By BassFan Staff
Jason Christie was nearly certain his chance to win this week swam away on Saturday when he tried to swing a 7-pound caliber fish into the boat. He failed to execute and the fish took off back into Lake Dardanelle. Still, he managed to weigh a 20-pound bag to work his way into contention entering the final day.
On Sunday, he cemented his place as one of the best closers in the sport with a 19-02 sack that helped him rally from 4th place and capture his second Elite Series win in as many seasons and his fourth tour-level victory in the last 14 months. His 4-day total of 72-03 was just 4 ounces better than runner-up Gerald Swindle, who caught a day-best 20-01 to close with 71-15.
Greg Hackney, who led following days 2 and 3, saw his weight drop off for a fourth straight day and his 15-03 bag earned him a 3rd-place showing with 71-11. Rick Clunn's bid for his first win in 12 years fell short as his 15-04 stringer knocked him down two spots to 4th with 70-15.
Keith Combs rounded out the Top 5 as he caught 14-00 to finish with 68-03.
When it was over the top 4 were separated by just 1-04, an excruciatingly narrow margin on a lake that proved to be a powerhouse despite ever-changing weather and conditions throughout the event.
Here's how the rest of the finalists finished up:
6. Mike Iaconelli: 67-02
7. Cliff Crochet: 66-14
8. Chris Zaldain: 66-10
9. John Crews: 65-14
10. Paul Elias: 64-12
11. Takahiro Omori: 63-06
12. Skeet Reese: 59-13
Christie, the two-tour stalwart who’s currently 2nd in the BassFan World Rankings, was coming off a 5th-place finish at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic last week. His familiarity with the Arkansas River, especially the pools close to his home in Oklahoma, certainly paid dividends this week. In 2012, he won a Bassmaster Central Open at Fort Gibson Lake, five pools up the river and had said that Dardanelle fished a lot like Robert Kerr Reservoir.
Along with the $100,000 paycheck, Christie notched a berth in next year's Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell, site of his first FLW Tour win in March 2011.
Heading into the event, the fishing up the river was said to be worthy of producing winning-quality stringers, but ultimately it was won from the middle of the lake and down toward the host city of Russellville as anglers dealt with a reservoir that changed virtually by the hour. What would've normally been an offshore post-spawn event was dominated by bank-beaters who fished grass, rock, wood and stretches with moving water.
Hackney's lead in the Angler of the Year (AOY) chase was short-lived as his finish dropped him a point behind Mark Davis after five events. Davis has 412 points, Hackney 411 and reigning AOY Aaron Martens is 3rd with 390.
The Elite Series is off for a few weeks and will resume June 11 with its inaugural B.A.S.S.Fest, a 5-day event set for Lake Chickamauga in Dayton, Tenn., where Bassmaster Open anglers will vie for an opportunity to compete against Elite Series anglers.
> Day 4: 5, 19-02 (20, 72-03)
By the first week of June last year, Christie had turned the top level of his sport on its ear by winning three tour-level events in the matter of 2 months and rocketing to the top of the BassFan World Rankings. As 2014 started creeping toward the end of the May, the Oklahoma pro was starting to wonder if that wickedly superb stretch was just an anomaly.
With his win today, his fifth career tour-level triumph and yet another come-from-behind effort, it's safe to say what happened last year was no fluke.
Christie got dialed in on a mile-long stretch of water in Illinois Bayou where water willow was the prevalent vegetation.
"I just didn't want it to be a little hot streak and have it be over with," he said. "At the start of the year I was thinking about was it a little spurt or can I really compete with these guys? Every time I've won – every single one – I've had no idea that I was going to have a chance to win. This was no different than any of those. I was shocked as anyone else."
He caught a couple decent 3-pound caliber fish in the first couple hours today along with a pair of 2 1/2s and was sitting on close to 12 pounds most of the day. All week, though, his best stretch of time had been between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. It produced again for him today.
