By BassFan Staff
Mike McClelland is fairly certain the first bass he ever caught as a boy came out of Table Rock Lake. Growing up, he spent countless days on the sprawling lake fishing with his parents. His aunt and uncle used to own a resort on the lake and still live on Table Rock. His grandfather was a land developer in the area before it became one of the jewels of the Ozark Mountains.
Table Rock is where he learned the craft he has turned into a career. More than anything else, Table Rock is home for McClelland.
On Sunday, he added another chapter to the Table Rock family scrapbook, holding off a final-day charge from a cast of past Anglers of the Year, Classic champions and Forrest Wood Cup winners. He took on all comers on what he calls his home lake and turned them away to end a 6-year Elite Series winless drought.
McClelland started the day with nearly a 4-pound advantage over Aaron Martens and he needed just about every ounce of that cushion. His 12-02 stringer today was by far his lightest of the event, but his 61-15 total was enough to edge Mark Davis by 13 ounces and give him his seventh career B.A.S.S. tournament win. Only 12 other anglers have won seven or more B.A.S.S. events. He also joins Kevin VanDam (6), Tommy Biffle (4), Todd Faircloth (4) and Skeet Reese (4) as the only men with four or more Elite Series victories.
"If I don't win another tournament in my career, this one will definitely be the most special," McClelland said. "For some reason the big ones didn't show up today, but I'm a firm believer in when it's meant to be it's meant to be and I guess the good Lord just wanted to see an exciting finish today."
For Davis, who's off to an incredible start this season with a 35-point lead in the AOY standings after three events, it was another brush with victory and another Top-3 finish, his fourth in a row dating back to last year. He bounced back from a lighter day 3 and caught 15-11 today to finish with 61-02.
Greg Hackney, who's fishing both tours this season, finished 3rd for the second week in a row. He caught a final round-best 16-07 today to close with 60-15.
Aaron Martens slid two spots to 4th with 60-01 after bagging 14-03 while Kevin VanDam, fresh off a 70th-place finish 2 weeks ago, dropped two positions to 5th after catching 14-08 to finish with 59-15. It is his best Elite Series finish since June 2011.
Here's how the rest of the finalists finished up:
6. Edwin Evers: 59-11
7. Jeff Kriet: 59-05
8. Brandon Palaniuk: 59-01
9. Cliff Prince: 57-15
10. Bill Lowen: 55-13
11. Kevin Hawk: 54-11
12. Jared Lintner: 54-02
The conditions on the final day were textbook for good fishing. It was chilly and a bit overcast with some wind, but the big fish that McClelland's closest pursuers needed to overtake him didn't show themselves. The lake again this week showed why many consider it one of the best all-around bass fisheries in the nation. Some anglers were catching upwards of 70 fish per day and a strong mix of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
It offered anglers a range of choices as far as conditions go, too. From stained water in the river and creek arms to clear water toward the dam, prespawn bass were easy to come by all over the lake, especially on rock transitions and bluff walls. In the end, McClelland's knowledge of the lake and how fish behave under certain conditions at this time of year proved to be too much to overcome.
The Elite Series will take the rest of the month off before resuming at Toledo Bend Reservoir May 1-4.
> Day 4: 5, 12-02 (20, 61-15)
In the mid-2000's, McClelland was as dependable as a watch. Between 2005 and 2008, he won one B.A.S.S. event per year, including Elite Series wins in '06-'08. He didn't think it would take him this long to get back in the winner's circle.
"When you win one a year for 4 years in a row, you don't realize it's as hard as it truly is," he said. "The field is so strong now and to win one of these I think is an even bigger deal now than it was at the inception of the Elite Series just due to the competition level.
McClelland went through about 10 keepers today en route to capturing the victory.
"We have young guys coming up with so much knowledge, stuff that has taken me 20 years to learn. It's getting tougher and tougher to beat these guys."
To win at the lake he grew up on added a special element to the experience.
"It's huge," he said. "There were people there today that I went to grade school with. All of my family was there and I had so many friends there. It made it really special."
He sensed his chances to win were enhanced after VanDam failed to overtake Davis with his stringer.
"When VanDam didn't have it and I knew what Mark had, I knew I had it," he said. "It was 100 percent true emotion, though, not knowing until those fish went on the scale. I don't weigh my fish, but I balance beam them all and I knew they were small in comparison to what I'd been catching all week. It was tough going from a 3-pound average fish to 16-inchers."
He caught about 10 keepers today sticking with his jerkbait and swimbait pattern around chunk rock banks with gravel points. Additional details of McClelland's and the rest of the top finishers' patterns will be published in the coming days.
2nd: Davis Did All He Could
> Day 4: 5, 15-11 (20, 61-02)
Davis will be bidding for his fifth straight Top-5 finish at the Toledo Bend. If he's able to do it, he'll match Reese's string of five Top-5s in a row from 2010.
It was hard for Davis to put his thumb on anything in particular he could've done differently that would've swung the outcome in his favor. He'll look back on day 3 as the day that likely cost him his first Elite Series victory, but he bounced back strong today and just fell a few ounces short.
Mark Davis was all smiles until McClelland brought his fish to the stage.
"I did all I could do," he said. "Yesterday just didn't work out. It wasn't for a lack of catching fish or being around them. I just needed one decent bite yesterday – not even a 5- or 6-pounder either. A 3-pounder would've won it for me. What are you going to do, though? When you catching 50 bass or more a day, it's hard to complain. I've had three good finishes in a row and have a 30-something point lead in the points so that's all okay."
