GROVE, Okla. – Simply put, Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., owned Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees this week. After leading the fifth FLW Tour event of the 2013 season for the first three days, Christie turned on the afterburners on day four, landing the biggest stringer of the day at 19 pounds, 13 ounces en route to a rather comfortable 5-pound, 5-ounce margin of victory. As a result of Christie’s four-day catch of 78 pounds, 1 ounce, the Oklahoma native took home the top prize of $125,000.
To say that Christie is on a roll would be an understatement to be sure. In the last four FLW Tour events, he’s won two (Beaver Lake in April and Grand Lake today) and placed fourth in another (Lewis Smith Lake in March). Throw in a come-from-behind win at the BASSmaster Elite Series event at Bull Shoals this past April and it suddenly appears as if Christie is unstoppable.
But while Christie has tasted victory before, winning on his home turf seemed to provide him with a great sense of satisfaction – if not a little bit of relief – as he was able to perform at the highest of levels in front of his friends, family and hometown crowd.
“This is the biggest crowd I’ve seen all year,” said Christie. “A lot of these people are my friends and I’ve fished against a lot of them over the years as well. This lake taught me how to fish. It’s just a special place for me. I had a great week. And the way I was catching them today, it brought back memories. It was definitely a special week.”
Christie, who is part Native American, also took some time to pay tribute to his heritage.
“People keep calling this Grand Lake,” Christie continued. “But it’s really Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. I’m part Cherokee and I’d like to thank Cherokee nation as well.”
Although it appeared that Christie cruised to a comfortable victory by relying on his wily knowledge of his home lake, the Oklahoma pro assured everyone that it was not necessarily as easy as it seemed from the outside looking in.
“It was a pretty stressful day for me,” said Christie. “Today started off like a train wreck. I didn’t get my first bite until 8:30 a.m. and it came unpinned on a tree and I lost it. From that point on, it was pretty slow and steady all day. It actually took all day to catch what I caught.”
Once again, Christie said he relied heavily on his prime fishing location, a series of points around an island dominated with willow trees located in the Elk River.
“I went to that Elk River area because it was the area I had most confidence in,” he said. “It was basically a willow-covered island and I fished 100-yard (sections) of points on either side of the island. The key was the current. When that current gets rolling around that island, there are some big fish there. During the first three days I moved around some, but today I pretty much stayed in my main area trying to catch all I could catch.”
Although Christie had argued that the conditions this week – muddy, flooded water – leveled the playing field, he did admit that having extensive knowledge of the lake allowed him the confidence to hole up in certain areas and let the bites come to him.
“As far as the local advantage, I’m not sure,” he said. “But knowing the lake like I do (allowed me) to sit down and not move around. I’d guess that about 90 percent of my fish were caught with my (Power-Poles) down. And you need confidence to do that.”
The Oklahoma pro said that he targeted bass all week with a combination of three baits while relying on three distinct patterns. His bait selection included a Yum Wooly Bug, a Booyah Pad Crasher frog and a creature bait.
“I used (them all) on the first two days but on day three I really laid off the Wooly Bug and just flipped the creature bait. And I did that today as well.”
In many respects, Christie said that the tournament almost represented a time capsule of his childhood. He got to see many friends and fellow competitors from days of old as well as revisit the lake he once called home.
“While most people were out there probably telling stories about their wife and kids, I was telling my co-anglers stories about watching the willow trees grow up,” Christie joked. “I’d point over at a bush or willow tree and say, ‘I remember when it was only that big.’”
If there was any doubt before, there is no longer an argument that Christie now ranks of one of the best anglers in the nation – Cherokee or otherwise.
“My goal this year was to have two or three top-10 finishes,” he said. “So to win three events (in less than four months), you can’t even describe it. It was just a very special week for me.”
Thrift surprises himself
Heading into Sunday’s finals, Chevy team pro Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., was sitting in sixth place and in need of a huge stringer to make a serious run at the title. Well, he didn’t quite pull it off. But his final-day catch of 19 pounds, 11 ounces was good enough to vault him all the way into second place – a valiant effort to say the least.
“It was an awesome tournament,” said Thrift. “My goal was just to move up the standings. So I’m feeling pretty good right now. I never thought I’d finish in second.”
However, according to Thrift, his run up the standings was far from easy.
“I feel like I made 100,000 casts each day fishing a crankbait as fast as I could. It really wore me out,” said Thrift, who relied on a square-bill crankbait to catch every fish but one this tournament. “The first two or three hours today were really frustrating. I lost a 3-pounder and then another broke my line, but it turned around pretty quickly. It wound up being a pretty good day overall. I caught 25 or 30 keepers and I was fortunate to get two big bites. The problem was that I probably needed three big bites or a little more.”
Thrift, who was visiting Grand Lake for the first time, said the tournament started slowly for him. But by Friday, he finally started to figure out the lake.
“I really had a tough time in practice,” he said. “”But I finally found one area and things finally clicked for me half way through the second day of the tournament.”
According to Thrift, he stayed relatively shallow and targeted largemouth bass holding to rocky structure to land the majority of his catch.
“I was targeting rocks in the 3- to 6-foot range. It was pretty much a (decent sized) area, but it had about seven or eight sweet spots to it,” he said. “I was mostly cranking offshore stuff. But the key was definitely to make contact with that structure. It also seemed like the fish were staying around those rock piles before heading out to their summer (locations).”
