Minutes before Preston Clark weighed in his final-day stringer in the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Showdown on Santee Cooper, Bassmaster.com asked him to give us a blow-by-blow description of the week's fishing.
This is Clark's word-for-word, fishing story:
"I fished in the same area all four days. I was using a Zoom Critter Crawl the entire tournament, old reliable. Standard issue, everybody should have one. I was fishing in four or five pockets. I don't know if they were flooded rice fields or what, but there were little levees around them. There were pads and I don't know what kind of grass it was, but it was almost like the "mean green" we have down in Florida. That was basically all the vegetation that was in there.
"That was the first area of water to warm up. I had a horrible practice, two fish that weighed about a pound and a half each. The last day I went back into these pockets and saw the fish were bedding in there. So I pulled out my Bassmaster Magazine and read about where Kelly (Jordon) won here two years ago and the weather, moon, time of year, everything was lining up exactly like that tournament. He said that the day before the tournament he saw the fish really start moving in.
"I went back on Wednesday to where I had seen some of those little beds and I went through this little ditch to get in there. It was amazing. There were 4- and 5-pounders ahead of the boat just coming in. I went in there and every bed was clean and had about a 2-pound buck on it and I said to myself, 'the girls are on their way.' I kept going around and found a six and two right at nine pounds, one was 9-2 and the other was 8-15. I found them on the bed and marked where they were and those were going to be my starting fish.
"I went the first day and it was first pitch, bam, second pitch, bam, third pitch, bam! I put all three of those fish in the boat. From there I went ahead and finished out and caught my limit. I came across a couple of nicer fish and kept culling up until I had almost 40 pounds.
"It was a great day. Days like that don't come along all the time. There's probably been a few times I might have been able to do that just practicing, but in a tournament it was a dream. I've had two great tournaments in the last two months.
"Who would think you could almost weigh in a 30-pound bag at the Classic with an 11 pound, 10 ounce fish to go with it? And then come to a place you've never been in your life, and on the fourth day you've ever been on that water weigh in a five-fish limit close to 40 pounds. It's crazy.
"The second day, I had one good fish that I had marked on the first day. She was about eight and a half pounds and I went straight to her first thing in the
morning. She hit on my third flip and I put her in the boat, and I said, 'okay, here we go again.'
"I went around and finished my limit by 8:30 in the morning. I culled up maybe seven or eight pounds and came in with 29 pounds for the day. That day, I knew my stuff was getting beat up because I had some locals in there that were whacking them. Peter T (Thliveros) had pulled a couple of good stringers from there too so the boat pressure was on the fish.
"I went from there and started watching the water temperature. It started back in the pockets and finally hit the magic number, which I think is 62 1/2 (degrees). I said, 'well, the temperature has got to be moving toward the main lake.' So I went out there and started looking for some Cyprus trees, and I found a stretch that was 100 yards long that was loaded with fish. I mean loaded with them. So I was excited about going there on Day Three.
"I had some unfortunate things happen to me on the third day. My trolling motor broke on the ride over; it was stuck on high. Not to mention the wind was blowing straight into my shore and there was no way I could anchor and fish for anything. I went back to them on the last day and I guess the wind had pushed them out of there. I wound up with right at a 24-pound bag on the third day.
"On the last day I had some really good fish marked, two eights, a seven, and a ten. I go to them and I started pitching in there for the first one, which I though was an eight. I never looked for her and never saw her; I just backed up and started pitching to where I thought she was.
"It was maybe 15 casts and then she hit it and I put her in the boat. She ended up actually being a 6-pounder. I went over and caught a four and then caught another four and another, and then it died at about 8 o'clock that morning.
"I had four fish and for some reason I couldn't get my fifth fish. Finally I caught my fifth one, but it was so close to the record it was too close to call. I decided that I needed to cull one of my fish so I started looking, looking, and looking. I found a new one, and I said to myself, 'that fish there will go about ten.' Well, she wasn't a ten but she did end up going eight pounds and I caught her. I usually don't get too excited, but I got pumped then because I knew that was the record.