EUFAULA, Ala. – Bass Pro Tour angler Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Ala., crossed the stage with a five-bass limit Saturday weighing 17 pounds, 12 ounces to win the final Toyota Series Southern Division event of the season at Lake Eufaula and earn the top payout of $79,300, including the $35,000 Phoenix MLF Bonus. Lucas’ three-day total of 15 bass weighing 51-13 gave him the victory by a 5-10 margin over Orlando, Fla., angler Bobby Bakewell, who finished runner-up with 15 bass weighing 46-03 to earn $17,000.
“I’m on Cloud 9,” Lucas said to MLF reporters after his victory. “To win on an inland lake that’s not tidal and not in the Great Lakes (region) is amazing.”
The victory marks Lucas’ first Toyota Series win as a pro, and he said that it’s just as sweet of a triumph to him as any of his previous pro-level titles.
“I’ve always said that the level of competition in the Toyota Series is as hard to win at as one of the bigger pro events because you have the best locals in all of these events,” he said. “A lot of these people, you may not have heard of them before, but they’re hammers here. I’ve always respected these guys and so to be able to win against them is a big deal to me. It’s a great payday too.”
After catching his bass primarily with a spinnerbait and crankbait combination targeting the shad spawn early in the event, Lucas abandoned it quickly on Day 3. Plan B included working slowly and methodically to fish his way into the right caliber of fish. Lucas spent the final day slowly upgrading his catch as the day wore on.
“My plan worked, and everything came together,” he said. “Today it got calm and sunny. I picked up a 5-inch Berkley PowerBait Power Hawg and just got to dragging it really slow. It was just slow and steady bites; you know every time I would catch one, I would upgrade. It just all worked out.”
Lucas focused on shallower fish on the final day, opting to target fish that were more lethargic and just finishing up spawning, or fish that were transitioning out of the spawning phase prior to their migration to deeper water.
“I think some of the fish I was catching today were still late spawners,” he said. “I was targeting 4 to 8 feet of water and just fishing rock, stumps and some gravel spots. Just trying to fish slowly and pick everything apart.”
Lucas’ victory automatically qualified him to fish the Toyota Series Championship on Table Rock Lake in November. Lucas said that he now gets to stress a little less about the busy schedule he had planned for 2023, bouncing between both Toyota Series events and the Bass Pro Tour.
“I was planning on going to the Potomac and Lake of the Ozarks. So, to be able to make it by winning this event is great because now I don’t have to go to those two places. I was going to be pushing it schedule-wise. I didn’t know if I could even do it for sure, so winning this is awesome."
Here are the final totals for the Top 10:
1st: Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 15 bass, 51-13, $79,300
2nd: Bobby Bakewell, Orlando, Fla., 15 bass, 46-03, $17,000
3rd: Kyle Austin, Ridgeville, S.C., 15 bass, 44-09, $12,750
4th: Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., 15 bass, 43-00, $10,750
5th: Michael Smith, Andalusia, Ala., 15 bass, 42-00, $9,750
6th: Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan., 15 bass, 41-12, $8,375
7th: Ethan Greene, Eufaula, Ala., 15 bass, 41-08, $7,300
8th: Mike Cavender, Phenix City, Ala., 15 bass, 39-14, $6,300
9th: Joey Bloom, Winter Springs, Fla., 15 bass, 38-15, $5,300
10th: Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 15 bass, 38-10, $4,200
With the three regular-season events in the Southern Division now complete, Chad Mrazek of Montgomery, Texas, was crowned the 2023 Angler of the Year (AOY) and earned the $5,000 AOY bonus with a total of 749 points.