By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Paul Elias has qualified for the Bassmaster Classic just twice in this millennium and only three times since 1994. A solid run this season, however, has put him in position to return to the event he won 32 years ago.
His 2014 performance hasn't been consistent – far from it. But the good finishes have outnumbered the bad thus far and at 24th in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year (AOY) race, he's well within the cutoff for making the 2015 Classic at Lake Hartwell.
Three of his last four placements have been 14th or better and he's made two final-day appearances. He'd be considerably higher on the points list if the other two outings hadn't been complete bombs (73rd and 92nd).
"In all three of those events (he did well in), I got on something on the first day of practice and I was able to expand on it," said the 63-year-old veteran of 32 professional seasons. "In the other two, I was just clueless all through practice."
Overcame Rough Start
Elias logged his worst placement of the campaign in the opening event at Georgia's Lake Seminole.
"That tournament was a total cluster for me," he said. "I was having some problems with my depthfinders and I had an electrical problem with my motor that we couldn't figure out.
"It felt like it was a fuel problem – when we were making that big run from Bainbridge the motor was shutting down. It ended up being a loose wire from the motor where it connected to the battery, but it wasn't at the terminal so it wasn't obvious. We finally found it after the second day of the tournament."
He said he also went into that tournament with too many preconceived notions of how he was going to catch fish. He ditched that mindset the following week at Florida's St. Johns River and came away with a 12th-place showing.
He followed that up with a 14th at Table Rock and notched a 10th last week at Dardanelle. Sandwiched between those derbies was a stinker at Toledo Bend – a venue at which he's enjoyed a good deal of success over the years.
"I usually catch them there, but I had a really bad practice – nothing I tried seemed to work. When that happens and you don't watch yourself, you tend to fish faster and faster and you don't cover anything thoroughly enough. I fished right by a lot of fish."
There were no secrets to his success at Table Rock and Dardanelle: Much of his career has been built on cranking and he did nothing else at either stop.
"Those were just tailor-made for what I like to do. If I can tie on a crankbait and throw it all day, I feel comfortable, even though that was shallow-diving stuff. I was getting the right bites and I just stuck with it."
History in Michigan
If Elias remains among the Top 50 in the points through the August events at the Delaware River and Cayuga Lake, he'll qualify for the AOY Championship in September at the Bays de Noc out of Escanaba, Mich. He has no experience on that particular venue, but enjoyed fishing others in the region while living in that state for 4 years in the 1970s. He'd moved there to help care for a blind uncle whose wife had passed away.
He's never competed on the Delaware or Cayuga, either, and soon plans to make a practice trip to the former. He's pretty sure Cayuga, in upstate New York, will fish much like Seneca Lake, where he won a Bassmaster Tour event the year after his Classic triumph.
"The primary reason I won on Seneca was because I understood the glacier lakes (from the time he spent living in the North). When I got there, it didn't take me long to figure out what was going on.
"I think Seneca's a deeper lake, but they're real similar as far as vegetation and whatnot, and I think Cayuga has a better largemouth population than Seneca."
He averaged 15 pounds a day over the first 2 days of that '83 derby, and then a single-digit bag under brutal conditions on the final day was enough to close out the victory.
"The wind blew so hard that only 47 boats (out of 130 or so) made it back to the weigh-in," he said. "The guys that didn't catch them weren't going to fight it and the ones that locked through to Cayuga, most of them didn't get back.
"I'm not positive about this, but I think that was the first time a B.A.S.S. event was won on all smallmouth."