Though he didn't finish among the leaders in the last two Bassmaster Elites Series tournaments, Kelly Jordon played a big role in both titles. Though he's only 41-years-old, Jordon has established a reputation as an innovator. Call it the KJ factor.
At Tennessee's Douglas Lake Challenge, it was the long-lining crankbait technique employed by winner Jeremy Starks and several other top finishers that grabbed the headlines. Jordon called it "strolling" when it was widely publicized after he led his teammates to victory in the 2008 Texas Bass Classic.
Last week at the Toledo Bend Battle, one of winner Brent Chapman's main weapons was a big spoon, like the Lake Fork Tackle Flutter Spoon that Jordon popularized in an "Ultimate Match Fishing" TV show on Kentucky Lake a few years back.
"It's the thing Kelly Jordon kind of made famous," said Chapman of the spoon, after collecting a $100,000 check Sunday. "It's a bait I've really fallen in love with the last few years when it comes to this time of year and fishing deep."
Jordon's reputation will always be topped by his ability to spin a fishing yarn. (Just ask him about the bass he hooked several years ago – the one that snapped his rod and ripped his reel off the rod handle – then get ready to be entertained for a while.) But the former Lake Fork fishing guide from Mineola, Texas, also deserves mention among modern bass fishing trailblazers.
A Spoonful of Success
Chapman was straightforward when asked to describe the spoon that was a key in his victory at Toledo Bend.
"I got it at Mark's Outdoors in Birmingham (Ala.)," he said. "There are no packages. They are just hanging on the rack."
Chapman wasn't even certain about the spoon's dimensions, noting that it was "silver, about an ounce, ounce-and-a-quarter, about five inches long."
He was quite certain about some modifications he made to it, adding two split rings and a 2/0 Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp treble hook to the back.
"I only lost one fish the entire week on it," Chapman said. "It's a big hook. It's got awesome barbs. It was just an amazing deal."
Most amazing of all was Chapman's ability to work it through the standing timber that dominates Toledo Bend Reservoir without losing a drawer-full of spoons. Chapman got hung frequently, but the lure works like a built-in plug-knocker: A few shakes of the rod tip allow the weight of the spoon to pull the treble hook from any obstructions.
"I think I lost one spoon the entire week, between practice and the tournament," Chapman said. "You can throw it in that timber, and you'd be really surprised about how well you can get it through there."
He was casting it on 20-pound test Gama fluorocarbon line.
Chapman Takes Lesson From Douglas
The Douglas Lake Challenge presented just that for Chapman – a challenge, and one he didn't handle particularly well. In the five Elite Series tournaments this year, the 39-year-old Lake Quivera, Kan., angler's record is as follows:
St. John's River – 4th
Lake Okeechobee – 5th
Bull Shoals Lake – 5th
Douglas Lake – 68th
Toledo Bend – 1st
"I learned a lot at Douglas," Chapman said Sunday. "I kind of got my rear end kicked there. I learned a lot about how deep to fish, and also about relying on your electronics."
With a choice, Chapman prefers fishing shallow. After a shallow pattern didn't produce at Douglas Lake, he was determined not to fail in that manner again. Chapman found some big bass schools hovering near the thermocline, which was about 30 feet deep, during practice at Toledo Bend.
He began the three-day practice period with a special chip for his Lowrance electronics that local bass fishing legend Tommy Martin has produced; it shows submerged roadbeds and bridges that don't appear on the Navionics electronic map of Toledo Bend.
"I started running that (pattern) in practice," he said. "I kind of exhausted all I could look for. I was running down the lake when I saw this point the day before the tournament. I decided to pull up on it and try it. It was the only spot I had that wasn't a road bed."
That spot produced most of Chapman's four-day total of 83 pounds, 9 ounces. He caught 25-8 on Day Two, when he jumped from 11th place into the lead and was catching bass on almost every cast.
"It was just a textbook point – a main lake point that fed from Negreet Creek," Chapman said. "It's literally the last point these fish can go (before the main lake channel). It's the end of the line for them, so they set up there and ambush the shad."
After an unbelievable day Friday, Chapman experienced several hours of frustration there the last two days. Other than a few brief flurries, the point didn't provide the all-day-long excitement it did on Day Two.
"You should have been here yesterday," Chapman said to one observer Saturday, after a couple hours without a bite. He started moving around the lake to find more active fish.
Chapman's lead was only 1 pound, 5 ounces over second-place Marty Robinson going into Sunday, and seven of the final 12 anglers were bunched five pounds or less behind him.
