PARIS, Tenn. — Aaron Johnson of Bossier City, La., walked away Saturday from the Bassmaster Central Open on Kentucky and Barkley lakes in Tennessee with a win at 47 pounds, 14 ounces, and enough points to give him a clean shot at one of the Open's tickets to the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.
Competing this year at the Open level for the first time, Johnson shot past two-day leader Jerry Williams of Conway, Ark., who missed his first BASS win by 2 pounds, 10 ounces after 35 years of trying; he's been fishing BASS events since 1973, including that year's Bassmaster Classic.
Williams, however, earned enough points to move into the lead in the points race to hopefully qualify for the Classic.
Johnson claimed the $42,429 first prize and catapulted from 25th into second place in the race to qualify for the Feb. 20-22 Classic out of his hometown, Shreveport-Bossier City, La., and on his home water, the Red River.
Billy McCaghren Jr. of Mayflower, Ark., who won the season's first event, dropped from first to third in points. Homer Humphreys of Minden, La., slipped back two ticks, to fourth.
The Classic berths will be awarded after the season's final event, Oct. 30-Nov. 1 on Lake Texoma out of Denison, Texas. The top 10 in the points standings will be invited to join the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series, the highest level of BASS competition.
Johnson was ninth after the first day with 15-8, then started the final day in fifth place, behind Williams by about 2 pounds. He made up the difference with a 15-11 bag, while Williams' primary spot dried up.
"I thought I would have to catch 17 to 18 pounds to have an opportunity to win. I really didn't think the fish I had today were as big as they were. I'm really shocked," said Johnson, 35, manager for a Web-based payroll service company.
Johnson said he stayed on Kentucky Lake to collect his three five-fish limits, rotating between two shallow, grassy areas west of the main river channel, about 20 miles south of the Paris Landing launch area. The water depth was 3 to 4 feet.
"I caught all of my fish, except for two late ones, on a Reaction Innovations' Sweat Beaver, the California 420 and Okeechobee Craw colors. It was completely a reaction bite in the grass. I was fishing 50-pound Sufix braid with a 1-ounce tungsten weight and 4/0 straight-shank hook.
"I pitched that 1-ounce weight with the Beaver for three days, plus four practice days. I'd flip it through the mats, and they'd hit it on the fall.
"The turning point of the whole event for me was on the first day, when I caught a 6-pounder at 1:30 — I had to be back in by 2:30 — and realized I had to stick with that pattern."
Williams said he was on "one little, bitty school of fish," just around the corner from the launch site.
"I know what when wrong: I caught them all. I didn't lose any, but after that was over with, I went to my backup areas, and they were dry. The water was falling 4 inches a day and I didn't realize it. Then I went to boat docks within 10 miles."
His primary lures were a white Strike King 1/4-ounce spinnerbait and a Chatterbait.
The $1,000 Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament bonus went to Billy Hurt of Spring Creek, Tenn., for his Day 1 bass of 6-14. Saturday's $1,000 Purolator Big Bass prize was claimed by Paul Ferguson of Whitehouse, Texas with a 6-3 largemouth.
The co-angler division win was taken by Kirk Smith of Edmond, Okla., with a three-day total of 38 pound, 1 ounce, more than 5 pounds ahead of his nearest challenger. His prize was a Skeeter/Yamaha boat rig valued at $32,000.
"I had all these pre-conceived notions of fishing this lake. All that went out the window on Day 1, when I saw how well the FishTek jig in a watermelon color worked," said Smith, who owns a home-building business. "I lucked out to be paired three days a row with pros who were fishing shallow. For me, the shallower, the better."
The others in the top five in the co-angler competition were Mac McDaniel of Roxie, Miss., in second place with 32-11; James Smiley of Irvine, Calif., finishing third with 29-12; Ryan Scott of Beaver Dam, Ky., fourth with 29-2; and Travis Gray of Princeton, Loa., fifth with 28-9.
The Purolator Big Bass award of the day in the co-angler division was taken with a 5-3 weighed-in by Brad Morley of Springville, Tenn. He earned a $300 bonus.