I t’s been said many times that a guy can’t win the Bassmaster Classic on the first day, but he can certainly put himself out of contention with a crappy performance in the tournament’s opening round.
In hindsight, Jordon Lee’s stunning comeback victory in the 47th annual Classic held March 24-26 on Lake Conroe casts some serious doubts on the time-tested theory. In fact, it sheds an altogether different light on what it takes to win or lose what many consider to be pro bass fishing’s premier event.
Lee’s victory shows that pro fishing doesn’t necessarily discriminate against age or experience, that perseverance is always a virtue, and, most of all, that no hole is too deep to get out of when you get the right bites on Lake Conroe—especially when just about every one ahead of you is struggling to catch a few keepers.
A victory on the Classic stage can be a career maker for a guy who plays his cards right. Jordon Lee probably made his career on Lake Conroe thanks to some fourth quarter heroics eerily similar to those pulled off by Tom Brady in Super Bowl Ll against the Atlanta Falcons at Houston’s NRG stadium last February.
Brady chipped away at the Falcons’ secondary one pass at a time, Lee spent eight hours hammering away at Lake Conroe bass one lunker at a time, en route to pulling of off what has since been billed the greatest come-from-behind Classic victory of all time.
Classic comebacks are gauged by the size of the deficit an angler faces going into the final round, and the mountain before Lee was a tall one with some heavy hitters with way more experience—and weight—standing in his path.
Lee, a second year, 25-year-old pro, was sitting in 15th place, nearly 14 pounds behind two-day leader Brent Ehrler going into the final round.
In a nutshell, no one considered the young angler from Grant, Alabama, to be a potential threat to make a run at the trophy. Not even Lee himself.
It’s not a wonder he was at a loss for words in the wake of being crowned as Classic champ.
“Unbelievable,” Lee said, as Bassmaster emcee Dave Mercer declared him the winner before thousands of energetic bass fishing fans.
“I don’t even know what to say,” he added in post-tournament press conference. “I’m a little bit in shock. I can’t believe it. I’m at a loss for words. I thought there was no way, no way going out today I had a shot at winning this.”
A long shot? Most certainly.
But unbelievable— certainly not.
That’s because tournament bass fishing is a sport where the tables can turn on a single decision followed by a handful of casts to a sweet spot with a bait the big ones want to eat. Lee’s win, which culminated at the Astros’ Minute Maid Park, just up the road from the site of Brady’s Super Bowl triumph, came on the heels of a magical final-round performance.
Lee showed up at the scales on the tournament’s final day with a massive, five-fish limit weighing 27 pounds, 4 ounces. The monster sack—the largest of the entire contest—helped him leapfrog some the league’s best and grab what many consider to be the sport’s most coveted trophy, plus the $300,000 pay day that came with it.
Although Lee’s monumental comeback now ranks as the most remarkable in Bassmaster Classic history, it was also among the most dramatic and unexpected of any Classic victory before it.
For starters, Lee only managed to catch three keepers that weighed a meager 8 pounds, 6 ounces during a windy opening round that put him in 37th place among the 52 competitors.
However, his luck began to change on Day 2. That’s when he motored to a main lake point where he had caught a few keepers while scouting before the tournament. He checked the point on Day 1 with no luck in the windy, cloudy conditions.
With no fish in the live well, Lee said he pulled up on the point at around noon and got a bite on the very first cast. It was a big one, too — a thick-shouldered, 7 1/2-pound female that brought an army of giants to the boat with her.
“When I was landing that fish, a whole school of five and six pounders came with it,” Lee said. “Right then, I knew something was about to happen—and I caught two more that were both big.”
Lee ended the day one bass shy of a limit, but they weighed a solid 21 pounds and moved him up 22 places in the standings. More importantly, the experience boosted his confidence and laid the foundation for a Day 3 game plan that would ultimately play out like the final chapter in a fairy tale book.
Lee’s initial plan was to camp on the point all day and milk it for everything it was worth. What he didn’t plan for was his outboard engine going kaput just before he arrived there.
In hindsight, the breakdown turned out to be a blessing because it erased any notions, or possibilities, of running around elsewhere if the fish weren’t in a cooperative mood. Instead, it forced Lee to put all his eggs in one basket, hunker down on that single point and grind way.
Cast after cast, that’s exactly what he did. For hours, Lee plied the underwater point from every angle imaginable using assorted baits including a Strike King 5XD (citrus shad), a football jig and a Bullworm rigged on a magnum shaky head.
Lee didn’t catch a lot of fish that day, but when he did get a bite it was usually a pretty good one. His bread and butter turned out to be the football jig dragged slowly over what he believes was a hard bottom littered with gravel or chunk rock.
“I never caught any shells or anything, so I think it was a gravel or a rock bottom,” he said. “It was really subtle. There was no brush. It was just kind of a flat point, and I was fishing probably 100 yards offshore.”
BassTrakk, an automated system that posts updates on the Bassmaster website, showed the majority of the field hadn’t caught much, including Ehrler, who had apparently stumbled and left the door open with an estimated weight of 11-8. In fact, only seven other anglers inside the Top 25 had managed to catch limits.
Lee, who bagged his fish and hitched a ride to the ramp in a spectator boat, ultimately walked through door left open by Ehrler and sealed the deal with a legendary finish capped by a monster limit
Jordon Lee, now the third youngest angler in history to win the Classic crown, saved the very best for last. Just goes to show what can happen when you’ve got some serious mojo in your corner.
Email Matt Williams at [email protected]