A day for the record books

January 17, 2001 was a day for the record books. It was the first day of the Florida Bassmaster Top 150 tournament on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and conditions were right.

January 17, 2001 was a day for the record books. It was the first day of the Florida Bassmaster Top 150 tournament on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and conditions were right. Rapidly rising water temperatures and big female bass ready to deposit their eggs in the clear, shallow waters created a “perfect storm” for sight fishermen.

Dean Rojas saw it coming. In the final practice round he noticed some giant females moving up in the mouth of Shingle Creek on Lake Tohopekaliga.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Rojas said. “I saw 10 pounders, 9 pounders, 8 pounders everywhere I looked.”

When the first competition day began, it took Rojas just four casts to put his first fish in the boat — a 10-pound, 13-ounce largemouth. Before the day was over, the other four bass in his livewell weighed 10-0, 9-0, 8-2 and 7-3 for a total of 45 pounds, 2 ounces.

It was the heaviest five-bass limit in B.A.S.S. history — it even surpassed the seven-bass limit mark by more than 10 pounds!

Three days later, when the tournament was over, Rojas had weighed in 20 bass totaling 108-12 — also a new record for a four-day event with a five-bass daily creel limit. What’s more, he had bested his closest competitor, 1995 Bassmaster Classic champion and three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Mark Davis, by more than 15 pounds.

Rojas used a 5-inch Lake Fork Tackle Top-Dog Lizard (white) and 5 1/2-inch Hawg Caller Log Crawler creature bait (cherry cola) for his catch. He Texas rigged both baits, fished them on 25-pound-test monofilament and pitched them to giant bass he could see. In the final round, when rain and wind made sight-fishing difficult, he caught a few bass on top with a Smithwick Devil’s Horse.

In all, 21 double-digit largemouths were taken during the four-day event — all on the first two days, when sight-fishing conditions were ideal. No one bothered to count all the 8- and 9-pound bass.

Rojas’ daily catch record was a long time coming, but it nearly fell the very next day when Mark Davis weighed in 41-10.

“I had 10 chances to break the record today,” Davis said at the time. “I was watching fish weighing 10 to 14 pounds nipping at my bait, but they wouldn’t take it. I hung a giant, got her all the way to the boat, and she wrapped around some pad stems and came off.”

Despite their mammoth catches, neither Rojas nor Davis had the biggest fish of the tournament. That belonged to John Sappington, who caught a 12-8 on the first day to anchor his eighth place catch. The giant ate a Mad Man Lures Crawfish Tube in watermelon-perch.

When it was over, fourth-place finisher Jay Yelas, the 2002 Classic winner and 2003 Angler of the Year, said, “I think this was the best tournament in the history of bass tournaments anywhere in the world.”

Rojas would certainly have agreed. “I could never have dreamed that I would catch 108 pounds in a tournament…. I’m very flattered and very honored to have the records,” he said.

And while records may be made to be broken, Rojas’ single day mark has stood the test of time. It wasn’t until 2007 that anyone else even cracked the 40-pound mark. That’s when Steve Kennedy caught 40-7 on Day 3 of a Clear Lake, Calif., Elite Series event.

A year later, Rojas faced his most serious challengers. That’s when the Elites came to Falcon Lake on the Texas-Mexico border and found another of those perfect storms. Paul Elias shattered the B.A.S.S. four-day record with 132-8, deservedly garnering most of the attention. But three other anglers all made a run at Rojas’ daily catch record.

On the first day at Falcon, Aaron Martens grabbed the lead with 42-0 — the second heaviest single day mark in history to that time. The next day, Byron Velvick had 41-11, and two other anglers (including Martens) surpassed 37 pounds.

Then, in a final round in which all 12 anglers ended with more than 100 pounds, Terry Scroggins made the most serious challenge to Rojas’ record thus far. His five best weighed 44-4, and he had the fish on to establish a new record, but lost it … and the tournament. He ended up in second place, just four ounces behind Elias.

Rojas’ four-day record of 108-12, of course, wasn’t so fortunate. It lasted just five years, until the newly-created Bassmaster Elite Series visited South Carolina’s Santee Cooper complex and Preston Clark led all anglers with 115-15. A year later, Steve Kennedy won on Clear Lake with 122-14. Two years after that came Elias.

Now 15 anglers have bested Rojas’ four-day mark, but he was the first member of B.A.S.S.’ Century Club and his 45-2 is still the standard for daily catches.

Maybe it always will be.