A worm is a worm, right? Sometimes, but for Jason Christie, 5 inches and less than a 1/2 ounce of plastic literally put him in contention for $300,000 and the sport’s most prestigious trophy on a lake in the state he calls home.
Realistically, the Oklahoman doesn’t see a wacky-rigged YUM Dinger playing a big role for him on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees at the 2024 Bassmaster Classic.
Even so, Christie will never forget the 5-inch green pumpkin purple stick bait that saved his 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series season — and his Classic berth — by putting him on track to qualifying for the pinnacle of sport fishing scheduled for his home waters.
“I lost some fish that (cost me) a point here or a point there, but the 9-pound, 4-ounce largemouth I caught on a YUM Dinger at Lay Lake just saved me,” Christie said. “It got me into the cut, it gave me a chance to win.
“That one bite put me in the Classic. I finished third, but without that bite, I’m probably top 20. It changed the swing of the season. I think, at the time, it put me close to the Classic cut.”
Suffice it to say, Christie’s 2023 Elite season defined “roller coaster.” It also defined “persistence.”
“I realized that you can’t have a bad tournament or two and win the points title, but you can have a couple bad ones and make the Classic as long as your other ones are good tournaments,” Christie said.
Lay of the lake
Lay Lake was the fifth of nine Elite events of the season. On both sides of that midpoint, Christie experienced a mix of highs a lows that made stability an elusive vapor.
Opening the year with his lowest finish — 99th at Lake Okeechobee — Christie bounced back with a 23rd at Lake Seminole, then placed 14th at the Classic at Lake Hartwell. With back-to-back South Carolina events, Christie finished 64th at Lake Murray, then 29th at Santee Cooper.
Following the Lay Lake mountaintop, Christie stumbled at the Sabine River with a 76th on the fishery that hosted his 2021 win. The Northern Swing started off well with two cuts — 21st at Lake St. Clair and 34th at Champlain — but capping the year with an 81st at the St. Lawrence River stung.
Looking back to February, Christie said: “I’m driving home (after Seminole) beating myself up after starting the season like that. Once I got home, I backed my boat into the shop, and I got a text from B.A.S.S. asking if I could attend a press conference the following week.
“I didn’t know (at that time) the Classic was going to be at Grand, but immediately I knew that the Classic was close. From that moment forward, there was just more pressure.”
Pressure means different things for different people, and while Christie’s characteristic poker face professionalism got him through the awkward interviews and the uncomfortable moments, the impact was undeniable.
“It changed the way I fished a little bit,” Christie said. “I was just trying to get in after starting off as bad as I did.
“From that initial text message, it was like I was drowning. Sometimes, I would get my head above the water, and there were other times, it felt like I was laying on the bottom.”
Nearly a Ricky Bobby moment
In a sense, Christie’s 2023 season was like catching the flu. You must take it seriously and expect good days and not-so-good days, but once you’re well, you feel so much better, it’s cause for celebration.
“It was a stressful year, a lot of moving parts, a lot of lost fish, a lot of bad decisions. To still be able to make it (to the Classic) is pretty special,” Christie said. “Toward the end of the season, I had the mentality that, ‘It is what it is.’ I tried and either I was going to make it or I wasn’t.
“During that last tournament, I start thinking about having a Classic down the road from my house and me working the Outdoors Expo and doing interviews as somebody on the outside looking in. It didn’t sound very good.”
After missing the cut at the St. Lawrence, Christie packed up and headed south with a heavy heart. Unbeknownst to him, he’d get the lift he needed when the final points shakeout found him safely inside the Classic cut.
“When I got the call that I was in, it put me in a different mood,” Christie said.
Nice, but that’s the watered-down version. How ‘bout the good stuff?
Christie delivers: “We got in the truck and I told (now wife) Shana, I don’t think I made it. I was driving when I got the call that let me know I made it. I wanted to pull over and go Talladega Nights and run around the track half naked.
“You fight and fight all year and finally make it. I was drowning all year, so I finally felt like I got up on the bank. It made the drive home a lot more comfortable.”
Perspective and outlook
Heading into his 10th Elite season next year, Christie’s no stranger to the pressure and high expectations. Still, 2023 wore on him.
Looking at the bright side, Classic qualification wipes the slate clean of all 2023 details except that one bottom line fact: He made it.
“I squeezed by, but the good thing about the Classic is it doesn’t matter if you’re the No. 1 qualifier or the last guy in, everybody has the same chance,” Christie said. “It doesn’t matter how you get in, as long as you’re in.
“I’m qualified just like defending champ and everyone else. We’re all the same going into Grand.”
So, what does Christie expect from the 2024 Classic? That’s hard to say. With the two previous Grand Lake Classics held in late February (2013) and early March (2016), the 2024 event’s late March schedule overlays an unpredictable spring period.
“The time we’re having it is wide open,” Christie said. “The water temperature could be 50 or the water temperature could be 65. It’s going to be based on the weather we have throughout the winter.
“If there was a time for me to not have an advantage on Grand Lake, it’s that week. The fish should be biting, you should be able to catch them anywhere, and you should be able to catch them a lot of different ways.”
Notably, Christie said he has not fished Grand since 2016. Tournament schedules and ponds closer to his home have kept him away, but he’ll spend a few days reacquainting himself before Classic waters go off limits.
This one matters deeply, and not only because of the fan base of family and friends that claim a bunch of seats at the Tulsa BOK Center. There’s also some sense of passing years — nothing on the horizon, per se, but just that sense of making every moment count.
“I can remember, and it seems like yesterday, when I was the young guy,” Christie said. “I’m not the oldest guy, but I’m not the youngest. I don’t know how much time I have left doing this. My kids are getting married and there’s a lot of things I don’t want to miss.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be any time soon, but I just don’t know. Every chance you get, you have to make the most of it.”
He may not know exactly how his 10th Classic will unfold, but he’s leaving nothing to chance.
“Everything that I can control, it will be top notch,” Christie said. “My hooks will be sharp and everything will be ready to go.
“It’s just me having to make the right decisions and me getting the right bites to be able to win the event. I’ll be prepared.”