Skunked for luck, Alexander wins first WBT title

Back-to-back catches in grass seals event on Lake Maumelle

Paula Alexander

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Two big bass taken on back-to-back casts into Lake Maumelle grass sealed the deal Saturday for Paula Alexander in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Women's Bassmaster Tour event on Lake Maumelle.

The Lincolnton, Ga., pro took her first BASS career win with 27 pounds, 5 ounces, to take the top prize of a $55,000 Skeeter/Yamaha boat rig. Starting the final day in fourth place, she easily cleared her nearest challenger, Secret York of Benton, Ky., by 5 pounds, 11 ounces.

York, the Day One leader, finished in second with 21-10, and Lisa Sternard of Clarksville, Tenn., finished third with 21-8.

Alexander's winning pattern was hitting grass in 4 to 6 feet of water on secondary points. She said she had three primary spots.

As she weighed in her winning limit, Alexander told three stories of good luck. Two involved encounters with skunks on the highway, nose-jarring incidents she took as good omens. The other story was about stumbling onto one shopworn pack of smoke-purple worms she then used to take many of her keepers.

But on Saturday, the purple worm bite fell off, so she turned to a finesse creature bait in a bullfrog finish, a lure one of her co-anglers had used. It was about noon, and she had just two small fish in her livewell.

"On the first cast, I threw to about 4 feet of water, felt it hit, and knew it was a toad," she said. "It came off in the net — I guess I didn't stick it good. My hands were shaking so hard I could hardly tie on again. I threw again to the same spot, and the rod doubled-up again. I know everyone on that 9,000-acre lake heard me yelling after that."

Another cast completed her five-fish limit and she was done for the day.

York worked shallow grass early each day, then moved to an underwater ledge as the sun rose higher. She repeated those two patterns all week.

"I really thought there would be bigger fish deep today," she said. "Yesterday, about every third cast I could catch a fish on my crankbait. I even had several chasing the crankbait at the same time. They just shut down today — there was a full moon last night and I think they fed all last night."

The results of the Maumelle event tightened up the points spread in the Toyota Tundra Women's Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year race. Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., still leads, but only by 9 points over Juanita Robinson of Highlands, Texas. Martin-Wells finished eighth in Arkansas to Robinson's fourth.

The winner of the season-long points competition will get a Toyota Tundra and an entry into the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala.

"I'm eyeing the championship and working hard again this year to get there," Robinson said. "I'm not letting myself hope for AOY and the Classic as much as I did last year. It really dug into me last year and I had a rough winter with medical issues after it was all over. This season, I just decided I'd come out and do the best I can and hopefully it will pay off."

In 2008, Robinson lost out on the AOY title by 60 points. Kim Bain-Moore of Alabaster, Ala., won and became the first woman to compete in a Bassmaster Classic.

In the co-angler division at the Maumelle tournament, Martha Goodfellow of Simpsonville, S.C., won the first-place prize of a $25,000 Triton/Mercury boat rig. Goodfellow, who is fishing the WBT for the first time this season, had 17 pounds, 11 ounces through three days.

A lifelong angler, Goodfellow said she has fished all over the country, and competes in local team tournaments with her husband. Maumelle, though, was a challenge.

"I don't have much experience with lakes with weeds and ledges, so I learned a lot this week," she said.

Day Two leader Diane Smith of Fayetteville, Ga., finished in second place with 15-4. A 2006 WBT co-angler champion, Bonnie Ward of Snohomish, Wash., was third with 11-13.

Next up for the WBT will be Sept. 10-12 at Old Hickory Lake out of Hendersonville, Tenn. After that event, the top 20 pros and top 20 co-anglers in the standings will advance to the Academy Sports + Outdoors WBT Championship, Oct. 16-18 on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La. The one Classic qualifier will emerge from the championship.