Patience Pays Off With Highlight Video
When the top 10 Bassmaster Elite Series highlights of the 2012 season are compiled, one moment from Chapman's final day on Toledo Bend is certain to be among them. He started on that main lake point Sunday, but caught only three small keepers in the first two hours.
"I was just about to bail (out of there)," Chapman said.
That's when he caught a five-pounder after switching to a ¾-ounce War Eagle football jig with a green-pumpkin Tightlines UV Hog soft plastic trailer. A few casts later, Chapman hooked a difference-maker.
"I set the hook on it, and it goes screaming to the side, so I loosened my drag," Chapman said. "I'm like, 'I've got him now.' He goes pulling drag and all the sudden he's in a tree. I just about had a heart attack."
For the next several seconds, the audio portion of this clip could pass for that of a man being tortured. Chapman could see the bass, but it had circled Chapman's line around a piece of standing timber. That bass essentially had a $100,000 check attached to its tail.
"I was able to reach down and get the line around (the tree) and get him in," Chapman said. "The could have easily gone the wrong way."
The 6-pound, 7-ounce largemouth tied for Carhartt Big Bass honors Sunday, when Chapman's five-bass limit weighed 23-11. He finished with a 4-pound, 4-ounce margin over second-place Cliff Pace.
LaCrosse, Wis., Mississippi River Up Next
Chapman turns 40-years-old on July 6. There are two more Elite Series tournaments before then, starting with the Mississippi River Rumble, June 21-24, at La Crosse, Wis. Hitting "the big four-oh" marks a milestone in everyone's life. Chapman, however, may look back at 39 as the most memorable year of his fishing career.
Chapman qualified for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic even before the 2012 Classic was held. He did it while surviving the most brutally cold conditions for a B.A.S.S. event in recent history. Winds howled up to 35-miles-per-hour over four days when temperatures barely topped the freezing mark during the Bass Pro Shops Central Open at Texas' Lewisville Lake. There's never a good day for a "fish-off" to break a first-place tie on the leaderboard, but this had to be the worst.
In looking back, it's hard to ignore the symbolism of that hard-earned title. It was a sign of things to come. Temperatures topped out in the low 90s last week at Toledo Bend, and felt even higher when the lake surface got slick at mid-day on the weekend, when Chapman became a double-qualifier for the 2013 Classic with his victory. Cold, hot, shallow or deep, Chapman has adapted.
Even so, he can't help but feel eager for the mild weather and shallow-biting bass predicted for La Crosse.
"It's going to really suit my style," he said. "Shallow water, that's the type of stuff I really look forward to."
Toledo Bend Battle Attracted A Crowd
When the normal 185,000 surface acres of Toledo Bend Reservoir shrunk considerably over an 18-month period, the local economy took a hit. The lake dropped to an all-time low of 159 feet above sea level late last year. Many of the boat ramps were unusable on the 65-mile-long reservoir that forms part of the Texas-Louisiana border. Local businesses dependent on angler tourism dollars dropped as well, as much as 30 percent, according to Linda Curtis-Sparks, director of the Sabine Parish Tourist Commission.
It started raining in January and the lake filled up to its "normal" level of 168 to 172 feet above sea level. (The lake was at 163.5 feet for the Elite Series event here in May 2011; it was 169 feet last weekend.)
Curtis-Sparks was as excited as Chapman on Sunday, after 16,650 people had come to Cypress Bend Park over the four-day tournament. The Day Three weigh-in was followed by a Brush Hog concert and a fireworks display, all of which attracted 6,700 visitors to the park on Saturday.
"It was the highlight event of any we've ever held at Toledo Bend," said Curtis-Sparks.
All the big bass caught over four days – topped by a 9-pound, 3-ounce largemouth that Terry Scroggins landed Saturday – and several incredible one-that-got-away stories from the Elite Series pros showcased an area that has long seen the value of a big-time bass fishery.
The local tourism commission has kept a list of the "top 100 lunkers on Toledo Bend Lake" since 1993. It presents replicas to anglers who release those lunkers back in the lake. The fish are tagged before going back, allowing verification of some double-digit bass that have been caught more than once.
In addition to drawing a crowd, this event provided an opportunity to further publicize the catch-and-release program. Topping the list, by the way, is a 15.33-pounder caught on June 30, 2000. No. 7 on the list – a 14.2-pounder – was caught-and-released in February 2012. If Elite Series anglers David Walker and Fred Roumbanis had landed the fish that left them speechless last Saturday, a new lake record might have been set.
For more on the program, check out the website here.