KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Elite Series pro Gerald Swindle can no longer be considered one of "the best who's never won."
During his 167-tournament career, he's won Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year and joined the B.A.S.S. Millionaire's Club. But a win has eluded him until now. With his win at the first 2011 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Florida's Lake Toho, the Warrior, Ala., resident earned a Triton 19XS boat with a 200-horsepower Mercury Optimax motor and more importantly, claimed the first berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic, set to be held in Shreveport, La.
"I can't even think about the Classic yet, that won't set in until I get home," he said. "When I came here I never thought about the Classic, I was just fishing. I didn't have any intention of winning, I knew I had one sure spot and I was going to make it work, and it just worked out."
Swindle credits his victory to a bit of advice from fellow Elite pro and Florida native Terry Scroggins. Scroggins told Swindle that despite the spawn being in full swing, the tournament would be won in deeper water. Swindle relied on a lipless crankbait and a Carolina rig to sack 25 pounds, 8 ounces on Day Three, which gave him a total of 80-13.
In second place was Elite pro and Lakeland, Fla., native Bobby Lane, who brought 26 pounds to the Day Three scales for a total of 77-13. Lane gave Swindle a run for the money by sticking to what he's best: sight fishing for bedding bass. "Gerald deserves it and I'm really happy for him," he said. "But I always want to win, so it was tough giving that up."
Lane flipped a Berkley Chigger Craw to fish he saw on beds in shallow water. In third place was Trevor Fitzgerald of Belleview, Fla., with 67-14, in fourth place was Ott Defoe of Knoxville, Tenn., with 61-7, and in fifth place was Larry Cahan of East Palatka, Fla., with 56-7.
On the co-angler side, Marlon Crowder of Tampa, Fla., took home an 18XS/150 Mercury OptiMax for his winning catch of 36-5. Crowder's monster 21-6 bag on Day Three was in the boat by 8 a.m. He spent the rest of his day netting fish for his pro partner, Gerald Swindle. "This is unreal. I've wanted this for a while, and now I have a chance to take my fishing to the next level," he said. Crowder relied on the same techniques as Swindle to catch his bass.
Behind him was Chris Lewis of Dublin ,Va., with 25-3, in third is Bill Bruce of Hendersonville, Tenn., with 23 pounds, in fourth is Vance McCullough of Jacksonville, Fla., with 22-15, and in fifth is Daniel Lanier of Winter Springs, Fla., with 22-1.
The next stop of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens is Lake Norman, in Charlotte, N.C., March 24-26, where another 2012 Bassmaster Classic qualifier will be crowned. Swindle is sure to be there. His Classic berth requires him to enter all three Southern Opens.