"I'd just put my trolling motor down and fish until it got close to 1," he said. "Then when the current got moving, I'd start hopping stretches that were getting the most current and depending on if the water was coming up or going down."
He spent the entirety of the event swimming a half-ounce Booyah jig around the edges of water willow clumps in Illinois Bayou on the lower end of the lake.
More details about Christie's and the other top finishers' patterns will be published soon.
2nd: Swindle's Late Flurry Not Enough
> Day 4: 5, 20-01 (20, 71-15)
Swindle's now been on the short end of two of the smallest margins of victory in Elite Series history. In 2011, he lost to Dean Rojas at Toledo Bend by an ounce.
On stage Sunday, he told the crowd about a phenomenal last hour that saw him catch about a dozen keepers and cull out his two smallest fish in favor of two stout upgrades.
"It was the craziest 40 minutes of my 17-year career," he said. "If I die today, I 've seen what it's like for everything to go your way in 40 minutes."
On the way back to check in, he stopped on a bridge close to the ramp and threw a ChatterBait at some grass and caught a 4 1/4-pounder. He then idled a couple hundred yards and decided to make a couple more casts. He stuck a 3 1/2-pounder that got him over the 20-pound mark.
"When it goes your way it goes your way," he said.
BassFan was unable to reach Swindle for additional comment on Sunday.
Greg Hackney picked up his third 3rd-place finish of the year across both tours today.
3rd: Hackney Had It Won
> Day 4: 5, 15-03 (20, 71-11)
Hackney left the dock this morning feeling good about his chances to seal up his first Elite Series win since 2006.
After catching a few smaller fish on his first area, he made a move and stuck a 4 3/4-pounder on a wooden square-bill crankbait to get him rolling.
"Most of my good ones had come after 10 a.m. anyway so I thought it was going to be a good day," he said. "The only thing that disappointed me was I ran to one place that I'd been depending on for solid fish and I spent the last 90 minutes in there and all I caught was two keepers and a 4-pounder with 10 minutes to go. I just don't understand it. I'd been getting on late flurries every day except today.
"I caught a lot of fish today, just no big ones," he added. "I lost an opportunity that probably would've definitely sealed the deal, but I don't know if I've ever had a week where one didn't get off."
The one that eluded him came on a 75-yard long stretch of floating grass. He'd fished about 50 yards of it off the right side of the boat and he had noticed a local in an aluminum boat off to his left.
"I was watching every cast and was real dialed in," he said. "I made another pitch and just when I did, I turned for an instant to see how close I was getting to that other boat. When the jig touched the water, a fish blew up on it and instead of waiting for him to swim off with it, I just set the hook instinctively and jerked a 3-pounder through the air."
He said that fish would've won the tournament for him, as it would've culled a 14-incher that he weighed in.
"I'm pretty disappointed," he said after collecting his third 3rd-place finish of the year. "I guess it wasn't my time. It's just so hard to get into position to win one of these things. I've had years where I wish they were all 3rds. It's a tough thing, though. I'm just ready to go to the next one."
4th: Clunn Fished Clean
> Day 4: 5, 15-04 (20, 70-15)
Clunn didn't change anything about his pattern today. What did change, however, was the quantity of big bites he'd been getting decreased – a significant development considering he was only getting about a bite an hour throughout the event.
"I try to keep the emotions out of it," he said. "I've been fortunate to win a lot and today I was trying to work hard and think hard every minute of the day and I felt like I did that. I fished an extremely clean tournament. I just didn't get the two more bites that I'd been getting. I got three, but that was it."
He worked through the same stretches and still tallied seven or eight bites fishing a big square-bill crankbait on the outside of shallow grass where there was wood or rock. It was good enough for his best Elite Series finish since finishing 2nd to Combs at Lake Falcon last year. He also advanced to 29th place in the AOY points, which puts him firmly in contention for a 33rd career Bassmaster Classic appearance.
