By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Jason Williamson, Boyd Duckett and Brandon Card still have hope of competing in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville. Classic-qualified Elites Series anglers could win any or all of the three remaining Bassmaster Opens (Duckett could win the Northern finale himself), or guys who haven't fished those full circuits could win them, causing the accompanying Classic slot to be transferred to the Elite points list.
Then there's also the Bassmaster Wild Card at Lake Okeechobee in December, which will offer one final win-and-you're-in opportunity for Elite and full-season Open competitors.
The trio of aforementioned Elite pros finished at Nos. 40 through 42 in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) race, putting them just below where the Classic cutoff currently sits due to nine double-qualifiers and a vacated Open berth. They'll take any help they can get in punching a ticket for Guntersville, but each recalls below a scenario that has him – for the moment, at least – on the outside looking in.
A couple of 4-pounders that got away on day 2 at the St. Lawrence River are haunting Williamson, who's fished one Classic (the 2011 edition at the Louisiana Delta).
"I was just outside the 50-cut on day 1, and then I only caught 13 1/2 pounds on day 2," he said. "I was fishing a pretty heavy-weighted tube and those two big ones just jumped off.
"That was really bad. It sent me from making the cut all the way to 80th place because the weights were so tight."
He hasn't yet decided whether he'll fish the Wild Card if an Open winner doesn't boost him into the Classic.
"I need to take some time to get over ending up one spot out before I make that decision. You've got to win that one, and it'll cost a pretty good chunk to go down there and stay and spend the time that'll be needed to practice.
"I'll see how the Opens go, and then sometime after that I'll make my mind up for sure."
Boyd Duckett had a hand on his Classic-making fish last week, but watched it swim away.
Duckett, the 2007 Classic champion, tied Williamson for 40th in the standings with 432 points, but lost the tie-breaker (total combined weight caught on days 1 and 2 throughout the season). Therefore, Williamson will take the first opening in the case of a new double-qualifier, but Duckett can create his own berth by winning the final Northern Open next week at Lake Erie.
That would be somewhat ironic since he allowed a points-list berth to slip away last week while fishing Erie in the St. Clair Elite event. He ended up 63rd to miss the 50-cut for the third consecutive derby.
"If I'd had 3 more ounces (last week) I'd have been in the Classic, and I had one in my hands that would've given me that," he said. "I wasn't getting many bites and the fish I had went away, and I had to weigh one that day that was about a pound and a half.
"I had one that was about 2 3/4 right next to the boat that I tried everything on – scooping it, lifting it and pinning it against the side – and it finally came off. That happened at maybe 11 o'clock, it wasn't like it was the last minute or anything, and it really didn't bother me that much at the time. I was catching enough of those very day that it just wasn't that big of a day."
Little did he know that he wouldn't get another bite of that quality.
"I literally had the slime from the Bassmaster Classic on my hands."
Like Williamson, he's undecided about the Wild Card.
"I don't really like that thing on principle – it doesn't pay (well), but you still have all the expenses. But I'm a competitor and the Classic's coming to my home lake, so I'll probably go if I have to."
A bad decision on day 2 at Bull Shoals haunted Brandon Card for the rest of the season.
Card, who made his Classic debut this year at Grand Lake, was the AOY leader after Top-10 finishes at the two events in Texas and later added a 5th at the Mississippi River. However, he fared no better than 49th in any of the other five derbies.
He said a bad decision at Bull Shoals in April was the biggest factor in his demise.
"It was just a bonehead move and I'm still kicking myself over it," he said. "I found a concentration of fish in the back of a creek during practice, then we had the cancellation of day 1 because of all that rain.
"When we finally got back out there I ran to the back of that creek and it was blown out – it was as muddy as you can imagine and there was no way of catching fish. I figured I'd just fish the outskirts and then roll back in there on day 2, because normally on the second day after a rain, a few areas start clearing up."
He managed a mediocre bag on day 1 to get into 50-cut contention, but made a bad call on day 2 and wound up 53rd.
"A lot of that creek was blown out, but there was still some fishable water. I flipped up a 3 1/2-pounder and got one that was just under 3 on a spinnerbait, and then I started scratching around and found another area where I got a good keeper. I had 11 or 12 pounds at noon and I still had 3 more hours to fish.
"The water was up in the bushes and I love to flip bushes, but stupid me, I decide to leave those fish and go looking for a giant on a bed because I think I need a 5- or 6-pounder to make the cut. I spent the last 2 hours with my trolling motor on high looking for a bedding fish that I never found."
He was eventually forced to weigh a tiny spotted bass as his limit fish and missed the Top 50 by a couple of ounces.
"I know I could've culled two or three more times and gotten up into the 30s (in the standings) and then gone back out on day 3 with a lot more water to fish. That one cost me the Classic, for sure."
He's not yet fully committed to registering for the Wild Card, but says he'll likely end up there.
"Some of my sponsors seem to think it's important and I like fishing in Florida, so if it comes down to that I'll probably do it. If I can put a big stick in my hand with 65-pound SpiderWire, I'll be happy."