By Todd Ceisner
You ready for this one?
Edwin Evers said he spent a total of 15 minutes in the Elk River during practice leading up to the Bassmaster Classic. The water was clearer there than anywhere else on the Grand Lake system, something others discovered as well. In those 15 minutes, he caught a 7-pounder and shook off two other good fish. He never went back – until he had to.
In what may go down as one of the shrewdest calls in Classic history, Evers opted to wait until Sunday when he faced a deficit of more than 6 pounds to check the area of the Elk where he’d been in practice. It was hardly new water to him. He’s fished the Elk for years, but if he had his druthers – and conditions were right – he would’ve spent this year’s Classic on the lower end of the lake where the bigger population of big fish lives.
The floods from December had deposited plenty of logs and other wood along a wide flat near where the river narrows down as it flows out of Missouri. Those same floods had laid waste to the clear water on the lower end of Grand and forced anglers to rethink their strategies. For Evers, that meant the Elk and Neosho rivers would figure prominently his tournament strategy.
After catching 13-12 on day 1 (with just four fish) in the mid-lake section, Evers got back into contention with a 17-08 bag out of the Neosho on day 2. That put him in 3rd place, a fair amount (6-05) behind close friend and Elite Series traveling partner Jason Christie, who led after days 1 and 2.
“It’s a 3-day tournament,” he said. “I spent my time in three different places and without those first 2 days, today doesn’t matter.”
Over the span of 2 hours Sunday morning, Evers put on a river fishing clinic, capitalizing on the windy conditions that helped him target the fish he’d found in practice to the tune of 29-03. No Classic winner had ever caught a heavier stringer on the final day of the event.
With Christie struggling to generate bites with the spinnerbait that had carried him to the lead, the door was open for Evers and he blew it down, winning by more than 10 pounds with a 3-day total of 60-07.
“Never in 100 years would I have dreamed that I could’ve caught Jason,” he said. “It was a great, great day.”
The Classic was Evers' 200th Bassmaster tournament and the victory wipes away the label that had followed him around for a while – best angler without a Classic or AOY title.
“It feels so much better,” Evers said. “It wasn’t going to kill me. It was bothering me for a while and then last year it didn’t seem like a big deal. If I quit tomorrow, I’d have nothing to be ashamed of over my career. I’ve had a good career, but this sure makes it a lot better.”
After posting back-to-back Elite Series wins in 2015 – he was the first do that – and then adding a Classic trophy to his mantle, Evers wants to keep the momentum rolling. The 2016 Elite Series season kicks off next week at the St. Johns River, where Evers won an Elite event in 2011.
“I don’t want to be satisfied with it,” he said. “I’m not done yet.”
Here’s how he did it.
Evers finished 25th at the 2013 at Grand, largely due to his unwillingness to adjust.
“I got stubborn and tried to catch them where I wanted them to be in the clear water,” he said.
He vowed to not let that happen again this year.
He didn’t fish Grand in December while the water was on the rise as a result of the heavy rains. He’d spent a day there with a friend last November, but he focused on the lower end and caught small fish. The bulk of his prep work was done on the water last winter when conditions were much different.
“I spent so much time at Grand last winter,” he said. “I didn’t care if it was 20 degrees and snowing. I was trying to do all I could to get ready for this event. We had crystal clear water and then boom; we get rain – record rain – and the lake’s 13 feet high. The whole end of the lake that I’m most familiar with – the bottom end was mud.”
Prior to the start of practice last week, he drove around the perimeter of the lake in an effort to see if any areas had cleared up enough. They hadn’t.
“Last winter, I never made a cast above Horse Creek. Not one time, so this tournament was really brand new to me,” he said. “I know the lower end really well and that’s where I wanted it to go down, but it was just muddy and it wasn’t anything like I needed it to be.
“It’s weird how these things work out. Here I am, Classic champion on a whole completely different end of the lake that you could’ve told me it would be won and I’d have said, ‘No. There’s no way.’ Now I’m sitting here, next to this trophy.”
In practice, he explored the mid-lake section and the river arms.
“I established in practice that I could catch them on a crankbait on shallow banks in the backs of pockets and along the last channel swing,” he said.
All of the crankbait fish would hit the bait when he paused it.
He offered up a jig and spinnerbait and a creature bait when fishing in the rivers around wood.
