BISMARCK, Ark. — In celebration of the Yuletide season, Brandon Gray received a couple of early Christmas presents for being a good angler at DeGray Lake.
By winning the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish Off, Gray earned the final 2015 Bassmaster Classic berth and accepted another "gift" -- an $88,000 Skeeter FX20 bass boat/Yamaha 250 outboard rig for him to run in the Classic Feb. 20-22 at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.
The Bullock, N.C., angler caught five-fish limits both days and finished with 20 pounds, 3 ounces.
“It’s been a long hard road for me,” said the 42-year-old Gray.
The occupational hearing conservationist (he conducts OSHA standard hearing tests for companies) disclosed he has come close to making the Classic three times through the Bassmaster Weekend Series National Championship.
“The last three years I have fished it, I finished second at Dardanelle and lost by 2 pounds, then lost by 2 pounds at Guntersville the year before, and lost by about 3 pounds at Old Hickory last year.”
Gray had doubts about even coming to this team championship.
“It was a long drive and we had a successful year back home (fishing with Todd Massey in the Anglers' Choice team trail),” said Gray.
However, he thought there might be something special about the site of the championship, so they made the long trip.
“We both have the same name — DeGray Lake and Brandon Gray,” he said.
After finding scant information about DeGray on the Internet, Gray decided to try some techniques on lakes close to home that he hoped to duplicate at the championship.
“I was doing homework at home so when I got here I would be prepared,” he said.
Gray thought spooning would be the best way to catch DeGray bass but he changed his mind when the tactic produced only a couple of keepers in practice.
“It’s all about making the right decisions and I felt like I made the right decisions here,” said DeGray, who decided to throw Norman DD22 crankbaits to catch his fish the last two days.
The deep-diving crankbaits produced three keepers for him Saturday, but the calm weather prompted him to make a switch.
He completed his limit by catching two keepers on a 1/8-ounce shaky head jig tipped with a black Zoom Trick Worm.
Arizona guide Jon “Scooter” Griffith retained second place Saturday by catching three keepers to give him a two-day total of 12-12. The 41-year-old Griffith said he knew it was going to be tough since he had trouble catching any fish early.
"I have had some pretty good days out here but this day I just couldn’t find the hybrids I was catching before and the baitfish just weren’t around,” said Griffith.
“I ended up catching all of my fish out of one tree.”
He caught most of his fish both days on a 1/2-ounce jigging spoon and drop-shotted a Senko for a few of his keepers.
Arkansas angler Royce Davis landed in third place with 9-4.
“It has been tough all week long for me,” he said.
“I just went fishing the last two days just dragging (a 1/4-ounce wobble-head jig with a Speed Craw) and throwing a jerkbait,” he said.
“I had four bites today and I caught three of them.”
Rounding out the six final spots in the event were Arizona angler John Stewart Jr., who finished fourth with 5-13; Flanagan Fife of Arkansas, fifth, 3-0; and Todd Massey of North Carolina, sixth, 2-6.