By Todd Ceisner
Jason Christie sat on the elevated stage, his right hand pressed firmly against his cheek with his elbow resting on the table. All the while he stared holes through the back wall of the interview room in the bowels of the Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Sunday evening.
Somewhere else in the arena, Jordan Lee was carrying around the trophy that many believed would be heading to Oklahoma as a passenger in Christie’s truck.
This was supposed to be Christie’s day, his time, his Bassmaster Classic to win. All the ingredients were there. He had more than a 4 1/2-pound lead entering the final day. He was beyond confident in his pattern of catching largemouth in dirty water in the Tugaloo River. He’d won at Lake Hartwell before and seemed poised to expunge the sting of his 2016 Classic loss to Edwin Evers at Grand Lake from his memory.
And then Sunday happened.
The morning was a total loss. He lost what he estimated to be a 3-pounder, but he shrugged it off. He’d get other chances, he figured.
“It was a big deal, but I didn’t think it’d be that big of a deal because I thought I’d get plenty of bites,” he said.
It took him until 12:15 to land a keeper – a 1 1/2-pound spotted bass, his first of the week. He didn’t know it, but from then on, he was in catch-up mode on the leaderboard.
“You’re pressing,” he said. “I fished a ton of water today. I probably spent three-fourths of today in water I hadn’t fished before this week. That’s how confident I was in the pattern. It’s not like I fished pockets that didn’t have any fish in them. They were there. I saw them. I just couldn’t get them to bite.”
For that, he blamed the noticeable changes in the conditions compared to Saturday. The lack of wind really made it challenging for him to fool fish, especially with the water clearing up as well.
“They reached the next stage of love-making and there was no wind,” he said. “I feel like I still could’ve caught them if we’d have had some wind. Fishing that water today, I was seeing my bait down a foot or a foot and a half deep and that hadn’t been the case.”
What’s more is the fish’s mood seemed to change overnight and that put Christie at a disadvantage.
“I saw a lot of fish laying around and floating around underneath the docks, but they were literally inches under the surface sunning,” he said. “I pulled up to one dock that had four or five under it. I’d skip my bait up under there and they’d just swim away. It’s part of it.”
Ultimately, Christie needed 9 pounds, 14 ounces to hold off Lee, which most figured would be easily attainable. When he failed to finish off his limit – another 1-03 keeper would’ve clinched it – and strapped his rods down for the final time, he had a sinking feeling.
“I knew it was over. I was surprised I stayed in the top 10,” he said. “That’s how good they were going to catch ‘em. I know I ran around a lot today, but I ran around like that all week. It’s just how I’ve been fishing. I ran to little key places.
“Obviously, If I’d have known I needed 10 pounds, I would’ve flipped docks all day and caught me some, but if I had done that somebody would’ve caught 16 and beat me and I’d feel worse than I do right now,” he continued. “So at least I went down swinging.”