JASPER, Texas – No doubt, Philip Crelia, was hoping to avoid another nerve-racking day on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Well, he did not, but today's nail-biter concluded with the Center, Texas pro closing out his wire-to-wire win at the EverStart Series Texas Division tournament in East Texas.
Crelia's fortune came in twos this week. After topping day one with the event's second largest stringer (19 pounds, 2 ounces), Crelia found himself in the last 10 minutes of day two with only 11 pounds in his well. Discouraged but not dissuaded, he soldiered on and caught twin kickers on consecutive casts that put him back on top with an 18-14 day-two bag and a lead of 3-13 going into the final round.
Day three brought more of the wind that had hampered the better part of the previous two days and Crelia had only a short window of opportunity in which to hit his key spot. He sacked up two keepers fairly quickly, but once the wind chased him off his spot, he only caught a few shorts and had to conclude his day with a lot of frustration and not a lot of fish.
Sometimes, though, the math just works out. With Kris Wilson sitting in the hot seat with the current lead of 44-1, Crelia needed 6-1 to pull out the win. His first fish went 3 and change, but when he hauled out his second, the 6-pounder would push his day-three weight to 9-4 and give Crelia the go-ahead win with a tournament total of 47-4 and 3-pound, 3-ounce margin of victory.
"I had one little bitty spot and it produced some big ones," Crelia said of the long, grassy point his fished. "The big fish were up there feeding on shad and there were a lot of little fish behind them. I just had to find where the big ones had pulled up.
"I hadn't been starting on that spot; I'd been trying to get a limit first. But with the wind this morning, I figured I'd better start there because it might be my only chance. I pulled up and caught those two right off the bat and then the wind blew 400 mph. I only got a little bit of time there and the rest of the day I was fishing new water."
Crelia caught all of his fish this week on a formerly white Spro popping frog. We say "formerly" because three days of action had stripped nearly all of the paint off the plastic body. Both eyes were long gone and many of the leg strands were well worn, if not ripped.
"I think I'm going to retire this one," Crelia joked of his bass-beaten bait.
Wilson improves to second
Kris Wilson, of Montgomery, Texas caught the biggest bag of day three – 16-11 – and moved up four spots to finish second with 44-1. Wilson was the only co-angler to break 10 pounds in the final round.
In practice, Wilson had found a good flipping bite by keying on the green willows. Come tournament time, however, he could not get bit on that pattern, so he switched over to a Carolina rig and caught all of his fish on a green pumpkin Big Bite Baits lizard.
"The wind actually helped me today," Wilson said. "It was blowing in on a main point that was on the mouth of a pocket. Those post-spawn fish were coming out of the pocket and the shad were stacked up on the point. The wind was blowing into it and I think that helped.
"The fish were coming to me all day. They were schooling on the shad and I just threw that Carolina rig underneath them to catch the bigger ones."
Wind limits third-place Loyd
After bagging the tournament's heaviest sack on day two (20-4) Lamonte Loyd, of Gilmer, Texas saw his crankbait bite significantly hampered by day three's high wind. He managed just three fish for 7-10 and slipped a notch to third with 41-13.
All three days of the event, Loyd targeted a ridge with shell beds in about 18-20 feet. He caught his fish on Strike King 6XD crankbaits that he custom paints to match indigenous forage.
"The bream were coming up and the bass were feeding on the bream," he said. "Most of the week, as soon as the bait would hit the bottom I'd get a bite. My problem today was that I had to make such long casts and I was right in the wind. With the bow in my line, I had trouble hitting the bottom."
Marks finishes fourth
Dallas pro Phil Marks also struggled with the day-three wind machine and scratched out a limit that weighed 8-10 to finish fourth with 38-15. After a second-place effort on day one, Marks began day two in fourth place.
Rough water prevented him from running back to the creek channel he had fished on days one and two. Marks caught his fish on a weightless green pumpkin Strike King caffeine shad and a Strike King KVD 1.0 crankbait.
Despite a slow day, Marks lauded Rayburn's overall productivity. "You can get bit and bit and bit. You can catch fish until your thumbs are bloody. This is an incredible fishery."
Morton moves up to fifth
Justin Morton, of Etoile, Texas, continued his course of improvement by sacking up a limit of 11-6 on day three and rising two spots to finish fifth with 38-2. Morton placed 11th on day one and earned his final-round berth by moving up four notches to seventh on day two.
A Norman Deep Little N in the Tennessee Shad color was Morton's top bait. His strategy was one of geographic selection and meticulous coverage.
"I've learned is that the way you (do well) is you go out and cover one main body of water," he said. "You don't try to fish the whole lake; you pick one area that you want to fish and you fish every crook and cranny you can get in."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the EverStart Series Sam Rayburn event:
6th: Patrick Fuller, of Tyler, Texas, 36-14
7th: Timothy Griffin, of Zapata, Texas, 36-8
8th: Austin Terry, of San Angelo, Texas, 34-0
9th: Shane Hilton, of Alexandria, La., 33-2
10th: John Tanner, of Quitman, Texas, 33-0