EVANS, Ga. — Forget the old saw that says catching a fish on the first cast is bad luck.
Mike McClelland, a compact and earnest 39-year-old from Bella Vista, Ark., bagged a 6½ pounder on his first cast of the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, and lurked near the top of the standings until sacking the biggest bag of the final day.
That 19-pound, 15-ounce limit — anchored by a bug-eyed 5-13 kicker — pushed him to 70-7 for the tournament, enough to come back against Chris Lane, who led the second and third days on Clarks Hill Lake.
"Today just all flowed," said McClelland, who now has two Elite Series wins in the past two seasons. "The good Lord blessed me today, that's all there is to it."
Lane, for his part, knew he was pushing his luck with the bag he brought to the stage.
Bites had been tough all week for the entire field, but not so scarce that he could feel safe with only a 5-pound lead.
Lane had feasted all week in the same secluded, shallow flat about an hour's run from the dock.
Though he didn't see another competitor's boat in his puddle all week, he felt he pounded the fish down himself. The big bite deserted him Sunday.
"I knew someone would have to catch a big bag to beat me," Lane said from the stage just before he weighed his fish. "And Mike did."
After his stringer failed him, Lane descended the stairs backstage, grabbed a bottle of water and headed straight for the portable toilet by the lake. It was a tough defeat — the second time in a year that a Day Three lead evaporated for him.
"I had a limit early and I culled all day," he said. "I just couldn't get them to get any bigger. There were still a lot of fish in my spot. I just think they had the serial numbers on my baits by the end of today."
McClelland moved more. He made a living this week by hitting clay points with some rocks in them, throwing a jig, and dragging it oh-so-slowly along the rocky bottom. That was how he sacked that first lunker 15 minutes into the tournament. That fish served as a reminder each day following that the fish were in no mood to chase baits.
"It allowed me to slow down and fish," he said. "I fish best when I fish slow."
McClelland said he was going to put the $100,000 first-place check toward a new house that he had told his wife they could afford to buy only if he won an event this season. McClelland's current home is on the market, by the way. Its only drawback: The garage is too small to suit a professional angler. The new pad has a standalone garage.
Pete Ponds (66-1), John Crews (61-1) and Derek Remitz (59-9) rounded out the top five. Skeet Reese padded his Angler of the Year-leading points total with a sixth-place finish.