LAGRANGE, Ga. — The most impressive aspect of Sunday's final day was the big crowd that showed up in the mud at Pyne Road Park. For the first time in four days, the sun was shining during the Bassmaster Elite Series West Point Lake Battle.
But when yet another downpour erupted during the weigh-in, no one moved. And when Skeet Reese brought 15 pounds, 4 ounces to the scales, then took his place on the "hot seat" as the tournament's leader, he didn't hesitate to assume that spot on an uncovered section of the stage.
"If these people are going to stick around in this (weather), I don't mind," said Reese, and instantly became the crowd favorite.
Six of the final 12 remained backstage, and all had come into the day with a higher three-day total that Reese. The pouring rain just added to the drama.
When the popular 43-year-old Reese withstood those final challenges and was awarded the trophy, it seemed he'd doubly paid his dues, for both sitting in the rain and enduring a three-year wait between Elite Series victories.
Fittingly, the sun came out again before Reese was handed the trophy. He finished with a four-day total of 44 pounds, 6 ounces, exactly 2 pounds more than second-place Aaron Martens.
"It feels real good," Reese said. "I honestly didn't know if I could catch a fish out here – every day."
And that's just it – nobody figured out any kind of consistent fish-catching pattern on this 26,000-acre Chattahoochie River impoundment located on the Georgia-Alabama border.
"My best advice is, if you catch 'em in one spot one day, don't go back there the next," said Todd Faircloth, who finished fifth with 39-1. Faircloth weighed 15-9 Saturday to make the Top 12 cut, then managed only four bass weighing 7-0 Sunday.
That's why Reese felt no confidence at any time last week. But he adapted, survived and finally thrived. If Jason Christie hadn't set an Elite Series record with his 11th place comeback at Bull Shoals, Reese would have topped the long-standing previous mark of sixth-to-first, set by Kevin Short in 2009.
"I thought I'd have a chance to win this tournament on a swimbait," Reese said. "But I couldn't get a bite on a swimbait. I just kept an open mind and went fishing."
It was the sunshine that prevailed during competition Sunday that finally gave Reese an advantage to exploit. The area past Highland Marina in Perch Creek had been full of big bass on spawning beds when the water temperature was 70 degrees during practice.
When the rain started, the lake level rose and water temperatures cooled into the mid 60s, those spawning fish became practically invisible for the first three days of the tournament. And all the anglers who had been concentrating in this area left frustrated.