LEESBURG, Fla. — Brian Snowden almost won the Sunshine Showdown without catching a bass Sunday. Ten of the final 12 anglers had weighed in at the Harris Chain of Lakes, and Snowden's 54-pound, three-day total remained unsurpassed.
But when Mike McClelland put 15 pounds on the scales Sunday, Snowden was suddenly down by just over 5 pounds. And he couldn't get up. Snowden, who had been so consistent from Thursday through Saturday, finished second for the fourth time in his BASS career when he zeroed Sunday.
McClelland was still in shock 15 minutes after claiming the first-place trophy for the Bassmaster Elite Series Sunshine Showdown, presented by Advance Auto Parts.
"This is almost bittersweet," said McClelland, who has now won three Elite Series events. "I feel so bad for Brian.
"Brian and I have known each other for a lot of years. It's really a shock. I had no idea what I had today would get me where I needed to be."
McClelland said he told his wife, Stacy, in a phone conversation Saturday night that this was Snowden's tournament, and that he was fishing for second place. McClelland was fine with that. He wants to make a run at the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. The week was already a moral victory, because he hasn't performed well on Florida lakes in the past.
"I was content with the fact that I thought I'd caught enough today to finish second," said McClelland, who started the day in second place with 44-2, almost 10 pounds behind Snowden. "I heard rumors that Brian didn't catch 'em, but I thought people were just trying to keep me suspenseful (on stage)."
As it turned out, two calls this week from McClelland's roommate, Jeff Kriet, proved to be 1.) prophetic and 2.) a key to victory.
"Kriet told me again last night that I was going to win this," McClelland said. "In fact, he's called all three of them. I guess when Jeff Kriet talks, you better listen."
McClelland, who turned 40 in December, won the 2006 Elite Series Sooner Run on Oklahoma's Grand Lake and the 2007 Pride of Georgia title on Clarks Hill Lake.
It was during the second day of practice this week when McClelland got a cell phone call from Kriet, just after he'd cast a Zoom Trick Worm into the middle of a lily pad clump in the Dead River.
"I was holding my phone in one hand and my rod in the other," said McClelland, who lives in Bella Vista, Ark. "I wasn't doing anything with (the lure). I felt a bite and set the hook on a 3 1/2-pounder.
"I told Kriet, 'Hey, you need to get up here. We need to cover some water.'"
McClelland caught enough fish during practice to work out a pattern of basically dead-sticking a Zoom Trick Worm at the base of lily pads. Using 3/16ths- and 1/4-ounce slip sinkers and the Zoom worm, either in black or Bama Bug color patterns, he caught every bass in a 59-2, four-day total.
"When you've got a roommate you can trust, you can really get an understanding of what's going on," McClelland said. "As long as I fished slow, I got bit."
Snowden got bit Sunday, too, but couldn't capitalize.
"I lost a 3- and a 4-(pounder) and had a couple of other 2-pounders on," said Snowden, who is from Reeds Spring, Mo. "I definitely had the opportunities.
"I probably should have gone to something smaller. But it's so hard to change. I probably should have gone to a finesse worm or something."
Snowden noticed the overnight cold front had dropped the water temperature 10 degrees in the areas where he'd been successful all week. He'd caught all his fish by flipping either a Sweet Beaver or Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw soft plastic lure, both in black neon color patterns.
"It actually got better later in the day, when the water temperature warmed up to 64 from 59 degrees," Snowden said. "But the fish just wouldn't commit to the bait."
Snowden had the 4-pounder hooked and pinned against some reeds Sunday afternoon, but as he motored over to land the fish, it came unhooked.
"I got frustrated when I lost that 4-pounder," Snowden said. "I knew that did it. When he came off, I knew it wasn't going to happen."
McClelland purposely didn't look at his water temperature gauge Sunday.
"It probably would have scared me," he said. "I had ice on my boat cover this morning, and that usually shuts them down here."
But two isolated lily pad clumps, no bigger than the Bassmaster weigh-in stage, produced "12 or 13 keepers" Sunday, including one just over 4 pounds. Those pad clumps were in slightly deeper water, about 3 1/2 feet, and had a hard bottom under them. And that seemed to be the key.
However, he never hooked one of those 7- to 10-pound bass that seemed to be crucial this week. And he was certain it would take at least one fish that size to win the $100,000 first prize Sunday.
"It was just one of those weeks where everything fell into place," McClelland said.
The Lane brothers from Lakeland, Fla., ended up taking third and fourth — Bobby with 53-4 and Chris with 52-10. As it turned out, Snowden could have weathered their charge, but not the one from McClelland.