DEL Rio, Texas – Saturday afternoon on Lake Amistad, the sun came out and the wind picked up, blowing away the chances of several finalists in this week’s Stren Series Central Division opener. In the end, it took a little local knowledge to finish the job, as Del Rio’s own Jim Criswell scored the win with a record-breaking two-day total of 56 pounds, 7 ounces.
Though pros David Mauldin and Craig Dowling fell short of claiming the new world-record four-day weight, Criswell and Mauldin did get themselves into the FLW Outdoors record books for heaviest final-round two-day catch. The previous mark was set by James Nuckols Jr. in a 2001 Stren Series event on Lake Okeechobee with 48 pounds, 9 ounces of bass caught the final two days. Criswell’s 56-7 haul is the new record, with Mauldin behind him with his own final-round tally of 51-10. Mauldin also set a new FLW Outdoors record for four-day total weight with 105 pounds, 8 ounces.
After a leading opening-round performance and a semifinal-round lead as well, Mauldin looked to be difficult to dethrone, but bad luck and a strong wind spelled the end for his winning chances. He caught 18 pounds, 4 ounces today, no match for Criswell’s 27 pounds, 10 ounces that earned Criswell $10,000 cash plus a fully rigged Ranger boat, plus another $10,000 cash from Ranger for meeting contingency guidelines.
Criswell’s win is a far cry from his 46th-place performance on Lake Amistad just three weeks ago in a Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail event. In fact, it was a little consolation fishing with his son after that event that led to his Stren Series-winning spot.
“I was so down,” he said. “The next day, we went over to some old water in Mexico, and I saw the spot on the edge of a break. It was flat and had about 15 to 20 trees on it. I threw in there with that jerkbait and twitched it. My son said, ‘Look at those fish under your bait.’”
The Mexican sweet spot would turn out to contain a motherlode of bass. At one point he counted as many as 20 3-pounders and had five to seven 5-pounders close to the boat.
“My son said, ‘Look at those little ones,’” Criswell said. “I said, ‘John, they’re not little. Twenty of them would weigh 99 pounds.’”
In the end, that is almost exactly what happened. He caught 20 bass over the course of the tournament that weighed 100 pounds and 3 ounces.
“The first day I caught two 6 1/2-pounders, and I left, trying to take care of the spot,” he said. “The next day, I started there and got a big 6 and a 7 1/2 and left. Yesterday I pulled in there and got a 5, a 4 1/2 and a big 6 and left, and I had had a 7-pounder when I showed up there.”
That afternoon, he returned to the hot spot and caught yet another 7-pounder, eventually weighing in a day-three haul of 43 pounds, 12 ounces that put him in third place heading into the final day.
“Today I went straight over there,” he said. “I knew I needed to get there early because the sun kills your bite on a jerkbait.”
Indeed, the top 10 took off this morning underneath the same cloudy skies that had prevailed during the first three days, though the sun came out before long. In addition to the jerkbait, Criswell also reported catching bass on a Senko, as did many others during the tournament.
“This morning I was fortunate,” Criswell said. “In one pass I had the fish I weighed. I’d rather be lucky than good.”
Criswell said his Mexican honeyhole was located about four miles from the American side of the water.
Class act Mauldin settles for second
“Jim is the champion,” Mauldin, who hails from Tomball, Texas, said on stage. “I’ll be back.”
Coupled with his day-three catch of 33 pounds, 6 ounces, Mauldin’s runner-up weight of 51 pounds, 10 ounces is still the second-largest two-day final-round weight in FLW Outdoors history – no small feat. He says he caught all of his bass this week on a spot he found while driving around the area in his vehicle.
“It was a submerged road bed,” he said. “I found it driving down the road looking at this lake. I spent eight hours (in practice) finding that sweet spot.”
This morning, Mauldin went to his first spot before the wind picked up, and he arrived to find the water so clear he could see the bottom. He got five bites but couldn’t get them in the boat.
“All of them dropped the bait,” he said. “So I went to my deep spot and caught my giant there and got a limit. Then the wind kicked up, and I couldn’t do much.”
Mauldin’s bait of choice was a 5-inch watermelon-red Kicker Fish Bait Company Shadstick bait.
“Everybody was throwing a Senko, and I wanted a little bigger bait,” he said.
For his second-place finish, Mauldin took home a check for $10,000.
Dowling claims third
Craig Dowling, too, had a tough day four, falling from 31-5 on day three to a catch of only 14 pounds, 14 ounces today. That brought his two-day total to 46 pounds, 3 ounces and put him in third place to end the tournament.
“Every day I’ve run a bunch of spots,” the pro from Many, La., said. “Today I never found that big-fish spot. I started where I caught them yesterday, and I only caught one good fish there.”
When his shallow-water areas didn’t pan out either, Dowling figured his chances at winning were through. He said he caught his bass this week on Yamamoto Hula Grubs and Senkos, as well as X-Rap jerkbaits.
“I was looking for points at the mouth of spawning coves that had a creek channel next to it,” he said of his preferred fishing holes. “It needed to have a sharp dropoff – 30 to 60 feet.”
Dowling earned $9,000 for his top-three finish.
Scott, Combs round out top five
Finishing the tournament in fourth is Ricky Scott of Van Buren, Ark. Scott caught 23-10 on day three and followed that up with 22-9 today for a two-day total of 46 pounds, 3 ounces worth $8,000. He caught his bass this week on a jerkbait.
Keith Combs of Temple, Texas, jumped from 10th to fifth with the second-heaviest pro limit of the day. His 27-pound, 8-ounce catch was bested only by Criswell’s, and combined with his day-three limit of 16-3, he wound up with 43 pounds, 11 ounces that earned him $7,500. He caught his bass on a Carolina-rigged, watermelon-red Brush Hog in 30 to 40 feet of water.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 pros on Lake Amistad:
7th: David Truax of Beaumont, Texas, 10 bass, 41 pounds, 7 ounces, $5,500
8th: Russell Cecil of Willis, Texas, 10 bass, 35 pounds, 6 ounces, $5,000
9th: Chad Griffin of Cresson, Texas, 10 bass, 32 pounds, 15 ounces, $4,500
10th: Eddy May of Valley Center, Kan., seven bass, 25 pounds, 7 ounces, $4,000
The next Central Division event takes place March 22-25 on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Jasper, Texas.
The next Stren Series event is a Western Division tournament on Clear Lake in Lakeport, Calif., March 1-4.