Junebug jubilation

LAKE WALES, Fla. — There are almost as many colors of soft-plastic baits as there are bass fishermen. One of Butch Tucker's favorites is junebug. It's a bluish-purple, metal-flaked staple of bass anglers around the country, and it's especially popular on Florida lakes.

This week on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, junebug produced big green.

Tucker, 60, a cardiovascular technologist from Moultrie, Ga., used different lures on each day of the tournament, but the constant was the junebug color, which propelled him to the co-angler division victory and the $25,000 first prize in the Citrus Slam presented by Longhorn.

"I fished different water all three days," Tucker said. "I just kind of adjusted to the different circumstances the pro anglers gave me."

Tucker caught just a single 1 ½-pound bass on Saturday, but it was enough to keep him atop the standings for the third consecutive day. He finished with 26 pounds, 10 ounces, edging Bill Williams of Corbin, Ky., who finished with 25-1.

"It was a struggle today," said Tucker, who has fished BASS Open tournaments in the past. "But fortunately it was tough for everybody."

Tucker took control of the tournament, his first as a co-angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series, with a Day One bag that weighed 17-4. Not only did it lead the co-angler division, it was better than all but 11 first-day stringers in the professional division. His bag included a pair of 5-pounders and a 4-pounder.

"Those three big bites no doubt were the key," he said.

Tucker fished the first day with Elite Series pro Kevin Wirth, who opted to fish a canal at the mouth of Lake Cypress. They concentrated on an area where current washed over submerged shell beds. Using a junebug Gambler Sweebo, Tucker seized a lead he'd never relinquish.

"I was using a very long leader, about 7 feet," Tucker said. "The current floats that worm up, and that was the difference for me, I think."

Day Two saw Tucker paired with Cliff Pace, who was fishing for post-spawn fish in about 2-3 feet of water. Tucker didn't have a fish in the boat until 1 p.m, but a switch to a junebug Zoom Speed Worm helped him scratch out a limit that weighed 7-14 and kept him on top.

Tucker fished with Kenyon Hill on Saturday, and once again he had to change tactics. Hill fished a topwater plastic frog around vegetation, so Tucker tied on a Zoom Horny Toad — once again in junebug — and caught the one bass that sealed his victory.

"All you can do is keep on slinging it and hope you get a bite or two," Tucker said.

Tucker was one of the first co-anglers to weigh in Saturday afternoon, so he had to endure a nearly two-hour procession of fishermen to find out if he'd retain the lead and win the tournament.

Williams was Tucker's biggest threat, trailing by about three pounds going into Saturday's round, and Williams wasn't scheduled to weigh in until near the end of the weigh-in.

"I knew who I was going to have to beat," Tucker said.

Tucker's agony was intensified by his position on the "hot seat," where anglers wait to be bumped by a heavier stringer. But the hot seat was a literal expression on Saturday. Temperatures soared into the mid-80s, and the "hot seat" chair was positioned on the stage in one of the few areas that wasn't shaded by the massive live oaks at Camp Mack's River Resort.

"That's a long time to wait," Tucker said. "It was hot."

When Williams finally made his way to the stage, Tucker's tranquility gave way to anxiety.

"Actually, I was pretty calm until we got down to Boat 40 [Williams' boat]," Tucker said. "Then my heart probably picked up a beat or two."

Williams had two bass that weighed 2-13.

"I did make a run at it," Williams said. "But I'm thankful to catch what I did. There'll be another chance down the road."

Just as Tucker probably won the tournament with Thursday's big catch Thursday, Williams said he may have lost the tournament with a Day One mistake. After hooking a fish that he thought was a chain pickerel, Williams shook it off, only to learn that it was actually a keeper largemouth when it jumped.

"I told Jim Murray [his professional partner] right then: That fish is going to haunt me," Williams said. "But that's fishing."

Williams estimated the bass would've weighed close to 1 ½ pounds.

"I don't know if it would've made a difference," Williams said, "but it definitely would've made the weigh-in interesting."