LAKEPORT, Calif. – Sitting in sixth place and facing off against a host of formidable western sticks atop the leaderboard heading into Saturday’s final day of competition, Jay Wright of Seal Beach, Calif., knew that he would need a special day if he was to even have a chance at a tournament title. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. Although the top-10 pros managed to bring in a whopping total of eight stringers over 19 pounds to the scales today, by far the most prolific day of the tournament to date, Wright turned in the performance of his career, boating a staggering 26-pound, 11-ounce catch in today’s action to finally seal the deal.
Wright’s grand, three-day total of 74 pounds, 5 ounces (which included back-to-back catches over 26 pounds on days two and three) was enough to give him a 2-pound-plus margin of victory – as well as a nice first-place check totaling over $26,000.
“This is just unbelievable,” said Wright. “I didn’t think I had a chance. I still can’t believe I won. I’ve been fishing on the pro side for six years and have never come closer than third place. And to come into today, almost 6 pounds back, trying to catch somebody as good as (day-two pro leader) Jimmy Reese, and pull it off, I’m just elated. I still can’t believe I beat Jimmy.”
When the final weights were tabulated and Wright was declared the victor, he finally allowed his emotions to come through – after sweating out the final weigh-in for the better part of an hour.
“Yes!” Wright exclaimed. “Finally!”
Not surprisingly, his win was far from easy. After catching the majority of his fish on a Robo worm in a Margarita Mutilator color, Wright began having success on the second day with an 8-inch Huddleston Deluxe Hitch swimbait.
“On the first day, I caught all of my fish on a worm,” he said. “Then on the second day, I caught one on that worm (drop-shot) and four on the swimbait. I had heard that the swimbait worked best with sunny and windy conditions so when I saw the forecast today, I thought it would be the perfect bait the throw. So I decided to swing for the fences.”
In the end, it worked out perfectly. Targeting rocky banks that morphed into coves, bays and sea walls, Wright was able to hone in on his huge quarry of pre-spawn bass.
“The key was making long casts with a slow wind,” he said. “And today’s conditions were just ideal. I only got six bites today, but they were big bites. But even heading back to the marina I didn’t think I had a chance. I greatly underestimated my weight today. And even if I wasn’t off, I still wouldn’t have thought that I’d have enough to beat these guys. This is just the greatest victory of my career.
“I know I’ve always had the skill to compete at this level,” continued Wright. “But I didn’t have the mental makeup that you need to win until this year. So it feels great to get this win. It’s still unbelievable.”
Breazeale claims runner-up finish
After winning two local tournaments on Clear Lake over the past two weeks, Wayne Breazeale of Kelseyville, Calif., came up just 2 pounds short of his quest to record an improbable three victories in a row.
“The wind over the first two days really screwed up my plans,” said Breazeale, who wound up hauling in a three-day catch of 73 pounds, 3 ounces. “My goal was just to stay as close to the leaders as I could until the wind died down. But unfortunately it didn’t die down until about the last hour of today. I wound up culling up 4 pounds in the last half hour and if I just had 30 more minutes, I think I could have pulled it off.”
While Breazeale had planned on sight-fishing almost exclusively, the high winds over the first two days of the tournament derailed those plans. As such, Breazeale had to settle on the drop-shot, employing a Robo worm in a Margarita Mutilator color to bide his time until the wind died down. When it did, he was finally able to throw his bait of choice, a Yamamoto twin-tail grub at bedding fish.
“I really wished the wind hadn’t hampered me as much as it did,” said Breazeale. “But all things considered, I had a pretty good week.”
For his efforts, Breazeale walked away with over $9,000 in winnings.
Crutcher claims third
“I just had a great time,” said Crutcher. “I’m fortunate that I only live about 3 minutes from this lake. I was planning on sight-fishing the whole time but, amazingly enough, I think this wind really helped me out.”
Early on in the tournament, Crutcher realized that he could use a 6-inch hybrid swimbait to effectively target bass in stained water.
“I put a 6-inch swimbait on the back of a Snakebite chatterbait in a green pumpkin color and started throwing it in muddy water,” he said. “Basically, I realized that this (hybrid) bait matched the hatch almost perfectly. As a result, I was able to have a fabulous week despite the windy conditions.”
For his efforts, Crutcher took home almost $7,500 in winnings.
Bailey makes a move
Heading into the final day of competition, Clear Lake specialist Paul Bailey of Kelseyville, Calif., was in ninth place and looking for that first banner day on the water. Well, today he got it. Posting the second-largest catch of the day, Bailey leapfrogged from ninth to fourth place on the final day of competition.
“This tournament has been awesome,” said Bailey, who recorded a total weight of 70 pounds, 13 ounces. “Getting to the finals on my home lake, I can’t say enough about that. Today, I just went out there and whacked them pretty good.”
Unlike most of the finalists, Bailey didn’t employ a drop-shot, throw worms at tules or go sight-fishing.
“Believe it or not, I caught all of my fish on a topwater – a double-bladed buzzbait,” he said. “I know none of the other guys were really throwing it. And I definitely missed some fish. But I wound up getting some big bites on that bait.”
In the end, Bailey’s fourth-place finish was good enough to earn him a $6,700 pay day.
Reese falls to fifth
After leading the tournament for the first two days of competition, Jimmy Reese of Witter Springs, Calif., had to settle for a somewhat disappointing fifth-place finish. In short, he simply ran out of fish.
“Everything laid out perfectly for me the first two days,” he said. “But I just wasn’t able to find the right fish today. It is disheartening to come this close and not be able to pull it off. There aren’t many times where you put yourself in position to win. And when you do you have to take advantage of it. But in a few days, I’ll get over it – hopefully.”
Reese spent the entire three days targeting bedding bass almost exclusively.
“I basically covered a lot of new water and tried to gamble today,” he said. “And sometimes that pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. And I think you know how that worked out for me today.”
For his efforts, Reese walked away with nearly $6,000 in winnings for his three-day total catch of 70 pounds, 11 ounces.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro finalists:
7th: Tony Franceschi of Livermore, Calif., 68-4
8th: Mark Casey of Fairfield, Calif., 66-12
9th: Greg Gutierrez of Red Bluff, Calif., 66-8
10th: Charlie Weyer of West Hills, Calif., 63-1
For a list of complete results, click here.