Daily Limit: Lee hopes it’s sweet home Alabama

Jordan Lee

Jordan Lee knows he needs a sweet run in his home state of Alabama to have any chance of adding a coveted Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year title to his impressive resume.

After five events, the two-time Bassmaster Classic champ stands second in the yearlong points race. With four tournaments left, Lee said his best hopes lie just up the road in June’s Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Wheeler Lake and the TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake.

“Wheeler and the Smith are my speed, and I’m going to have to take advantage of it if I want to try to contend for Angler of the Year,” said the 32-year-old who won back-to-back Classics in 2017-18. “I feel like these two events are my chance.”

Lee lives in Cullman, Ala., about 30 miles from the Wheeler takeoff in Decatur. Cullman is the host city for Smith Lake, so he has the rare luxury of staying at his home for both.

“I’m 15 minutes from the boat ramp (at Smith). It just never happens you get to sleep in your own bed and fish waters you’re halfway familiar with,” he said. “Normally you go into places where you don’t have much of a clue.

“But Smith is going to be a wild card. If I can figure out something there, that’s going to be the tournament that could shake things up.”

Making all five two-day cuts with two Top 10 finishes, Lee has accumulated 448 points, 30 shy of Angler of the Year leader Trey McKinney. Canadian brothers Chris and Cory Johnston stand third and fourth, respectively. They are sure to be a force when the Elites head north in August for Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

Lee is well aware of the standings and how the 2024 AOY could play out.

“I’ve looked at it for sure. I look at it pretty often, during a tournament, after a tournament, just to know where I’m at,” he said. “You’re not in that position very often.

“It’s awesome to be in the talk of things halfway through the year. It would just be amazing to win that. AOY, that’s the hardest thing to win. You have to be so consistent. The guys are so good now, it’s just really hard to put yourself in that position and even harder to close it out.”

Jordan Lee shows off his fish after taking the lead in the 2018 Classic.

McKinney, who at Lake Fork became the youngest Elite winner at 19 years, one week, has an average finish of eighth place and has led AOY after each of the past four tournaments.

“Trey has obviously had an outstanding year, not even a good year, outstanding,” Lee said. “The ball is kind of in his court. Four tournaments is still a lot of days to catch them. Typically, guys are going to have a tough day or two throughout the year, and you’ve got to make up some ground if they do.”

For the June 13-16 Wheeler event, where Lee expects most of AOY contenders to catch them, he hopes for better than his 40th-place finish in the 2016 Elite. It’s Smith Lake (June 27-30) where Lee thinks he has a better chance to make a move.

“It’s just such a unique lake,” Lee said. “You don’t ever know what’s going to happen or who’s going to catch them. That’s definitely the lake that’s going to throw guys off just a hair.

“Not that I have any secret holes or know exactly what to do. It is not an easy lake to fish. That’s kind of my tournament I’m circling. It’s going to be the most interesting tournament of the year.”

Alabama’s sultry heat and boat traffic before Fourth of July should complicate matters for the field. Lee said he doesn’t fish Smith that much in the summer, and while it could end up being his worst event, he’s comforted in knowing the fishery fairly well.

“I haven’t won a tournament there, but I’ve always been kind of consistent,” he said. “In an Open there eight years ago, I stubbed my toe. I was leading the first day and kind of tanked the second day.”

Lee settled for fourth in that 2016 Open, his best in four Opens on Smith. Lee’s two 17th-place finishes and an eighth make him among the favorites, yet he knows local knowledge doesn’t always mean success.

“That can also be the kiss of death, where you overthink things,” he said. “There’s a local in every tournament we fish that doesn’t play out. It may be my worst tournament of the year. But I’m hoping it’s not.”

The first five tournaments couldn’t have gone much better, Lee said. He’s been on good fish in some and caught breaks in others. At Fork, he was in the middle of the pack when he prospected some gold out of a pocket after seeing just one flake there in practice.

“I thought it was a good area, but didn’t really know. Ran straight there — no other boats — and caught 32 pounds,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that without ever really fishing in there.

Lee said he needs to make hay in Alabama in the AOY race.

“At St. Johns on Day 3, I had two or three 12-inchers about 10 o’clock and ran into the Oklawaha River. Never been in there before, was just trying new stuff because what I was doing wasn’t working. I caught 18 pounds and had a chance at a Top 10.”

The same thing happened at Lake Murray, where he moved up after a slow first day to take 31st, his lowest finish of the year that could have been much worse. Lee’s two Top 10s were fifth at the Harris Chain and ninth at Toledo Bend.

“It’s like every tournament I made the right choice, and that just doesn’t happen all the time,” he said. “It’s gametime decisions. When stuff isn’t working, you’ve got to make some adjustments. Typically, it’s just a gamble. It’s hard to do, run somewhere you’ve never been in hopes of catching a good sack of fish. You just kind of go off your gut instinct.”

“For it to go my way so far, that’s why I’m in second in the points. I feel like I haven’t been on the fish to be there, but I’ve made really good decisions.”

Lee has always held the knack to find fish. He did it during his record comeback win in the 2017 Classic on Lake Conroe, rallying from 15th place while 13 pounds, 14 ounces back of the lead. He became the third of four repeat Classic winners the next year, rallying from sixth on the final day at Lake Hartwell.

Moving with 66 other Elites to MLF in 2019, Lee continued his success with some big wins on that circuit. When Larry Nixon retired last year, Lee took it as a sign to return to B.A.S.S. on a legends exemption.

“I thought it was meant to be and pulled the trigger,” he said. “You don’t know if you’ll get that opportunity again. I love to fish for five. It’s what I grew up doing. If I was 80th in points, I think I would say the same thing. I’m having fun and excited about the years to come.”

And in contention for the AOY. In his four Elite seasons, Lee posted three top 10 AOY finishes — ninth in 2015, sixth in 2016 and fourth in 2017. He missed double qualifying for the Classic in 2018 by 15 points.

Lee said this year’s AOY race should go down to the wire, and he just needs to keep making the right decisions.

“That’s the name of the game — control what I can and make good decisions when I’m struggling,” he said. “I’m not the guy who finds 10 of the best places on the lake. I typically struggle in practice and make good choices in the tournament.

“It’s going to be close. I know these next two, I’ll have to bear down and knock it out of the park. I’m going to have to be up there high in the next two if I have a chance.

“Maybe Alabama will treat me right.”