By MLF Communications Staff

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The first time Jordan Lee ever tasted tournament victory, competing on Lake Guntersville at age 17, he earned the win throwing a topwater frog. Ever since, he’s continued to hone his skills with his favorite technique, waiting for a chance to show them off on the national stage.

When he finally got the chance at Heavy Hitters on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, the Cullman, Ala. resident made sure to take advantage.

Lee caught each of his seven scorable bass during Thursday’s Championship Round and nearly all his weight throughout the event walking a Berkley Swamp Lord over matted hydrilla on Lake Toho. His 27-pound, 14-ounce final-day total proved just enough to clinch a second Heavy Hitters championship belt.

Kevin VanDam, in his final tour-level competition in a brilliant 33-year career, won $100,000 for catching the heaviest bass of the Championship Round. VanDam boated a 7-12 bruiser on a Strike King Thunder Cricket bladed jig in the final period.

Lee entered the week as the clear favorite thanks to his two prior wins on the Kissimmee Chain in Bass Pro Tour competition, including the inaugural Heavy Hitters in June 2020. And for much of the event, he made it look easy. He led Group B through both days of qualifying, stacking more than 60 pounds on ScoreTracker during a Day 1 he called “insane,” then won the Knockout Round.

Come the Championship Round, though, his fish proved far less cooperative. Whether due to five days of fishing pressure, the variable minimum weight increasing to 3 pounds or the calm, blue-sky conditions that greeted the Top 10, the entire field had to grind for bites, Lee included. It took him two hours to book his first scorable bass.

But, leaning on the hundreds of hours he’s spent frogging mats on Guntersville through the years, the Alabama native eventually figured out which tricks to try to generate just enough bites. He crawled his frog painfully slowly, especially when he knew he was around active fish. He also doctored one frog, removing the silicone strand legs and replacing them with super-glued jig rattles, saying the added noise helps attract bass through the thicker slop.

Most important was knowing where to look amid a sea of hydrilla. Lee learned during practice that he could get more bites through bigger mats than small, matted clumps. From there, he covered water to identify which areas were better than others, using the extra practice time he earned during the Qualifying Round to expand his list of waypoints. That proved vital, as Lee said certain mats stopped producing during the course of the event due to fishing pressure and boat traffic.

“They had to be hollow underneath… and where you had that kind of cheese,” Lee explained. “They weren’t way out on the outside where there was isolated clumps. I was looking for the bigger mats in areas where they just looked fresh almost, and I was looking for blowholes, where fish come up, blowing through the mat.

MLF/Phoenix Moore
Photo: MLF/Phoenix Moore

Kevin VanDam admires the trophy he received for catching the largest fish during the Championship Round at Heavy Hitters.

“It’s Guntersville 101. I do this every fall since I was 16, the exact fishing that I did this week. It was no different. The grass was the same, and it was just awesome because of how identical it fishes to there.”

Lee used beefed-up tackle to throw his Swamp Lords, which he believes was key. He primarily wielded a Jordan Lee signature series 7-foot-6 heavy-action rod from Abu Garcia — designed to be a flipping stick — instead of his usual, 7-foot-3 frog rod. He also turned to a 7-foot-9 punching rod in the thickest mats, spooling both with 50-pound Berkley X5 braid. The heavier rods gave him more power to winch bass out of the thick grass.

“I didn’t want to mess up the mats,” Lee said. “That’s kind of what I’ve learned about going in and getting them, you ruin a place, and then you’ve got to drag them out. You can catch a fish right there in the same hole that you’ve caught one before, and that happened a ton this week where you’d find them just packed in out of the same spot.”

Lee bounced from spot to spot Thursday morning before landing on a mat that produced a three-fish flurry in the final half four of Period 1, giving him the lead. He extended his advantage with two more scorable bass around noon.

Then, his bite went dormant. Lee went more than two hours without adding to his total. During that time, several anglers crept within one scorable bass of his lead, and Keith Poche eventually passed him with a little more than 90 minutes left in the competition day.

Lee didn’t panic, though. He returned to one of the mats he’d fished early in the morning. While he didn’t get any bites there initially, he’d noticed that it didn’t show signs of fishing pressure. The decision proved to be worth $100,000.

“I thought there was some fish around there,” Lee said. “I had some bites throughout the week right there. But I just decided that was really my only other place I thought wasn’t getting a lot of fishing pressure.”

While Lee lifting a trophy (or, in this case, a belt) has become a common sight at the highest level of tournament fishing, he’ll remember this win for how he pulled it off.

“I’m really just blown away how good it was to me this week, catching them one of my favorite ways, fishing this heavy hydrilla,” Lee said. “I grew up fishing like this. I was really comfortable when I found this bite. And it was just a special bite. It got tougher as the week went on, but I stayed patient, and man, it was just awesome.”

Final Standings

1. Jordan Lee -- 27-14 (7) -- 4-13

2. Keith Poche -- 23-10 (5) -- 6-15

3. Matt Becker -- 19-04 (5) -- 4-08

4. Kevin VanDam -- 18-14 (4) -- 7-12

5. Brandon Coulter -- 12-05 (3) -- 5-01

6. Bryan Thrift -- 8-07 (2) -- 4-12

7. Todd Faircloth -- 8-01 (2) -- 5-01

8. Brent Ehrler -- 7-00 (1) -- 7-00

9. Dakota Ebare -- 6-12 (2) -- 3-09

10. Alton Jones Jr. -- 0-00 (0) -- 0-00