Rick Clunn weighed his smallest bag of the tournament and slid two spots to 4th.
"I went through the same water and I hadn't been getting a ton of bites," he said. "I covered key stretches where I knew there were big fish and where every other day I wound up getting five key bites. Today, I caught several other smaller fish, just no big ones. I wouldn't have changed anything if I had to go back out tomorrow."
5th: Big Bites Eluded Combs
> Day 4: 5, 14-00 (20, 68-03)
Combs felt like he was on the fish to win and had a good start on the final day, with 14 pounds before noon, but a slow afternoon took him out of contention for a second win in two weeks.
"I really felt like I was getting the bites to win," he said. "I had something good to build on today and kept telling myself if I could get two more bites to get up to around 18 pounds I'd have a shot at it. The afternoon was just real slow. I caught just two small keepers later in the day."
He tallied about a dozen keepers fishing the same way he'd been fishing – cranking rip-rap near bridges in current or flipping undercut banks in the river.
"I just didn't get any big ones today," he said. "That's just the way it is sometimes. I'd been getting two or three good ones a day. I could go out tomorrow and catch 20 probably, but it just didn't work out today."
> Day 4 stats – 12 anglers, 12 limits.
1. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK – 20, 72-03 -- 100 -- $101,000
Day 1: 5, 16-07 -- Day 2: 5, 16-10 -- Day 3: 5, 20-00 -- Day 4: 5, 19-02
2. Gerald Swindle -- Warrior, AL – 20, 71-15 -- 99 -- $25,000
Day 1: 5, 18-12 -- Day 2: 5, 14-02 -- Day 3: 5, 19-00 -- Day 4: 5, 20-01
3. Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 20, 71-11 -- 98 -- $20,500
Day 1: 5, 21-13 -- Day 2: 5, 18-01 -- Day 3: 5, 16-10 -- Day 4: 5, 15-03
4. Rick Clunn -- Ava, MO -- 20, 70-15 -- 97 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 18-05 -- Day 2: 5, 17-14 -- Day 3: 5, 19-08 -- Day 4: 5, 15-04
5. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 20, 68-03 -- 96 -- $14,000
Day 1: 5, 19-14 -- Day 2: 5, 16-10 -- Day 3: 5, 17-11 -- Day 4: 5, 14-00
6. Michael Iaconelli -- Pittsgrove, NJ -- 20, 67-02 -- 95 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 12-09 -- Day 2: 5, 18-05 -- Day 3: 5, 17-12 -- Day 4: 5, 18-08
7. Cliff Crochet -- Pierre Part, LA -- 20, 66-14 -- 94 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 13-04 -- Day 2: 5, 19-15 -- Day 3: 5, 19-02 -- Day 4: 5, 14-09
8. Chris Zaldain -- San Jose, CA – 20, 66-10 -- 93 -- $12,500
Day 1: 5, 17-09 -- Day 2: 5, 15-03 -- Day 3: 5, 16-08 -- Day 4: 5, 17-06
9. John Crews -- Salem, VA -- 20, 65-14 -- 92 -- $12,000
Day 1: 5, 22-09 -- Day 2: 5, 16-12 -- Day 3: 5, 11-11 -- Day 4: 5, 14-14
10. Paul Elias -- Laurel, MS -- 20, 64-12 -- 91 -- $11,500
Day 1: 5, 14-09 -- Day 2: 5, 13-09 -- Day 3: 5, 20-07 -- Day 4: 5, 16-03
11. Takahiro Omori -- Emory, TX -- 20, 63-06 -- 90 -- $11,000
Day 1: 5, 16-00 -- Day 2: 5, 13-02 -- Day 3: 5, 20-07 -- Day 4: 5, 13-13
12. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA – 20, 59-13 -- 89 -- $10,500
Day 1: 5, 16-14 -- Day 2: 5, 13-07 -- Day 3: 5, 18-07 -- Day 4: 5, 11-01