EVANS, Ga. — The stars were perfectly aligned for Jason Williamson heading into the final day of the Pride of Georgia on Clarks Hill Lake.
His sisters performed the National Anthem prior to the weigh-in and the crowd was filled with family, friends and fishing buddies who he had smoked in years past at local tournaments. But the Wagener, S.C., rising pro couldn't get the fish to bite.
Sunday, he made a long trek upriver to a spot that produced for him in the past both monetarily — he has won boats in numerous local tournaments relying on the area — and in piscatorial terms — he dredged up a 7-12 brute Saturday, the biggest bass of the tournament.
But the current wasn't running on the sprawling reservoir and Williamson couldn't buy a bite. Showing a veteran's poise, Williamson dug deep into his vast local knowledge bank and decided to downsize from the Buckeye mop jig he primarily worked the first three days of competition. He tied on a shaky head worm and was able to scratch out a quick limit ultimately weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces, upgrading his total to 53 pounds, 6 ounces.
It was enough, albeit barely, to best Elite rookie Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La., by 2 ounces and take home the $100,000 top prize
"Words can't describe how it feels to win in front of these folks," said Williamson, who jumped wildly in celebration when he results were finalized. "I won a lot of money from that spot but I just couldn't get anything started today (Sunday). I wish I hadn't run up there but I just had to go. I was regretting it all day."
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Pride of Georgia on The Bassmasters, which airs Sunday, June 6, at 10:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
Although the shaky worm rig carried the day Sunday, the Buckeye mop jig was the key to the victory. Saturday, Williamson built enough of a cushion — more than 4 pounds — that he was able to withstand a stumble. His 19 pounds, 2 ounces, Saturday was the biggest limit of the tournament and the 7-12 brute was the biggest bass caught this week.
With skyrocketing temperatures, Williamson knew that the north end of the lake would hold the bigger fish. He settled on his specific area because it was 5 degrees cooler than the rest of the reservoir. He was working flat points filled with rock and crawdads. The bass were still feeding on the tail end of the blueback herring spawn in those areas and were extremely active when current was being pulled.
A relative unknown when he first qualified for the Elite Series, Williamson is proving he is a force to be reckoned with. The victory is Williamson's second in Elite competition and he also scored a second-place finish earlier this year on Smith Mountain Lake.
Still, it's been a roller-coaster ride of a season for Williamson as he paired three missed cuts with his two stellar performances. His lack of consistency hasn't hampered him too much, however. After this week, he is 24th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, and comfortably in position to qualify for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
Crochet was absolutely floored. The Elite rookie got his first taste of contention and he thought he had the victory. The Assumption Parish (La.) sherrif's deputy worked a Spro bronzeye poppin' frog in the shallows and exhibited the most consistency in the field over the course of four days.
He toted 11-11 to the scales Sunday and for a moment, it appeared all the hard work he had put in fishing tournaments at the Federation Nation and Bassmaster Open level had paid off. But ultimately, it wasn't enough.
"That's the nature of the beast," said Crochet, who was still shaking minutes after the result had been decided. "I'm wrecked right now but if you look at the big picture, I'm fishing against the best in the world and I'm loving it."
Crochet lost a fish that he estimated to be 2 to 3 pounds that would have put him over the top. The silver lining for Crochet is that he moved up to 36th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. That puts him on top of the Rookie of the Year standings and in the last qualifying position for the 2011 Classic with two regular-season tournaments remaining.
As the Elite regular-season winds down, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., still holds a comfortable lead in the AOY standings despite a 58th place stinker this week. Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., was able to close the gap on Reese a bit but still remains a distant second, more than 175 points off the pace.
Rounding out the top five this week was Terry Scroggins of Palatka, Fla., in third with 48-9. Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas, made a big move Sunday, moving up 8 places from 12th to take fourth with 47-13. Two-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas, finished fifth with 43-11.
Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., the other local favorite, finished seventh.
Along with the top prize of $100,000, the Pride of Georgia awarded valuable points in the 2010 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. The top 12 pros in the AOY standings at the end of the regular season will advance to the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series postseason, in which the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year will be determined. The top 36 will qualify for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
Up next for Elite pros is the June 9-12 Tennessee Triumph on Kentucky Lake out of Paris, Tenn.