It was only two ounces, the closest Elite Series event to date. But it was one Alton Jones won't forget. Minutes before he weighed in his final stringer on the final day of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Southern Challenge on Lake Guntersville, Bassmaster.com asked Jones to detail his practice and tournament.
This is his story with his exact words.
"I fished a tournament on Lake Wheeler last year in May. I had gotten on some fish on the main river, actually out in the river channel itself where it breaks off from about 7-feet to 15-feet. It was an early bite and I was catching them on a ¾-ounce Booyah Blade Single Willow Leaf spinnerbait. The problem is that by the time you ran all the way up the river and locked through, the early bite was over
"Since I found out we were coming to Guntersville in late April, I've had that in the back of my mind. I thought, 'It's probably a little early for them but the fish might be out there.' So that is the first place I went on the first morning of practice. I fished the area thoroughly and they were not there.
"After discovering this I had to change my plan and basically put together a spawning bass pattern. Some sight-fishing, but mainly blind casting in spawning areas and fishing a little deeper than where you could actually see the bass.
"I was pretty excited about that (pattern) the rest of practice day one and all of day two. I had enough confidence in this that at the end of day three I decided to go back to the place I found them last year and check to see if they had come in. My son and I went out there and it was game on.
"I had 18-pounds in six casts. I mean it was whack, whack, whack! They had got there somewhere between the first and third day of practice. So I knew I was going to start there.
"The first day I caught four off of the area, including my two biggest ones. I caught all of my keepers that morning on the ¾-ounce Booyah spinnerbait. Then I went fishing for spawners the rest of the day. For these, I was using a Texas-rigged green pumpkin 6-inch YUM Dinger on a 1/8-ounce weight and 20-pound test Silver Thread fluorocarbon. I was putting the weight on it so I could get it down quicker in those areas where the deeper beds were. I culled a few times looking for spawners. I caught a 4-pounder and a couple of 3-pounders so I ended up with 20-pounds for the day.
"The second day I went back to my ledge and caught another 20-pounds off of it. I caught my full limit out there this day. I caught some on the spinnerbait, but my biggest fish came on a prototype Booyah Bait called a Boogie Bait. This is basically just a swimming jig with a bill on it, a metal lip. Two of the fish I weighed in that day I caught on the Boogie Bait.
"Yesterday I went out there and for some reason after the (weather) front we got, the fish were missing (the bait), slapping at it, and swimming up behind it and chasing it. I ended up catching one keeper out there and lost one between six and seven pounds.
"At about 10:30 I only had one fish in the livewell. So I went back to my spawning fish area and ended up weighing in 13-pounds, 3-ounces after my dead fish penalty. I had two of my fish that ate the YUM Dinger so deep they were bleeding and I couldn't save them. That ended up costing me 12-ounces right there.
"Today, I went back out to my main river ledge and they were crushing the spinnerbait early. They repositioned a little bit, instead of being in the grass they dropped off in the deeper edge. I had to bring my spinnerbait off the edge and let it go down in that 12 to 15-foot of water range. Once I figured that out, I clocked them out there for about an hour.
"Just like every other day, when that early bite quits, it quits. I tried to stay with it, but I could never get a strike. Finally at about 1-o'clock I decided to leave and go do some other things. I fished for some spawning fish and caught a keeper.
"Right on the way in with about 10 minutes left, I pulled up on a deep main-lake ridge where I'm sitting the boat in 34 (feet) and casting to 18 (feet) with a big Number 7 Fat Free Shad. I caught two white bass in a row and on the third cast I threw out there I said, 'Man this is a big one if it's a bass.' Sure enough I saw that line come up and it was a 7-pounder. She jumped one time and threw that Fat Free right back at me. And then it was time to come in.
"Each day of the tournament I lost the biggest fish I hooked. It would be a miracle to win having that kind of fortune. If I end up second or third I have no regrets, I've given it all I can. I would like to end this with one of my favorite passages from the Bible, Proverbs 16:11, 'Honest scales and balances are from the Lord, all the weights in the bag are of his making.'"