DECATUR, Ala. — Chris Payne of West Blocton, Ala., took home $45,000 as the wire-to-wire winner of the 2009 Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Oakley on Alabama's Wheeler Lake. Payne accumulated 45 pounds, 8 ounces over three days and closed Saturday with a chatterbait pattern to hold off Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Menendez, of Paducah, Ky., who totaled 41-6.
"This is unbelievable," Payne said as he raised the trophy for his first BASS win. "I was really nervous about Mark (Menendez) being right behind me, but it feels great to get the win."
Payne says he owes his success in part to a friend, Chad Hall.
"I was outrun by another Triton — my friend Chad Hall — and when we got to the idle zone, he told me I could pass him and go fish first as we were fishing the same area."
Payne knew was not unfamiliar with Mark Menendez, and counts Mark as a friend.
"I've roomed with Mark before as a co-angler, and he even helped me out with some baits," Payne recalls. "It was really special being able to compete against him that closely."
Payne relied on a 5/8-ounce chartreuse and white Chatterbait for most of his bites. He said he burned it as fast as he could to get a reaction strike. A Zara Spook played a lesser role Thursday and Friday as the fish seemed to want a sub-surface lure. Payne also boated a few fish by swimming a jig.
Payne says he will reinvest some of the $45,000 back into his fishing career, but will use a good portion to buy a moving truck for the moving company he recently started, Motivated Movers.
Menendez, who scored a victory on an Elite Series event on Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle in March, says he had the fish on to win, but he fell short in his execution.
"I had enough to win it, but they came unbuttoned," he said. "I struggled all day. By noon, I only had two pounds. Later on I pulled up on this little place and lost a two- and a two-and-a-half- pounder, but got the rest of my fish."
Menendez thought he'd try the spot he bagged 17 pounds from the day before, but it was unfishable. Overnight rains had muddied the river and raised it substantially. Menendez continued his Friday pattern into Saturday, primarily working a Strike King Series 6 crankbait in Sexy Shad Lollipop. Menendez also caught deeper fish on a Carolina rigged Strike King Rage Craw.
"Any time you can bring five fish to the weigh-in, it's a good day," he said. "But today, it just wasn't my time to win."
Mark McCaig of Oxford, Ala., finished third with a three-day total of 40 pounds, 12 ounces, while Elite Series pro Peter Thliveros of St. Augustine, Fla., brought in Saturday's biggest limit (16-4) and jumped to fourth with 40-12. Elite Series pro and San Mateo, Fla., native Terry Scroggins was fifth with 38-13.
Jeff Sullivan of Frostproof, Fla., won the co-angler division with 32 pounds, 10 ounces. For his efforts he was awarded a Triton/Mercury package valued at $32,000. Sullivan said a Zoom Ultravibe Craw in green pumpkin and a 1/2-ounce Gambler football jig accounted for all of his fish over three days. The jig was tipped with a Gambler Flappy Daddy craw.
Finishing second was Robert Moodie of Tuscaloosa, Ala., with 29 pounds, 2 ounces, Barry Pavia of Fruitland Park, Fla., landed in third with 29-0.
The next stop in the Bassmaster Southern Opens is Santee Cooper Reservoir in Manning, S.C., October 19-21. That event will mark the close of the Southern Opens and will determine the top two points finishes who will advance to the 2010 Bassmaster Classic.
In the co-angler division, Barry Pavia of Fruitland Park, Fla., landed 14 pounds, 2 ounces and holds the lead over Ed Paul of Alabaster, Ala., who had 11 pounds, 10 ounces. Clint Sterling of Winter Garden, Fla., was third with 11-2.