> Day 1: 4, 13-12
> Day 2: 5, 17-08
> Day 3: 5, 29-03
> Total = 14, 60-07
He relied on the crankbait pattern on day 1, but he sensed it wasn’t going to hold up all 3 days, especially with high skies and a warming trend on the way.
“That pattern was dying because of the warming water,” he said. “The water temperature was 44. It was going away. With bass, you want to find where they’re going.”
He was initially disappointed with having just four fish for 13-12 to start off the event, but after realizing many of his competitors had an equally hard time, he changed his tune.
“I thought it was a failure until I saw the weights,” he said. “I survived it. I’d thought I let the Classic slip away. It was a tough day.”
He shifted to “damage control” mode on day 2, but it went better than expected. He simplified his approach, flipped with a Zoom Z-Hog Jr., his “all-time confidence bait,” and came out with 17-08, the best bag of the day, to rise from 13th to 3rd.
“I just looked at new stuff,” he said. “I had no bites at 10:30 a.m. and went up the Neosho. I was thinking, ‘That’s not where you go to win,’ but I caught a nice stringer. I never would’ve gone up that river if it had been a normal Grand year because that’s about the max you can get from up there – 17 pounds. It just all worked out good.”
Evers had a frustrating day 1 in the mid-lake section of Grand Lake.
That nice stringer kept him within shouting distance of Christie, who for two straight days small-eyed his fish and built lead of 5-11 that few thought was surmountable. He basically had a one fish cushion on the field.
When Evers got up Sunday, he noted the stiff south wind and knew the Elk would be viable option for the final day.
“Those fish were there all week,” he said. “I didn’t know there were that many fish, though. The Elk is so finicky. I’ve told so many people that it won’t be won there, but sure enough…”
He went to town with a small finesse jig tied with living rubber strands.
“It’s something you need in a clear-water situation,” he said. “I caught them pretty early, within 90 minutes to 2 hours.”
Because of how clear the water was, he made long pitches and short casts to logs that were wedged on the flat, which was 3 to 5 feet deep and had a mixed silty and rocky bottom.
“Those fish were relating to the veins in the flat where it’s a little deeper,” he said. “The best laydowns had an undercut next to them and that dark spot is where they could hide, facing up current.”
Fortunate for Evers, 5th-place finisher Randy Howell fished right through the same area on day 2, but didn’t catch much, likely because the wind wasn’t as intense.
“This lake is so phenomenal,” Evers said. “When you hit it right, you don’t always see the big weights because the big fields they get divide it up. With 50 guys, if the lake was in prime condition, we could catch that. It’s special. I’ve never caught that kind of bag on this lake.
With a major accomplishment crossed off his career to-do list, Evers has little time to soak it in. The Elite Series season kicks off next in Florida.
“I’m going to enjoy this for a few minutes, but don’t think for a second I’m not going to try to win Angler of the Year this year,” he said. “I haven’t given any event two seconds of thoughts since they announced the schedule. All of my energy and thoughts have all been about Grand.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Jig gear: 7’ heavy-action Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Carbonlite casting rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series Titanium 8 casting reel (6.2:1 gear ratio), 12-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, 5/16-oz. Andy’s Custom Bass Lures E Series Finesse jig (green craw), Zoom Critter Craw (green-pumpkin) trailer.
> Cranking gear: 7’ medium-action Bass Pros Shops crankin’ stick, same reel, 10-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, Megabass Flap Slap (sexy French pearl).
> Evers applied some wire to the front of the Flap Slap so it would suspend like a jerkbait – that was key since a lot of the bites he got on it would come on the pause.
> Evers caught most of his day-2 fish flipping a Zoom Z-Hog Jr. (black/blue) on a 3/0 Mustad Denny Brauer Grip Pin Max flipping hook. He also caught fish on a 1/2-oz. War Eagle tandem willow spinnerbait (chartreuse/white).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “I think it was making good decisions all week. I made good decisions on day 2 and caught 17 pounds. I fished three completely different areas all three days.”
> Performance edge – "The new Lowrance StructureScan. Being able to see so far left and right in that really shallow water. I could see those objects from a long way away, especially after it got windy and I couldn't see them visually. I could line up on a log and make a long cast to it. That stuff's amazing and how far you can see in the shallow water."
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here.