PALATKA, Fla. — Everyday at the take-off of the Power Pole Citrus Slam, Alton Jones would go through the check-out and weigh-in lines wearing a red "Skeeter" hat.
Take a look at the take-off and weigh-in photos and see for yourself.
But as soon as he got to his first area, the red hat would come off and be replaced by a camouflage hat.
Take a look at the on-the-water galleries and see for yourself.
Jones' hat switch and change was so quick and unnoticeable not a lot of people picked up on it. But that one little tip of the hat was the exact thing Jones believes put him in a position to win the event.
"It was a big key in me being able to catch those fish,'' he said.
He led for three days. That lead built on the eel-grass flats of Lake George. There was nothing new or groundbreaking about his location. As a matter of fact, almost the whole field spent some part of their tournament in those extremely shallow grass beds trying to catch one of the many spawning bass. On the first two days, Jones, and as many as 15 other anglers, were basically circling each other at any given time.
The fact they were all there and Jones was able to prevail in such a strong fashion points to the fact that he had something extra special going in his favor. Of course some of that credit can go to his skills, his choice of baits, line, etc. But a big part of that credit can center squarely on his head, and while we are there — the color of his hat.
"I think the camo hat was important,'' Jones said Sunday. "It's just like getting elevation makes it easier for you to see the fish, the most visible part of you to the fish is the highest elevated part of you, which is your head.
"So, what you're wearing on your head is way more important than a lot of folks want to think about."
Jones spent each day quietly slipping out of his red hat and into the camouflage. His jersey, a sky-blue Yamaha shirt wasn't a factor since it closely resembled the backdrop of the sky.
"I don't want to be out there in a bright red winder breaker,'' he said.
On those flats he would scan the grass beds, looking for holes where a bed was likely hidden. He moved about mostly using a push pole, since turning on his trolling motor was "like turning on a meat grinder."
"The way you would see those big fish is when they would leave,'' he said. "So, the first thing I wanted to do was get far enough away to see the bed and see if the fish would come back."
Often times his head would be just high enough over the horizon like he was peeking into the bed over the grass edge. And he was able to observe while not being seen.
"A lot of times on those flats that was a long way off, almost a long cast away,'' he said.
"Then I would throw a bait in there and if she would spook off again, I'd leave the bait in there, push the button on my spool and back off until I couldn't see the fish even if she did come back but I could still the hole where the bed was.
"If I can't see her then she can't see me. And her behavior, her demeanor is completely different when she doesn't know I'm around."
Jones said that was a big key in catching those fish.
On extremely spooky fish, he would wait them out, knowing that they would eventually come back. In those cases, he would let his bait sit in the bed for five minutes before he ever moved it. Then he would shake it or hop it and eventually be rewarded with a thump.
"Anytime you are bed fishing, anything you can do to reduce the fish's awareness of your presence in its environment goes to your advantage. Stealth is huge so don't run your trolling motor. They can hear that thing like your turning on a meat grinder. Use a push pole if you can.
"Because I was on a flat I didn't have anything to hide behind. But if I'm fishing canals like I was at Harris Chain I'm hiding behind pontoon boats, I'm hiding behind trees, clumps of cattails anything you can to conceal your presence you want to take advantage of those opportunities.
"When it's sight-fishing time, I'm always wanting to wear bland looking colors just to conceal myself to the fish."
He saves the flash and sparkle for the weigh-in stage.