RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Old-school fishing fans are rejoicing as Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ky., laughed in the face of modernization, simplifying his approach by using an aluminum boat-rig with minimal trappings to accumulate 55 pounds, 7 ounces on his way to victory at the Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive on Lake Dardanelle.
Four-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam threatened Menendez with his tally of 53 pounds, 4 ounces, but Menendez's old-school approach in the end earned him his third BASS victory.
For the first time in nearly 15 years — BASS legend Roland Martin scored victory out of an aluminum rig on the Connecticut River in 1994 — Menendez scored victory at a top-level BASS event with aluminum, piloting a 17-foot G3 armed with a 90-horsepower Yamaha engine across Dardanelle for three days of the weather-shortened tournament.
With the victory, Menendez earns $100,000 and valuable points in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, which awards the top 36 anglers qualifying berths in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic. Two years running, Menendez, who is seventh in the AOY standings in 2009, has been the first angler out of the Classic cut and is seeking redemption this season after lost opportunities and doses of misfortune.
"Nothing can replace my Skeeter. It's the finest fishing boat I've ever owned," said Menendez, 44. "But, in this case it wouldn't fit into the culvert. I was forced to choose an alternate form of transportation. Besides, no matter what boat you're in you have to catch the fish to win. Thankfully, I did."
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive on The Bassmasters, which airs Saturday, April 4, at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2. The daily weigh-ins for this and all other regular-season Elite events and two postseason events will air live on ESPN360.com, ESPN's broadband sports network, while a wealth of unique content will also be available at Bassmaster.com.
While it paid off, Menendez was taking a huge gamble with his unique approach. It took him nearly an hour each to get to his spot and return to the weigh-in site and he estimates that he only fished for 10 hours over the three days of competition. Furthermore, with cold and windy conditions throughout the tournament, the ride was far from pleasant and on the final day, Menendez had to move rocks and other obstacles out of his way to reach his honey hole.
Still, when he got to his area, roughly a ¼-mile stretch, he was free of the boat traffic that plagued other competitors. On Sunday, he flipped a Strike King KVD Tube, eerily named after VanDam, in black neon to the shallows to close out the victory.
Within his area, the most productive areas were grapevines positioned adjacent to wood. Amazingly enough, Menendez, who typically runs a Skeeter boat, borrowed the aluminum rig from a good friend. It was so beat up by the end of the tournament, Menendez felt it wasn't salvageable.
"I was 100% committed to aluminum this week," said Menendez. "The thought flickered through my mind to go back to my comfort zone but I knew that the only shot of getting to that area was the smaller rig."
With a late charge, VanDam narrowly missed out on his 15th BASS victory. Using the traditional approach, VanDam fished in an area found by many other Elite Series competitors but was able to capitalize on the final day by flipping a Strike King rodent creature to the shallows.
He trailed Menendez by more than 5 pounds heading into the final day and lamented a decision on the first day of competition to not upgrade his weight, opting instead to not burn out an area. He felt had he exploited the area, he would have had a better shot heading into the final day.
But VanDam, a BASS veteran and perhaps the best angler on the planet, is able to keep things in perspective. With another solid finish, he leads the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings through two Elite Series event. A victory in the season-long points race would give VanDam five AOY trophies, a feat only matched by Martin.
"It's never any fun to lose," said VanDam, a two-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "I really had them dialed in around Noon but I just left myself at too much of a disadvantage."
In third was Chris Lane of Winter Haven, Fla., with 48-1 followed by Jim Murray of Arabi, Ga., with 45-9 in fourth. Denny Brauer, the 1998 Classic champion, was fifth with 43-8.
Continuing their solid runs, 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion Skeet Reese finished sixth while 2008 Classic champ Alton Jones was 10th.