who was fishing backwater areas less susceptible to shifts in current, was touted by his fellow anglers as someone to watch on Sunday. But Brauer said he felt he may have overfished the spot that proved productive the first three days.
"I think I just caught all the fish out of the area," Brauer said. "There were no bites."
Howell caught his biggest fish near a boat dock at a nearby golf course.
"One of the amateurs, a friend of mine, said he caught fish off it in practice," Howell said. "That made me think fish could be on it. So I went ahead and hit it."
Howell tied Morris with the biggest bass of the day at 5-1.
Menendez finished with three fish on Sunday that weighed in at 3 pounds.