Watson wins at Table Rock

Missouri pro James Watson’s victory on Table Rock secures a berth for him in the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.

BRANSON, Mo. — Missouri pro James Watson can definitely relate to one of the late great Yogi Berra’s quotes after winning the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate Saturday at Table Rock Lake.

It was definitely “déjà vu all over again” for Watson, who used a topwater pattern to win a Professional Angler Association (PAA) tournament on his home waters in September 2013 and relied on about the same pattern to win the pro division of the Central Open with 46 pounds, 4 ounces. Despite a slow start, he caught his biggest bag of the tournament today with a limit weighing 16-1.

“I was struggling to get a bite before noon,” he said. “It was the slowest morning I’ve had but I just kept winging it. I followed the wind and looked for the right kind of rock and just kept plugging away.”

Each day Watson had to play games with the wind. The first day he caught all of his fish in the wind, but the second day he had to find calm water to trigger bites.  

The Nixa, Mo., pro relied on two topwater lures—the Luck E Strike Frantic Frog (a toad-style bait) and the River2Sea Whopper Plopper–to catch most of his fish.  “I was running as much bank as I could and trying not to run the same bank twice,” he said. “I would try to find the biggest rock I could.”  

Watson’s victory secured a berth for him in the 2016 Bassmaster Classic and he earned a top prize of a $45,000 Skeeter bass boat/Yamaha outboard rig and $7,918 in cash.

Indianapolis, Ind., pro Jacob Wheeler caught the largest limit (17-9) of the tournament today to jump into the runner-up spot with 42-12. Wheeler also relied on a topwater pattern as he ran both steep and flat banks. “The second day I figured out they wanted a (Accent) Game Changer buzz bait and a (Rapala) Skitter Walk with a shaved-off  side that made it translucent,” he said.

The rest of the top five pro division finishers were Rick Clunn, Ava., Mo., third place, 40-15; Joseph Brantley, Willard, Mo., fourth, 38-05; and Justin Margraves, Diana, Texas, fifth, 35-08.

Brien Vaughn of Kinmundy, Ill., won the co-angler division with 20-8 and took home the first-palce prize of a $30,000 Nitro bass boat and Mercury outboard rig. Vaughn caught all of his fish on a topwater prop bait and a swimbait.  

Rick Clunn won the $750 Bass Pro Shops Big Bass Award on the pro side by catching a 5-pound, 13-ounce largemouth. Jason Newberry also weighed in a 5-13 largemouth to earn the $250 Bass Pro Shops Big Bass Award on the co-angler side.

James Watson received the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for finishing as the top pro on Day 2. Finishing as the Day 2 leader on the co-angler side, Jason Newberry received a Livingston Lures gift pack worth $250.

The “Allstate Good Hands, Great Day” award was given to anglers in both divisions who advanced the most places up the leaderboard from Day 1 to Day 2. Pro division angler Josh Bertrand collected $250 by jumping  67 places from 77th to 10th. Co-angler Derek Mangold picked up $150 by climbing 72 places from tied for 100th (blanking on Day 1) to 28th.