LA CROSSE, Wis. — It took Alton Jones three days to discover the potential of the spot he found in Pool 9 of the Mississippi River. That’s because he didn’t need to know the potential before Saturday. His goal coming into this tournament was to solidify a Bassmaster Classic berth. Simple as that.
Being in fifth place after Day 2 and having moved up nine places to 20th in the Angler of the Year standings, Jones could afford to “lean on ‘em” Saturday. He’s excited about what he found.
“It’s a special place,” Jones said Saturday. “In all my years of tournament fishing, this is one of the most special spots I’ve ever found. It’s textbook, and it’s absolutely loaded.”
When the 53-year-old Jones, who has qualified 17 times, won a Classic title, fished 232 B.A.S.S. events and won over $2.5 million, says it’s one of the best spots he’s ever found, well, you better keep an eye on him today.
Jones estimated he caught 50 bass Saturday in compiling a five-fish limit weighing 16 pounds, 8 ounces. It moved him up from fifth to fourth place. In trying to manage this area, he spent only 20 minutes on it each day. He caught 14-11 there Thursday and left. He caught 15-12 there Friday and left. He trails leader Ott Defoe by 4-10 going into Day 4.
“There may not be big enough ones there to win this tournament, I don’t know,” Jones said. “I’ve got no regrets on how I’ve managed the area because goal No. 1 was to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. And the way I’ve managed that spot insured that I was going to do that. If I’d caught 40 fish there on Day 1, I don’t know what would have happened.”
It’s the riddle of bass tournament fishing, especially in four-day events: Do you catch everything you can or try to save something for the next day, particularly when conditions are changing each day?
“From what I’ve seen now, I could have leaned on this spot a little harder and probably been okay,” Jones said. “But you don’t have the luxury of knowing what kind of pressure a spot can stand until you pressure it.”
Jones found what anglers often call “a spot on a spot” the first day. It’s a specific cast – to a small target at a particular angle – that will produce a bite almost every time.
“I’m out in the wide open in the middle of the river,” Jones said. “There’s so much floating grass, I couldn’t made the cast I was able to make (Thursday and Friday). It took me a while, but once it clicked, it clicked. Too far to the left and you get hung up in the rocks almost every time. Too far to the right and you’re off in the deep water.
“I found another spot on a spot 100 feet away from it (Saturday). I didn’t figure it out until late, but I found another magic cast. It threw on it three times in the last 10 minutes and I caught three over three pounds.”
He’s been alternating between three baits, all in green pumpkin or black-and-blue color patterns: 1) a Yum Christie Critter creature bait; 2) a 6-inch Texas-rigged Yum Dinger; and 3) a ½-ounce Booyah jig with a Yum Craw Chunk trailer.
“I’m mixing up baits,” Jones said. “That’s what you do when you find fish loaded up on a spot. You catch as many as you can on one bait, and when they quit biting, you switch. Almost every time you switch, you catch one. My biggest fish all three days came on the Yum Dinger with a quarter-ounce weight.”
Jones may be fishing further away from the La Crosse tournament site than anyone else. He estimated it’s a 30-mile run after he locks down into Pool 9. He checked in 45 minutes early Saturday just to play it safe.
“That’s the snafu in this whole deal,” he said. “I might not make it back if a barge comes through. But I’ve called and talked to the lockmaster every day. His name is Mr. Brown. He’s a big fishing fan who appreciates what we do. He’s been the best lockmaster I’ve ever worked with, and I just really appreciate him. He’ll do everything in his power to get me back through. He’s done that for all of us all week.”