GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Mark Tucker must have felt some sense of redemption. After plying his fishing skills on the Elite Series for the past 10 years, he opted out of an 11th season at the 11th hour, choosing instead to give the Opens a try.
In a squeaker on Texas' Lewisville Lake, Tucker found just enough weight to win his first B.A.S.S. victory. And for claiming the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open, he takes home $10,000, a Skeeter/Yamaha boat and motor package worth $25,000 and a berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
"I've got to thank the Lord big time, this is all thanks to Him," he said. "This has been a long time coming, and to finally get it feels great. You strive to be the best, and when something like this happens, there's nothing like it. This is an awesome lake and it's great to be here."
Tucker, however, almost didn't make it out of the gate this morning. An expired proof of insurance policy on his BassCat meant he had to be held at the dock until a policy an updated document was shown to B.A.S.S. staff. The ordeal cost him 15 minutes and a lot of stress. Tucker, who has been on an early morning bite, only brought in 12 pounds, 1 ounce on Saturday for a three-day total of 45-15. Casey Scanlon, of Lenexa, Kan., had the event's big bag at 19-1 to put a scare in Tucker, but he wound up 11 ounces back at 45-4.
Tucker said he believes he was the only one employing his pattern of slowly working a Smithwick Rogue jerkbait over 8 to 10 feet of water along rocky points. The keys, he says, were his line, patience and cold water. He searched for the coldest water that he could find. "They wouldn't hit it if it fell down, so I used Trilene XT monofilament so it would rise a bit," he said. "I'd slowly twitch it and then they'd load up on it."
Tucker's jerkbait pattern triggered a flurry of Kentucky (spotted) bass activity, but the big ones wouldn't stay buttoned up. He lost what would have been the biggest fish of the tournament, estimated in the 9-pound range, at his boat. If he had fished flawlessly, Tucker said he would've had 25 pounds in his first hour on the lake.
What's more, the big fish that he lost took his Rogue. So, he scrounged around his boat, found a similar color pattern and modified it to look like the one that was working. "I know these guys in the top 12 are awesome fishermen, and with the fish on the bank I thought the weights would skyrocket," he said. Per his statement Friday, Tucker plans on heading to Shreveport, La., -- the sight of the 2012 Classic, his eighth -- to practice right away.
Scanlon's Day Three weight, the heaviest stringer of the tournament, was anchored by a 6-14 big bass. "The key for me was to fish slow," Scanlon said. "I had about an hour that was awesome where I really caught 'em good."
In third place is Chris Ford, who added 15-7 Saturday to his total for 35-4. In fourth place is Billy Cline of Grapevine, who could only manage two keepers that went 3-15, giving him 33-15. Rounding out the top 5 is Kevin Ledoux of Choctaw, Okla. Also notable is aspiring Elite angler Janet Parker, who had 22-10 and finished sixth.
Despite the heaviest bag of the tournament crossing the stage today at Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine, weights were down significantly. Two of the final-day pros and four co-anglers failed to register any keepers. There wasn't a single three-fish limit on the co-angler side. Warm, windy conditions had Lewisville's prespawn bass in a tailspin.
On the co-angler side, Clayton Coppin of Wagoner, Okla., took home a brand new Skeeter/Yamaha rig valued at $35,000 for his winning weight of 18-8, more than four pounds ahead of second place. "This is not easy to do, there's some tough competition out there," Coppin said. "The way that things were going this morning, I thought we were going to whack 'em. We didn't, but I got enough to win and that's all that matters." In second place is Michael Curbow, whose two bass weighing 3-0 gave him 14-7. In third is Wade Garcia of Alma, Ark., who didn't register a bass today but had 13-13.
The next Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open is on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., April 28-30, where another 2012 Bassmaster Classic berth will be awarded. Winners must fish each of the Opens within the division to maintain Classic status. After the final event on the Arkansas River in Muskogee, Okla., set for Sept. 8-11, the third and final Classic berth will be handed out, and the top five anglers in the points race will be offered a spot in the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series.