Elite Series Sunshine Showdown

TAVARES, Fla. -- If you had Grant Goldbeck on your Fantasy Team going into this event, then you are either a psychic or chances are you are related to him.

Goldbeck is no stranger to Elite competition in Florida. But he has been a stranger to finishing well in the Sunshine State.

In three previous Elite Series events in Florida, his highest finish was here at Harris Chain in 2008. He was 83rd with a two-day total of 3 pounds and change. That would weigh about half of the fish he shook off on Day Three while waiting and hoping for a 13-pound plus largemouth to bite.

The big bass he called "the largest he'd ever seen in his life" never did bite.

Strangely enough the fish he "shook off" was 5- to 6-pounds larger than anything he caught on the first day of this event. Yet, he still managed to put together three amazing days and knocked solidly on the door of winning.

Shaw Grigsby won in a fashion bass fishing fans have been accustomed to for the last two decades. Goldbeck, though, has been an enigma in this event. He has had only one top 10 finish in the Elites. And his performance over the last three days has given fans and pundits a whole lot of things to think about.

Most of those things will revolve around three different fish.

The first came on Day One and weighed a piddling 1 pound, 1 ounce. That was Goldbeck's creel for the day. A limit of those with a couple of 3-pound fish mixed in and we might be having a different conversation about Goldbeck.

"I was kicking my butt all afternoon," the former boxer said. "I left that pond, thinking I could do something on Lake Harris and by the time I got there I knew I had made a mistake."

He also knew at that very moment that, even though he had only captured one squeaker, he had to go back to that dead-end canal and the pond, where even Grigsby hadn't blown the doors off anyone, yet.

"I knew if the conditions were right and you had a perfect day, you could catch a 30-pound bag in there,'' Goldbeck said.

He also knew other things. His performance in Florida up to that point was simply horrendous. And that's putting it mildly.

"I had put myself in a mental position that I needed to win here just to get the money back I had invested in Florida,'' he said. "I'm in debt to this place."

After his first day weigh-in that put him basically in next to last, a sparkling 97th place, all he could think about was "Here we go again."

He didn't have any choice but to go to the only place he knew he could make up the ground he needed. After Day Two, he weighed in a more-than-respectable 27-1 ounce and jumped into the top of the standings.

His pitiful first day, though, would weigh heavily on his decision-making after that.

That is where fish No. 2 and fish No. 3 come into play.

The second fish is almost unbelievable in some ways. It was a 6- to 8-pound giant that would have upgraded his Day Three weight by 5 pounds or more, cutting measurably into Grigsby's lead.

It wouldn't have won the event for him. But the story behind the fish left many with their mouths agape.

Goldbeck actually had that fish bite his lure and "shook it off," a term used by pros that indicates they let the fish go. He could see and feel the fish bite his lure, but if he set the hook it would possibly spook fish No. 3 in this equation.

He wanted that massive fish, estimated to be 13 pounds. The 6- to 8-pounder would not have won the event for him. A 13-pounder most likely would have.

"I knew even then that fish (No. 3) would put me in a situation where I could have gone out the next day, caught a limit of males (smaller fish) and a big fish and be in the position to win it,'' Goldbeck said.

His foresight at the moment was dead on and in some ways a little amazing.

He was watching a bed below him when the two fish slowly moved across it. He tossed his lure into that bed and immediately watched a flurry of activity.

"Both fish just rushed the bait,'' he said. "They bumped heads fighting over it and then split. One went one way, the other went another way. I had to watch my line to know which fish actually had my bait."

As it turned out the 6- to 7-pound fish had it and Goldbeck simply shook his rod until it let go.

"It was a split-second decision,'' Goldbeck said. "I felt like I could catch that 13. That one would make all the difference."

The moments that followed gave him more confidence.

"I tossed the bait back in the bed and she would rush it,'' Goldbeck said while visibly getting weak in the knees again as he relayed the site of a fish of a lifetime get close to his offering. "I had a ½-ounce weight on and I could see her flare her jaws and blow the bait out of the nest. I could feel it as it bumped across the bed. Then she would turn and wave her tail and I could see and feel that bait bumping across the bottom even further off the bed.

"I knew at some point she would take it."

That point never came, although with Mark Zona in the boat taping BassCam segments the rumors started flying about this 13-pound gorilla in front of Goldbeck.

Outside of wishing that fish would have taken his bait, Goldbeck has no regrets.

"The amazing thing is that I got to share water and fish head to head with Shaw Grigsby,'' Goldbeck said behind the weigh-in stage. "I wanted to win, certainly. But there was a part of me that was rooting for him.

"When he lost that 9-pounder yesterday, I felt terrible. What I really wanted to do was to go catch 30 pounds today, not so much to win, but to do it honor of Shaw. He's an amazing man, one of my heroes, someone I grew up watching on television. I got to fish against the best sight-fisherman in the world, and I owed him my best shot.

"In that regard, I'll take second like this any day. I wouldn't have done anything different."

Even on fish Number Two and fish Number Three.