CLEARLAKE, Calif. – Just under a month ago after struggling to a 103rd-place finish at Lake Havasu, young EverStart rookie Brian Nixon approached Western Division standout Art Berry and asked for some confidence tips. Whatever Berry told him, it worked. Nixon, a pro from Grand Junction, Colo., won the EverStart Series Western tournament at Clear Lake Saturday with a hefty final-round weight of 44 pounds even. He collected $8,500 and a new Ranger 519 for the victory.
In a storybook twist, he ended up defeating his mentor, Berry, who secured the third runner-up finish of his two-year EverStart career and is quickly evolving into the Kevin VanDam of the Western Division.
“This guy here (Berry) is one of the best,” Nixon said Saturday. “He is one of the class acts in bass fishing.”
“I would have been happy if I won this tournament,” said Berry, perhaps acknowledging his own role in Nixon’s victory, “but I am ecstatic that Brian won it.”
To be sure, so was the winner. At 22 years old and fishing in just his third EverStart tournament, to say that Nixon is fresh off the farm is an understatement. He’s green enough that he showed up to the final day’s takeoff with dead boat batteries and had to borrow a ride to fish. Nevertheless, the excitement of winning this event over some of the best anglers in the West certainly made an impression: He was practically vibrating when he accepted his trophy.
“All I ever think about is fishing,” Nixon said. “I’m barely 22 years old. I don’t even think about girls all that much yet.”
How did he do it? The key was his fishing location, of course, plus the near-25-pound sack of bass he weighed in on Friday. His hot spot, which he fished most of the week including the final two days, was a small stretch of water in Soda Bay with a ditch and docks perfectly suited to attract bass under the week’s windy, sketchy conditions.
“I caught them in there the first day,” Nixon said. “I knew the fish were there, but I didn’t realize there were so many big fish.”
He found that out Friday when he landed his leading 24-pound, 14-ounce stringer. Saturday, he went right back to the spot, worked his rip bait, a spinnerbait and a Pepper jig, and again hooked into the heaviest sack of the day, 19-2. He had his limit by 10 a.m.
“This is awesome to get on a lake like this and go and catch them a hundred different ways. The most awesome part about it is the cuts on your hands,” Nixon said, showing off beat-up hands that looked like they’d been on the winning end of some serious catches. “Look at that! You just don’t get that anywhere else.”
It’s true. Few other tournament venues provide enough fish for all 10 pro finalists to weigh in limits on Saturday, which happened at Clear Lake. Behind Nixon, the next heaviest sack belonged to Berry, who thought he had a shot to finally get over the hump.
Berry, who hails from Hemet, Calif., would never say it, but it was apparent that he was shaken by his third near miss. He landed a hefty limit weighing 16 pounds, 5 ounces Saturday, finished with 34-15 and collected $8,000 for second place in the Pro Division.
But Berry is one of those anglers who, you can tell, is not really in this sport for the money. His stellar performance on this year’s Western circuit has given him a substantial lead in the points with just one event left. But he still hasn’t won one – and you know what they say about horseshoes and hand grenades.
What happened to Berry Saturday were the proverbial ones that got away. He broke off two huge largemouths – one that he estimated at over 8 pounds and the other at over 10 – and that made all the difference.
“I just had a little bit of bad luck,” he said, then addressed the standings race. “My main goal is to be the best. I’m really happy with my fishing right now. My goal is to win Angler of the Year, so I’m just going to go down (to the California Delta) and try to get it done. This just adds a little fuel to fire.”
Despite giving play to the notion of quitting after he broke off a huge bass Friday, Jared Lintner of Oceana, Calif., ended up catching 34 pounds, 12 ounces in the final round at Clear Lake and collected $7,000 for third place in the Pro Division.
“Today, it just got tough,” he said.
Amazing Ehrler fourth
Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., has fished in all seven of the Western Division tournaments over the last two years and has finished in the top five in five of them. Saturday, he continued his impressive run with a 31-pound, 7-ounce final weight and finished fourth at Clear Lake. He collected $6,000 and moved up to a tie for second place in the yearly pro standings.
“I started the day with a 7-pound deficit, so I went looking for some big ones,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to do it. I’m just happy to get what I did.”
David Gliebe of Stockton, Calif., caught 29 pounds, 3 ounces in the final round and finished in fifth place, worth $5,500. After landing a third-place 19 pounds, 4 ounces Friday, Gliebe slipped Saturday and caught just 9-15.
Responding to tournament director Chris Jones’ remark that he tends to do pretty well at Clear Lake, Gliebe quipped, “Yeah, that’s where I fished yesterday.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 Pro Division finishers in EverStart Western competition at Clear Lake are Russ Barger of Boise, Idaho, with a final-round weight of 29 pounds, 3 ounces (6th place, $5,000); 2003 Clear Lake champion Luke Clausen of Spokane, Wash., with 28-5 (7th, $4,500); Rob Wenning of Sparks, Nev., with 26-11 (8th, $4,000); Shaun Bailey of Agoura, Calif., with 24-8 (9th, $3,500); and Sean Minderman of Post Falls, Idaho, with 21-0 (10th, $3,000).
The next EverStart Series event is an Eastern Division contest at Santee Cooper lakes near Summerton, S.C., April 21-24.
The next Western Division tournament is the fourth and final event of the season and will be held at the California Delta near Oakley, Calif., May 5-8.