HUDDLESTON, Va. — Second best was all Jason Williamson of Wagener, S.C., could manage at the Evan Williams Bourbon Blue Ridge Brawl on Smith Mountain Lake, but he was willing to accept that.
Skeet Reese was the class of the field in earning the victory. Williamson took second, 14 pounds and 9 ounces behind the winner.
"I came up a little bit short ... actually a whole bit short," said Williamson, who had a 11-10 stringer on Sunday to finish at 63-8. "Second place is fine with me. I'd like to win, but I fished a clean tournament — didn't lose any fish. So I can't complain."
Williamson had the biggest single-day stringer of the tournamment — 22-9 in the opening round — and led after the first two days. Reese took the lead after Day Three, primarily throwing swim baits. But Williamson stuck to sight fishing for spawners on shallow beds.
"After the first day of practice, I dedicated myself to sight fishing on those beds after I saw all of those fish up on the banks," Williamson said. "I gave my whole four days of the tournament to sight fishing. It's very rare that we go to a lake where you can make sight fishing last all four days."
Williamson briefly attempted to follow Reese's suit and go with the swim bait Sunday, but he opted to stick to the beds.
"I went out there this morning and got in that wind and starting flinging that swim bait,"he said. "I just didn't feel good about it. I said to myself, 'I haven't been fishing this way. I haven't been practicing this way. I don't know what to throw it around. I know I can go find five bedders.' So that's what I did."
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., wound up tied for ninth on Sunday. Add to that third- and 16th-place finishes in the season's first two events, and he remains one of the hottest fishermen in the Bassmaster Elite Series.
"When everything's going right, it tends to take the pressure off you," said Hackney, who had an 11-7 stringer Sunday for a total tournament weight of 57-8. "Then you don't make any sudden movements and everything is well thought out."
Hackney said his chief goal for the season is to qualify for next season's Bassmaster Classic, which will be held on the Lousiana Delta near New Orleans.
"Next year, the Classic is going to be about 50 minutes from my house," he said. "My main objective is to be there. Everything beyond that is just icing on the cake."
Marty Reed jumped into fifth place Sunday, thanks mostly to a troublesome 5-12 lunker.
"It took me about two hours to bring it in," said Reed, whose 13-7 total from Sunday gave him 61-2 for the tournament. "I caught the male fairly quickly and she got to where she would stay, but she wouldn't bite. I threw a jig, a Wooly Booger, every thing ... and she would react to them. So you knew you would eventually catch her, but I didn't know if I was going to run out of clock."
Reed's persistence finally paid off.
"Finally at about 3 o'clock, I picked up a drop shot on eight-pound line with a little bitty bait with a size 1 hook and she bit it," he said. "But wouldn't you know it, she was right between two trees. But then she actually swam out to open water, and I was grateful."
Reed's struggle capsulized the entire tournament for many anglers. Almost every fisherman had stories of spending large amounts of time attempting to entice large females off the beds without success.
"I've got one fish out here that's cost me about six hours in four days," Reed said. "I haven't caught it yet."
Ish Monroe of Hughson, Calif., came into Sunday's final round in 12th place and only moved up one spot with his 10-11 stringer.
But Monroe said he was not discouraged, adding that fishing on Sunday was a step in a progression toward bigger and better things.
"I just wanted to start cashing checks again," said Monroe, who finished 49th and 75th in the opening two events of the Bassmaster Elite Series season. "When you start cashing checks, you start moving up in the standings. You move up in the standings, you start making Classic. You start making Classics, then you give yourself an opportunity to win Classics. And when you win Classics, then you're moving toward something very special."
Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., was another angler who was fishing on Sunday for the first time this season.
He finished in a tie for ninth place with Greg Hackney in the final standings, but that did not diminish his humor on the weigh-in stage.
"I like being here on Sunday," said Swindle, who finished 55th and 51st in the season's first two events. "It's a whole lot better than driving back home, eating doughnuts, drinking Red Bull and thinking about how everybody kicked your butt."
Swindle's Sunday stringer of 12-6 gave him a tournament total of 57-8. Like most anglers in the tournament, he spent the week trying to finesse stubborn bass from their spawning beds.
"They need to get a 55-gallon drum of Xanax and it dump it in the water up here," Swindle said, "because those fish are paranoid."
"Those swim baits ... I'm going to drag those things behind my truck all the way home. I can't catch anything with those things
-- Gerald Swindel
"These fish were freaky today."
"I knew it can be a grind here and you're never guaranteed to catch them. So I never felt comfortable, even until the end."
— Skeet Reese