ROJAS......BEND THERE, DONE THAT
Story by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush - Photos by Mark Jeffreys, Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Many, La. – Dean Rojas entered the Battle on the Bayou perched in a precarious position. After opening the 2011 Elite Series season with finishes of 51st, 40th, and 24th, the Arizona pro sat in 31st place in the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year standings – three spots out of an automatic Classic berth but will within striking distance.
Notoriously fast out of the gates to start the season, Rojas needed a quality finish at Toledo Bend to jump into position for a coveted Classic spot and also keep pace with the TTAOY leaders.
After opening the tournament with limits of 23-1 and 19-13, Rojas held a 2-pound, 10-ounce lead over eventual 9th place finisher Aaron Martens heading into the weekend. Although he managed just 14-9 on Saturday, he increased his lead to just over 4-pounds with one day of competition left.
With his sight bite dwindling, Rojas knew that every bite would be critical if he was going to claim his fourth B.A.S.S. victory and second victory on the famed Toledo Bend, the first coming at a Top 150 in 2001.
With a 13-8 limit on Sunday anchored by a 5-pound, 8-ounce kicker, Rojas did just enough to hoist the trophy with a total of 70-15. He edged out a hard charging Gerald Swindle, who brought 18-14 to the scales, by a single ounce.
Rojas admitted that Sunday on Toledo Bend was a grind. “I caught the big one about 45-minutes into the day and after that, I never caught another good fish in that area. I left and filled out my limit on small sight fish and then came back to my area and culled once more,” he explained.
Even after leading the first three days, Rojas said that it wasn’t until he boated the 5-pounder early on Sunday that he allowed himself to think that he had a legitimate shot at winning the event. “It’s so hard to lead for four-days in a row and I’ve done this before where I’ve led through three days and something has happened. I was mentally prepared for whatever happened. When that big fish got in the boat, my goal then was to just get a limit.”
For the duration of the tournament, Rojas relied on two primary baits – one for bed fishing and one that he cast with while looking for bed fish. To catch the spawners, Rojas Texas-rigged a Big Bite Baits Warmouth, a soft plastic bait that he recently designed for the company. He paired the bait with an Eco Pro tungsten weight.
For the bass that he wasn’t looking at, he threw a Hydro-Pop, a topwater popping bait that he designed for SPRO. On the first day of competition, Rojas’ kicker came via the Hydro-Pop while his big fish on day two was caught on the Warmouth. On Saturday, Rojas sight fished for all of his weight, and Sunday’s kicker fell victim to the topwater offering.
“If you laid everything out, I caught more big fish on the popper this week than I did sight fishing,” explained Rojas. “I had to work the bait slow for the big ones on the outside grass. I just had to move it along.”
The win gave Rojas his first victory since Oneida Lake in 2008 and guaranteed him a spot on the 2012 Bassmaster Classic on the Red River – a fact not overlooked by the jubilant pro. “Yes! We’re going to the Classic,” exclaimed Rojas. “It’s so huge. I love everything about it.”
2nd Place: Gerald Swindle
Going into the final day Alabama pro Gerald Swindle was in a great position to make a run at his first Elite Series title. The “G-Man” didn’t disappoint falling merely 1 ounce short of taking home the hardware on legendary Toledo Bend reservoir. Swindle who weighed in the heaviest bag of the final day at 18-14, fished his strengths all week to catch 70-14 and nearly play the spoiler to unseat wire to wire leader and eventual champion Dean Rojas.
Using off season revelations to fuel his recent run of outstanding finishes, Gerald fished confidently all week long at Toledo Bend. “I really just got tired of not winning and thought a lot about it all hunting season. I told myself it really isn’t that hard to win, once I visualized winning and got it done at the open that was a big deal for me. I am actually trying to do a lot less with my fishing than I used to, but just do what I think will work and do it better,” Swindle said.
If less is more, then Swindle is on to something good, as was proven by his 2nd place finish this week at the Battle on the Bayou. Relying heavily on his instincts was a big key to Gerald’s run at the top spot during the event, and already having a Classic berth in his pocket allowed him to fish more freely during the event. “The first morning of the tournament I actually was headed to my best spot and just decided to stop on one of my back up deals and make a few casts. I ended up catching a 4 ½, and then a 3 ½, which was a result of a decision that I normally wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t had that freedom of knowing I was already in the Classic,” he said.
Using two primary weapons, Swindle concentrated on shallow water with deeper depths nearby to do most of his damage this week. Working a slender pointer 112 in the ghost minnow color very erratically resulted in most of Swindles bites, but he also found success on a Lucky Craft RC series crankbait. “I was fishing my baits pretty fast, unfortunately fishing that fast you are going to loose a lot of fish. I lost several key fish everyday of this tournament which really hurt me.”
3rd Place: David Walker
Although disappointment was the overwhelming emotion for Tennessee pro David Walker on Sunday, he was still able to put together his best performance since returning to B.A.S.S. this week and return to the form that he is renowned for.
Walker who’s final day stringer of 16-12, and 4 day total of 70-2 came with swings of up and down emotions, lost what would have been the winning fish early on the final day, but was then able to put on a charge which almost netted him the victory. “My first bite was a 3 ½ lb fish and I lost it, then my next bite I catch my biggest fish. So it went from really bad to really good, but I just wasn’t ever able to make up for that lost fish today,” said Walker.
Fishing in a historically good area of Toledo Bend known as 1215, Walker employed several baits this week in route to his 3rd place finish. Changing with conditions was key to David’s success as he alternated between a jig, chatterbait, and a swimbait to amass his 4 day total. “Flipping a jig was what most of my bigger fish came on. I just kept changing with the conditions, using the jig, the swimbait, and the chatterbait,” Walker concluded.
4th Place: Chris Lane
Off to one of his best starts in B.A.S.S. competition, Alabama pro Chris Lane kept the momentum going with a 4th place finish this week on Toledo Bend. While his final day creel of 15-13, and total weight of 67-3 wasn’t quite enough to take the top spot, the finish was a great confidence booster and keeps Lane in the hunt for his first AOY and another Classic berth.
“Having confidence and support behind me is a big thing. I’ve got a fantastic team moving forward and I am really just trying to stay focused on what I need to do to be successful,” said Lane.
Letting the fish tell him what they wanted was critical to Chris’s consistency this week, as he used several different techniques and baits to get the job done. “I threw a lot of different baits this week, a hard jerkbait, a soft jerkbait like the Gambler stud, a loco lizard on a Carolina rig. I just really changed up and did what the fish were telling me to do this week,” Lane said.
Relying on spawning and post spawn bass, Lane switched areas when conditions dictated to stay in tune with the Toledo Bend bass. “I moved around to different areas based on what the conditions were telling me. The first day was spawning fish, the second was post spawn. I just really adapted well to what was going on day to day,” concluded Lane.
5th Place: Fred Roumbanis
Finding something off the wall is nothing new to Oklahoma pro Fred “Boom Boom” Roumbanis. This week was no exception as Roumbanis exposed the post spawn Toledo Bend largemouth he was targeting to a rarely used and rather unique technique and presentation.
Mining his off shore hot spots for 16-9 on the final day, Roumbanis would ultimately end up in 5th place with a total of 67-1. Off to one of the hottest starts of any pro this season, Fred is fishing with extreme confidence and is enjoying every minute of it. “I had so much fun out there today. I caught a few quick ones on a swimbait and then started catching them on my swim jig,” said Roumbanis.
Burning his jig, rather than crawling it along the bottom was one of the keys to Roumbanis’s system of success this week on the bend. “I was using a 1 oz Peppers custom swim jig, 15 lb P-Line, an Ardent reel, and a Fred’s magic stick I rod. It was really a complete system that I had working for me this week. I would let the jig hit the bottom initially and then burn it, the faster you would reel it the more bites you would get,” concluded Roumbanis.
6th Place: Andy Montgomery
Making his presence known on the Elite Series, South Carolina pro Andy Montgomery finished off a strong week at Toledo Bend with another solid limit of largemouth. Montgomery who is part of arguably one of the strongest rookie classes in recent memory had his best finish to date of his debut season.
Weighing in 15-14 on Sunday, and bringing 66-0 of fish to the scales throughout the event Andy ultimately ended up in 6th place and in great shape to make a run at his second Bassmaster Classic berth.
Mixing it up between sight fish and the flipping bite, Montgomery was able to put together a consistent bag each day on Toledo Bend. “I had a few main areas that were holding fish and that is what I concentrated on. I had some sight fish the first day and then I just went flipping. Anything that was horizontal is what I was keying on,” said Montgomery.
Relying on three primary baits to catch his fish this week, Montgomery has no regrets about his tournament. “I used a zoom super hog on my sight fish and the rest of them came off a ½ oz Shooter Lures jig. I did catch a few around bream beds on a Barry’s lures prop bait. I only lost 1 fish that would have helped me this week, but overall I am pretty pleased with my performance this week,” he concluded.
7th Place: Randy Howell
Final Day Thoughts: “It was a good day. The wind started out light enough that I could get out there and fish how I wanted to. I fished about a square mile of underwater islands out there, and off of every point I probably caught at least two fish. I had one little 50-yard stretch of offshore structure that gave up a five (pounder), a four (pounder), and three (pounder) today. I still needed another big bite or two.”
Pattern: “I spent the week in water from five- to eight-feet deep Carolina-rigging a big lizard, or dragging a football jig around.”
Baits: Green pumpkin Lunker Lure Rattlin’ Football Jig with a Yamamoto Twin-tail grub trailer; 8-inch generic green pumpkin lizard; homemade “rat jig”.
Key to the Week: “Just fishing everything real slow. That rat jig was really killing them before the wind got up because it had a slow fall.”
Week in Review: “It’s great to get back into the swing of things. I wasn’t really on a lot coming into the tournament, so I really feel good about being able to string together three of the four days.”
8th Place: Steve Kennedy
Final Day Thoughts: “Today I went running back to the spot that Dean and I have been sharing, but before I got to the good stuff he came in so I gave him plenty of room and never really got to the sweet spot. After that I just went running around throwing that big swimbait.”
Pattern: “It was really more of an area thing than a pattern. There were several of us around there that had a good tournament.”
Baits: Various unnamed swimbaits.
Key to the Week: “The spot I fished was the real key. They were in there wanting to spawn, and just kept coming up all week. I never found a big one sitting on a bed, but I’m sure there were some coming off of them that I caught.”
Week in Review: “I’m A little disappointed because I was on the winning fish, but I didn’t win. Hindsight is 20/20, but I left them the first day at 11:00 with 20 pounds…I guess I should’ve guarded it. That’s tournament fishing though.”
9th Place: Aaron Martens
Final Day Thoughts: “It was almost identical to yesterday. I didn’t catch a lot. I don’t know really what’s going on. I missed probably 30 fish today, and I made a lot of changes – hooks, trailers. I guess I needed to go somewhere new, but I didn’t know where to go.”
Pattern: “I fished offshore with a football head jig all week – probably eight- to 12-feet or so.”
Baits: Davis football head jig
Key to the Week: “I guess it was where I fished, but I think by the end of the week I was recycling fish. That’s the only reason I can think of to have missed so many bites.”
Week in Review: “I’ve had a headache all week, which really made it harder to fish. I don’t normally get headaches, but I don’t think it affected my fishing too much. Overall I’m very happy with where I finished. A Top 12 at Toledo - I’m very happy about that.”
10th Place: James Stricklin
Final Day Thoughts: “I had 15 blow ups today, and only caught five of them. I think it’s because of the weather we’ve had all week. Thursday I caught 40 keepers, yesterday I caught seven, and today it was five. They just weren’t getting the bait like they have been.”
Pattern: “I fished up north in three feet of water for post-spawn fish. In the morning, until around noon, I’d thrown the spook, and then cull through the afternoon with the Skinny Dipper.”
Baits: Bone colored One Knocker Zara Spook; Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper
Week in Review: “This was my first Top 12, so it was obviously an awesome week. Hopefully the rest of the season I can stay okay.”
11th Place: Greg Vinson
Final Day Thoughts: “I’d burned up most of my good areas yesterday trying to make the cut. I had one area that came through for me. I caught a few fish in there this morning doing what I’d been doing, but then the wind got bad and I had to change up.”
Pattern: “Until today I’d been fishing offshore grass edges around wood. I took a gamble and went back to where I had a good day on Friday, and just muscled through the wind and went for it.”
Baits: Lucky Craft RC 2.5; Lucky Craft Pointer 97; Netbait Paca Jig; Paycheck Baits Repo Man.
Key to the Week: “It was the pattern I was running, which was really a typical transitional deal. I had fish that were going and coming, but the wind really made it challenging.”
Week in Review: “I’ve been fishing well, but I’ve had a couple of bad breaks in the last two tournaments. This will allow me to get back into the hunt to make the Classic.”
12th Place: Ish Monroe
Final Day Thoughts: “The day was slow. I bailed on what I’d been doing because other people were already fishing my spots. I just ran looking for fresh water using my electronics, but I’ll take it just to be fishing on Sunday.”
Pattern: “I had a couple of different things working. Really it was mixing it up everyday just to get five bites.”
Baits: Berkley Power Lizard; Paycheck Baits Repo Man; Ish’s Phat Frog; unnamed swimbait
Key to the Week: “Just keeping on the move with my Navionics chip.”
Week in Review: “I’m a little disappointed with the final day, but it’s great to be in the Top 12 and sort of get things back on track.”