By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Jason Christie appeared to be in complete control of the 2016 Bassmaster Classic through the first 2 days of the 3-day event. All the while, however, he knew he was fishing a program that was waning day by day.
He'd known it for almost a week.
Had the derby taken place the prior weekend, when water temperatures were still in the mid-40s at Oklahoma's Grand Lake O' the Cherokees, Christie might've scaled multiple sacks similar to the 29-03 haul that good friend Edwin Evers used to beat him on Sunday. He connected with multiple 6-pounders and one that topped 8 through the early portion of the 4-day official practice period, but then his action began to taper off.
His simplistic pattern (throwing a heavy spinnerbait at depths of 1 to 6 feet over staging areas in pockets and creeks located in the mid-lake region) was still good enough to give the resident of nearby Park Hill, Okla. a lead of nearly 6 pounds headed into the final day. But even a reprisal of his best bag of the event (a 20-14 stringer on day 1) wouldn't have been nearly enough to hold off Evers, who masterfully exploited the final-day conditions to prevail by a double-digit margin.
Following are some of the specifics of Christie's pattern.
Once Grand went off-limits to Classic competitors on Jan. 1, Christie turned his attention to nearby Lake Tenkiller, which featured very similar conditions to what was transpiring on Grand. It's the body of water he grew up on and he was on it nearly ever day in February.
"I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do (in the Classic), and fishing here (at Tenkiller), I was able to experiment with different baits," he said. "That's where I developed a lot of confidence in the spinnerbait.
"When (official) practice started that Friday, I had three spinnerbait setups laid out, and one jig and one crankbait. That's what I was going to try to win on."
The blade (a hefty 1-ounce Booyah model with a single No. 6 gold Colorado blade) won out. He used it to pull a 4-pounder from 2 feet of water very early on that first practice day and, for awhile, things only got better from there.
"I didn't really catch the quality I wanted that day, but I caught a fish that was over 8 pounds and maybe a dozen 3- to 4-pounders. I consider a 3 1/2 a male at that time of year – they're the ones that move up early."
He was determined to avoid the Elk River and its relatively clear water, knowing that it would draw a large portion of the 55-angler field (ironically, that's where Evers caught his gigantic bag on the final day). He spent that first day between Shangri-La Marina and the mouth of the Elk, and then switched to the stretch between Drowning Creek and Shangri-La the next day.
"That's the mid-lake section that I really like to fish," he said. "Every bite I got that day was from big females – they were staging on the stuff I expected them to be on. I saw 29 or 30-pound stringers that day.
"Then it was pretty warm that night and the wind blew the next day, and that's when things started to change. Those big fish started to move and when that happens, they become unpredictable. I was still getting enough bites, though, and I thought I'd be okay."
He thinks the moon phase was also a big factor – perhaps even bigger than the rising water temperature.
"When we started practice on Friday there was still a pretty bright moon and a lot of big ones were up shallow. As we got further and further away from that, some of them started pulling back out.
Christie's spinnerbait pattern was phenomenal when official practice began, but started to cool off just a couple of days later.
"I honestly don't know exactly where they go when that happens. I wish I did, but unless I had a transmitter on them, I wouldn't be able to answer that."
Nonetheless, he was all-in with the spinnerbait by the time the final practice day concluded on Wednesday.
"A lot of these guys are great at making adjustments, but I'm stubborn and pig-headed," he said during the media day session on Thursday. "I'm either going to make it happen the way I want it to happen, or it's not going to happen."
> Day 1: 5, 20-14
> Day 2: 5, 16-11
> Day 3: 4, 12-09
> Total = 14, 50-02
Christie caught a couple of stout females early on day 1, which made him think that a good percentage of them had moved back to the areas they'd occupied the previous weekend. He later deduced, though, that it was a matter of circumstances and timing.
"I think what was happening is they were up shallow when (the Grand River Dam Authority) was running water, then when they shut it off there'd be a lull. In the afternoon, some would move up again."
Indeed, he made three culls in the final half-hour of the day that pushed his stringer well past the 20-pound mark that nobody else managed to reach until Evers went wild on the final day. Still, he didn't think his initial haul was as big as it turned out to be.
"When I came in and loaded the boat, I thought I had 17 or 18 pounds and that'd put me in 7th to 9th place, which was a good position. Then when I saw I was leading, I said, 'All right, you've got to tough it out with what you've got. Just grind it out because the fishing's not that easy.'''
He did pretty much the same thing on day 2, but came in more than 4 pounds lighter despite another big late-afternoon cull. He was certain he'd be knocked out of the lead, but instead ended up with a 5-11 advantage over 2nd-place Todd Faircloth, with Evers a little more than 6 1/4 pounds back in 3rd.
His less-than-stellar action the previous Sunday and on the final practice day gave him the idea that the blistering wind (in excess of 20 mph) would not be his friend on day 3.
"I started the day where I'd been catching some each morning and I fished some new water and some other stuff, really just bouncing around," he said. "I had 12-something (pounds) pretty early with two good fish and two smaller ones and I thought I was right on pace with what I needed to do. I felt that if I came in with 17 or 18, I'd at least have a chance.
"Then the guy on the bank told me that Edwin had 25 and I quit fishing for 17 pounds and just started running staging areas looking for big females. I knew I had to have a big bag."
That wasn't to be, however, as he failed to generate a bite over the final 4 hours of the day.
"Maybe the guy did me a favor by telling me that, but I had a 30-pound day in practice doing what I'd been doing to that point. It's hard to say.
"Before he said that I was just running the pattern in the flats and creeks and stuff and I was kind of on schedule. If I'd stayed with it I'm pretty sure I could've caught 17 to 19 pounds, but that wouldn't have been enough."
> Christie said the precise cover he targeted in each pocket or creek was a little bit different than the others. "They were all staging areas, like maybe the main point in a pocket, where they'd hold up. It was their last stop before they'd go to the back (to begin the spawning ritual). Some were on points and some were on flats."
> He tossed his spinnerbait very close to the bank and then slow-rolled it back. "Most of the bites were in the 3- to 4-foot range, but occasionally I'd get a random one real shallow."
Winning Gear Notes
> Spinnerbait gear – 6'11" medium-heavy Falcon Cara Jason Christie Signature Series frog rod, Team Lew's Lite casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 22-pound Sunline Flipping FC fluorocarbon line, 1-ounce Booyah spinnerbait with gold No. 6 Colorado blade (black/chartreuse in cloud cover or chartreuse/white/blue under sunny skies), YUM Pulse trailer (white).
> He said the line, which alternates between clear and high-visibility green every 3 feet, allowed him to visually detect some subtle bites.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Just being committed to what I was doing – fishing that big bait in dirty water. I only hooked one fish in practice on a crankbait. I just didn't have the confidence in that mud to fish something slow or throw something small. I wanted something that would catch their attention. They weren't picky – if you got something in front of them, they'd eat it."
> Performance edge – "Everything plays a big part, but the combination of the new mapping by Garmin and the Panoptix was critical. The most consistent area I had, I never knew how it laid out until I got the Garmin. With the Panoptix, I was looking for rocks and shallow brush piles and things like that, and on the first day one of my big ones came from a rock that I'd picked up on it."
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