He said he went back to the area where he'd been catching anywhere from 50 to 80 fish a day and it produced again for him as he continued to throw a twin-tail grub threaded on a wobble-head jig. He estimated that he caught 40 to 50 keepers today, his best day of the event.
"It was a better day with the cloud cover," he said. "The fish just bit better."
Once he had a solid 15-pound limit, he picked up a crankbait for the final 3 hours of the day in hopes of triggering a kicker bite.
"I lost a couple fish that would've won it for me," he said. "I just felt like after I had 15 pounds relatively early that cranking would be my best chance to catch a 5-pounder. It caught a ton of fish on it. I must've caught 50 bass in that 3-hour period. I hooked up a couple decent ones that I didn't see, but they felt big."
3rd: Second Straight 3rd For Hackney
> Day 4: 5, 16-07 (20, 60-15)
Hackney was certain his fellow finalists, at least those above him in the standings, were going to catch much bigger bags today than they did. He figured he was going to need 19 or 20 pounds to challenge for a win. As it turns out, 17-08 would've done the trick.
"I don't really have any complaints," he said after following up his 3rd at the Sam Rayburn Reservoir FLW Tour with another Top-3. "I fished really good this week and last week. It's tough, though, because you always want to win. It's so hard to get into position to win one of these."
This is his best Elite Series finish since taking 3rd at the California Delta in March 2010. He'd won at Table Rock in March 2005 and was 16th when the Bassmaster Tour came stopped there early March 2004
He tallied 12 to 15 keepers today, but first limit was the smallest he'd had all week and they were all 15-inch largemouth, which was a departure from the norm.
"Typically, I'd only been getting three or four largemouth bites a day," he said. "I had about 10 keeper largemouths today and only one keeper spot, which was unusual."
Greg Hackney missed a day of practice this week due to traveling from last week's FLW Tour event. It didn't slow him down as he tool 3rd.
He veered away from his primary area for a spell today trying to trigger a few bigger fish to bite, but eventually he returned to where he started and picked up a couple culls.
"I killed 90 minutes or so there that I shouldn't have," he said. "I caught keepers, but I didn't better myself."
5th: VanDam Bummed
> Day 4: 5, 14-08 (20, 59-15)
When VanDam reflects on this tournament down the road, he'll look back on day 2 as the day his chance to end his own winless drought slipped away.
"I'm definitely not disappointed about yesterday or today," he said. "Day 2 for me was when it got away from me.
"It was hard to get a good bite. I knew what I needed to do today, but I just couldn't get a kicker. It wasn't just me, either. It was everybody, but that's the way it goes."
He said the only conditions that would've been more favorable would've been sunny skies with a good breeze or wind.
"The conditions today were conducive," he said. "The fish were biting today. I just didn't get them."
> Day 4 stats – 12 anglers, 12 limits.
1. Mike McClelland -- Bella Vista, AR -- 20, 61-15 -- 100 –– $102,500
Day 1: 5, 15-06 -- Day 2: 5, 16-14 -- Day 3: 5, 17-09 -- Day 4: 5, 12-02
2. Mark Davis -- Mount Ida, AR -- 20, 61-02 -- 99 –– $26,500
Day 1: 5, 18-08 -- Day 2: 5, 15-03 -- Day 3: 5, 11-12 -- Day 4: 5, 15-11
3. Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 20, 60-15 -- 98 –– $21,000
Day 1: 5, 16-00 -- Day 2: 5, 14-10 -- Day 3: 5, 13-14 -- Day 4: 5, 16-07
4. Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 20, 60-01 -- 97 –– $16,000
Day 1: 5, 18-11 -- Day 2: 5, 14-05 -- Day 3: 5, 12-14 -- Day 4: 5, 14-03
5. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 20, 59-15 -- 96 –– $14,000
Day 1: 5, 14-00 -- Day 2: 5, 12-00 -- Day 3: 5, 19-07 -- Day 4: 5, 14-08
6. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 20, 59-11 -- 95 –– $13,500
Day 1: 5, 17-04 -- Day 2: 5, 13-09 -- Day 3: 5, 13-01 -- Day 4: 5, 15-13
7. Jeff Kriet -- Ardmore, OK -- 20, 59-05 -- 94 –– $13,000
Day 1: 5, 14-10 -- Day 2: 5, 14-04 -- Day 3: 5, 15-13 -- Day 4: 5, 14-10
8. Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 20, 59-01 -- 93 –– $12,500
Day 1: 5, 16-13 -- Day 2: 5, 13-10 -- Day 3: 5, 12-10 -- Day 4: 5, 16-00
9. Cliff Prince -- Palatka, FL -- 20, 57-15 -- 92 –– $12,500
Day 1: 5, 09-06 -- Day 2: 5, 19-10 -- Day 3: 5, 12-15 -- Day 4: 5, 16-00
10. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 20, 55-13 -- 91 –– $11,500
Day 1: 5, 11-06 -- Day 2: 5, 14-02 -- Day 3: 5, 18-13 -- Day 4: 5, 11-08
11. Kevin Hawk -- Guntersville, AL -- 20, 54-11 -- 90 –– $11,000
Day 1: 5, 10-06 -- Day 2: 5, 16-03 -- Day 3: 5, 15-11 -- Day 4: 5, 12-07
12. Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 20, 54-02 -- 89 –– $10,500
Day 1: 5, 12-06 -- Day 2: 5, 17-15 -- Day 3: 5, 11-02 -- Day 4: 5, 12-11