In the end, Thrift’s total four-day catch of 72 pounds, 12 ounces was good enough to land a check for a little over $34,000. It also gave him his second, second-place FLW Tour finish in a row.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “Hopefully I can keep it going.”
Dodson rebounds for third
After suffering though a somewhat mediocre outing in yesterday’s tournament action, Robbie Dodson of Harrison, Ark., came on strong in the finals, posting a 19-pound, 4-ounce catch to leapfrog from fifth to third in the finals. However, Dodson couldn’t help but think of what might have been.
“It’s been a good tournament but I just lost too many fish,” he said. “The two fish I lost yesterday really killed me.”
Dodson said he fished around Martin Landing today, keying on one crucial stretch of bank.
“I was running and gunning the first couple of days but today I fished a lot of flat banks,” he said. “I pretty much caught all of my fish today on one pass on one specific bank that I really hadn’t fished much before.”
The Arkansas pro said that he relied heavily on a 3/8-ounce black-and-blue Lucky Strike jig and a buzzbait to land the majority of his catch – which totaled 72 pounds, 6 ounces when all was said and done.
And while Dodson didn’t bring home the trophy, he said his finish will definitely go a long way toward helping him qualify for this year’s Forrest Wood Cup.
“I was like 51st in the standings,” he said. “So I really needed this.”
For his efforts, Dodson walked away with nearly $30,000 in winnings.
Houston nails down fourth
While Christie rightfully nabbed most of the headlines this week, Jimmy Houston of Cookson, Okla., stole the hearts of plenty of bass-fishing fans with his nonstop standup comedy routine that started on day one and didn’t end until … well, it’s probably still going on right now. However, that being said, it's equally clear that none of the jokes, ear-to-ear smiles or aw-shucks attitude overshadowed the fact that Houston put on a quite a display of fishing this week.
Bolstered by a total catch of 71 pounds, 11 ounces, Houston finished the Grand Lake contest in fourth place. But you would be excused for thinking that he had won the tournament given that he seemed to have had the best time of anyone.
“Anytime you make the top 10 you’re tickled to death,” he said. “Heck, I knew going into today that if my motor blew up I couldn’t do any worse than 10th. Overall it was a great tournament and a lot of fun. It’s always nice to fish four all four days. Most people only get to fish two days. And the lucky ones fish three. So to be here the final day is a blessing.”
Houston said that he targeted fish all week with a four-pronged approach: ChatterBaits, buzzbaits, square-billed Bomber Fat Free Shad crankbaits and Booyah spinnerbaits.
“I couldn’t catch anything on that crankbait today and that really hurt me,” he said. ‘I fished my deeper hole two times and fished it really hard but couldn’t catch anything. But I still had a limit at 7:40 a.m. The thing was that I only got one decent bite today and I was lucky to even catch that.”
Although Houston’s deeper hole didn’t pan out and his “magical bush” where he’d caught seven keepers in one day didn’t produce, he still managed an impressive 18-pound, 3-ounce stringer in today’s competition by targeting fish shallow.
In the end, however, Houston deflected any attention to himself. Instead, he took time out to praise Christie – as well as Oklahoma fishermen everywhere.
“I’ve known Jason ever since he was born,” he said. “I fished with his daddy and his uncles. And they were good fishermen. But that boy can really fish. I’m so proud of him.”
“It’s great to be here,” continued Houston. “And I just want to add that nobody has better fishermen than the state of Oklahoma.”
Houston also scored a nice payday as well to the tune of $24,466.
Yelas lands in fifth, team Chevy takes first
While there were plenty of storylines by the end of the week, one of the more understated happenings was the fact that Jay Yelas’ fifth-place finish gave team Chevy three of the top-five finishers in the tournament. With Thrift, Houston and Yelas all donning the black and gold, it was clear that, in this week’s team sponsor battle, there was little contest.
“It was the first top-10 finish for me this year so I’m really glad to be here,” said Yelas. “I haven’t been to this lake in 20 years but I’ve had an unbelievably fun time. It was great to come back.”
Yelas ultimately parlayed a total catch of 70 pounds, 7 ounces into a fifth-place finish and a check that came in just short of $20,000.
According to Yelas, who hails from Corvallis, Ore., he targeted most of his fish by flipping a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog, Texas-rigged and throwing a black-and-blue Punisher jig.
“I’d just go back and forth between the two (baits) flipping bushes and willows,” he said. “The type of bush was key though. The fish really seemed to like that Buck brush.”
Although Yelas had a banner day today, landing an 18-pound, 12-ounce catch in the finals, he said the first part of the tournament proved to be his undoing.
“I had a good day today, the best of the entire week,” he said. “And you always feel good when you have your best day on the last day. But I had the bites to win this tournament. The problem was that I lost my five biggest fish of the tournament over the first two days so I really wasn’t on top of my game at the beginning – and that cost me.”
In the end though, Yelas was more than satisfied with his performance.
“I had a great week and a really good day,” he said. “I’d love to come back here soon.”
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro finalists:
7th: Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., 68-13
8th: Zell Rowland, Montgomery, Texas, 66-14
9th: Stetson Blaylock, Benton, Ark., 65-12
10th: Straight Talk pro J.T. Kenney, Palm Bay, Fla., 61-14
For a complete list of pro results, click here.
FLW Tour action resumes June 27-30 in Dayton, Tenn., at Lake Chickamauga.