JASPER, Texas — Texas' Stephen Johnston had to abandon his preferred pattern during the second day of the Bassmaster Central Open on Sam Rayburn Reservoir after thick clouds moved in, but he was excited when he awoke for the last day of competition to see the predicted cloud cover breaking.
"When I woke up there was moon and stars shining, and I was smiling," Johnston said.
When the scales settled the local guide had clinched his first Bassmaster victory with a three-day total of 57 pounds, 5 ounces.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Todd Faircloth moved up one spot to claim the second-place check with a 47-pound total, and Texas' Kris Wilson moved up from sixth place to third on the strength of a 46-14 total.
Rounding out the top five were Texas anglers Landon Ware (42-14) and Todd Castledine (42-4).
Johnston said he needed the bright sunlight to drive fish back to a few bare ridges from which he snatched a first-day weight of 22 pounds, and it worked out perfectly.
"I had a game plan this morning that I was going to stay deep and make them bite," he said.
His limits on the first and third days came from the same set of three bare ridges, on which he flipped Texas-rigged Grande Bass Mega Tail worms and ½-ounce Falcon Lures football head jigs.
"What was happening was early in the morning the shad would come up and feed on the tops of those bare ridges, and the bass would follow them," Johnston said. "I was sitting in the deep water and casting on top of the ridge, and I was just hopping the baits over the edge of those ridges."
Johnston went into the last day with a comfortable 8-pound cushion, and was helped when the bite turned tough for his nearest competitors.
"Used to on this lake the fish would get on the edge of a grass bed, and when you found one there'd be five or six right there," said Faircloth, who cut his tournament teeth on Rayburn. "Now, it's like there's just one bite here and there."
Also on the line for Central Open pros are two Bassmaster Classic spots, with the top anglers in points claiming those cherished berths after the final event on Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin in November.
Going into the final Central Open event, Castledine is leading the points race with 570 points, but nipping at his heels is Bassmaster Elite Series pro James Niggemeyer. However, only one point separates the two anglers, and there is only a 36-point spread between Castledine and fifth-place Faircloth.
On the co-angler side of the Rayburn event, Louisiana's William Loftin pushed ahead of the competition with a three-day total of 26 pounds, 5 ounces.
"I watched my pro every day — where they threw and what they threw," Loftin said. "I always tried to do something different, throwing in different areas and covering water with different presentations."
It didn't hurt that his final-day limit was anchored by a fish weighing 9-1.
For his efforts, Loftin earned a won a Triton/Mercury boat package valued at $32,000.
"Right now, I'm just shaking," he said.
Colorado's Michael Hubbard, the second-day co-angler leader, dropped to second with 24-10, while Bobby Lanham of Arizona claimed third with 24-8.
The last stop on the 2009 Central Open trail is Nov. 5-7 on Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin.