THE BZ'S BEST OF 2011
Story by Matt Pangrac - FLW Photos courtesy of FLW Outdoors - Photos by Mark Jeffreys, Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Moore, OK - 2011 has been a record setting year to remember for both the Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour. Over the past nine months, 18 trophies have been hoisted between the two tours and a Classic champion and Forrest Wood Cup champion have been crowned.
From the first cast to open the season at the FLW Tour Open on Lake Okeechobee in early February to the last cast made at the final FLW Tour Open at Lake Guntersville this past week, there have been many memorable moments turned in by a variety of anglers.
Here’s a chronological look at some of the most intriguing performances of the 2011 season:
McMillan’s Record Weight
Tournament: FLW Tour Open (February 3-6)
Location: Lake Okeechobee
The 2011 season opened with a bang at the first FLW Tour Open of the season on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. While many anglers in the field focused on bedding bass, Brandon McMillan flipped mats to the tune of 106-10.
The victory was McMillan’s first Tour level win and also set the FLW Tour record for heaviest total weight. In all, three anglers broke the century mark and a four-pound average was needed just to crack the Top 10.
“I expected to see some really good sacks of fish brought in this week but I never imagined it would take over 100 pounds to win,” said McMillan. The victory was even more impressive considering it was McMillan’s first Tour level event of his career. “You can’t ask for anything more than that,” he concluded.
VanDam’s Record Setting Classic Win
Tournament: 2011 Bassmaster Classic (February 18-20)
Location: Louisiana Delta
With nearly every B.A.S.S. record already in his back pocket, Kevin VanDam added yet another notch in his championship belt to kick off the 2011 season with a victory at the Bassmaster Classic on the Louisiana Delta.
The win, which was VanDam’s second consecutive and fourth overall Classic title, also set the record for heaviest winning weight in a Classic with 69-11 and outdistanced 2nd place finisher Aaron Martens by over 10-pounds.
“What a day…what a week,” exclaimed VanDam after weighing 28-pounds on the final day of the Classic and hoisting the trophy. While about one-third of the field opted to make the long run to Venice, an interesting scenario unfolded in an area known as “The Tank” where six out of the top seven anglers fished within sight of each other for the majority of the tournament.
“The only challenge to sharing water was just watching VanDam,” said Aaron Martens. “He really seemed to have an edge on us this week for sure.”
Grigsby and Goldbeck Duel in Florida
Tournament: Bassmaster Elite Series (March 10-13)
Location: Harris Chain
While the FLW Tour opener was a barn burner, the 2011 Elite Series season also got off to a hot start in Florida at the first stop of the season on the Harris Chain. Keying on a small pond at the back of a residential canal in the Mid Florida Lakes area, Shaw Grigsby put on a sight fishing clinic. With 75-4 over the course of the tournament including a 29-8 limit on the second day of competition, Grigsby took the title in his home state.
Nearly as impressive as Grigsby’s win was the dramatic comeback by eventual 2nd place finisher Grant Goldbeck. With just a single fish weighing 1-1 on the first day of competition, Goldbeck, who was sharing the same small pond with Grigsby, jumped from 97th place to 16th place on Friday after weighing a 27-1 limit. He jumped into 2nd on Saturday with another 22-15 before eventually finishing in 2nd with 67-14 and setting a record for the biggest comeback in B.A.S.S. history.
“It was a fun run, that’s for sure,” said Goldbeck. “That’s the reason why I do this. It was an awesome week.”
Rojas Repeats at Toledo Bend
Tournament: Bassmaster Elite Series (April 14-17)
Location: Toledo Bend
As the home waters of many Texas legends and steeped in rich tournament history, the Elite Series first visit to Toledo Bend proved to be a test of endurance and moxie, as stiff winds and low water conditions tested the Elite Series pros at the midway point of the 2011 season.
After capturing the Toledo Bend title at the 2001 Bassmaster Top 150, Dean Rojas returned to T-Bend and again hoisted the trophy almost exactly a decade after claiming his first Toledo Bend win. “This place is just so special to me,” said Rojas after the victory.
His winning weight of 70-15 was just enough to edge out 2nd place finisher Gerald Swindle, who weighed 70-14 and fell just a single ounce short of tying Rojas and forcing a fish-off.
Kennedy On Point
Tournament: Bassmaster Elite Series (May 5-8)
Location: West Point Lake
Just three weeks after Rojas’ Toledo Bend victory, Alabama’s Steve Kennedy also had a homecoming of sorts at the fifth stop of the 2011 Elite Series season on Georgia’s West Point Lake.
Circled on many Elite Series anglers calendars as the true wildcard event of the season, Kennedy had West Point circled for a different reason. “As long as I’ve known about this tournament, I’ve known exactly what I was going to do,” he said after winning the tournament with 64-14.
Having grown up fishing the lake with his father, Kennedy was the clear favorite entering the competition and he didn’t disappoint, making upwards of 150 stops each day and slinging an out of production swimbait to do most of his damage. “The thing about this lake is that guys came here and didn’t realize the big fish that were in here,” he explained.
Cox’s Tin Can
Tournament: FLW Tour Major (May 19-22)
Location: Red River
With a stingy bite at the third FLW Tour Major of the season on Louisiana’s Red River, several angers in the field gambled their tournament fate on accessing shallow backwaters with aluminum boats in hopes of reaching untapped river largemouth.
The gamble paid off for Florida’s John Cox, who used a stripped down 17-foot aluminum rig and spent the opening two rounds of competition pushing, pulling, and prying his way through a shallow water culvert to reach a backwater area loaded with aggressive largemouth. With 48-8, Cox took the title.
“The key was getting in there,” he explained. “If I hadn’t brought along a 2x4 with a notch at the end of it I’d of never gotten in there the second day or the first day. One of the other guys tried and he couldn’t get in there. Things just came together for me.”
With dropping water level and the knowledge that he’d have to use an FLW provided fiberglass boat on the final day, Cox was able to maintain his lead in the final two rounds by fishing relatively close to the launch ramp.
Walker Wins at Wheeler
Tournament: Bassmaster Elite Series (June 16-19)
Location: Wheeler Lake
After a heartbreaking 3rd place finish earlier in the year at Toledo Bend where he lost potentially the tournament winning fish on the last day of competition, David Walker finally secured his first tour level win at the final Bassmaster Elite Series stop of the season at Wheeler with 63-10.
The win not only put $100,000 in Walker’s pocket but also vaulted him into the 2012 Bassmaster Classic after he seemingly fell out of contention at the Arkansas River the previous week with a 98th place finish.
“It feels as good as I thought it would,” exclaimed Walker after the victory. “I feel like I was good enough to do it and I feel like I’ve really paid my dues, so why not?”
Rose Dominates Pickwick
Tournament: FLW Tour Major (July 21-24)
Location: Pickwick Lake
Entering the tournament with an FLW Series victory on Pickwick in 2007 and an EverStart Series win in 2009 on Pickwick, Mark Rose was understandably one of the favorites when the 2011 FLW Tour Major made a stop on the Alabama fishery.
With 77-11, Rose captured his third victory on Pickwick and cemented his place as one of the most dangerous anglers in the game when it comes to structure fishing.
“I’ve been referred to a bunch this week as a ledge master and I wouldn’t go that far,” said the humble Rose. “The confidence in being able to read everything on the Tennessee River has really helped me.”
Martin Wins the Forrest Wood Cup
Tournament: Forrest Wood Cup (August 11-14)
Location: Lake Ouachita
With only one Top 10 finish in nine Forrest Wood Cup appearances heading into the 2011 Cup on Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita, Florida’s Scott Martin flew under the radar in pre-tournament predictions.
That all changed after the first day of competition when he took the lead with 19-2. Although he briefly lost the lead on Day Two, Martin regained his form to win the Cup with 61-1.
The win was made more special by the fact that Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris flew in Martin’s father, legendary angler Roland Martin, to watch the final day weigh-in. “I remember as a little kid going to all these big tournaments dreaming one day that I would win one of these,” said Martin after hoisting the trophy. “To win one for my family, not only my dad but for everybody, is just so special.”
Elias Breaks out the Alabama Rig at Guntersville
Tournament: FLW Tour Open (October 20-23)
Location: Lake Guntersville
Entering the final tour level tournament of the 2011 season, nobody could have predicted what was about to unfold. With a seemingly tough bite on Guntersville, pundits had pegged the winning weight somewhere south of 70-pounds.
All that changed when Mississippi’s Paul Elias boated over 55-pounds of bass through the first two days of competition. Even more shocking was the tactic that he used to boat each one of his fish – the Alabama Rig.
Similar to a spider rig trolled in saltwater, Elias slung the offering in 15- to 25-feet of water to weigh a staggering 102-8 and win the tournament by over 17-pounds. By the conclusion of the tournament, nearly every angler in the Top 10 fished the Alabama Rig for at least a portion of the tournament, including every angler in the Top 5.