A hometown angler won the 2016 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees near Tulsa — just not necessarily the hometown angler everyone expected.
Jason Christie had a rough day, and Edwin Evers, of Talala, Okla., caught an incredible 29-pound, 3 ounce bag to storm from behind and finish with a three-day weight of 60-7 to earn the $300,000 payday.
“It hasn’t quite hit me yet,” said Evers, who was fishing his 15th Classic. “I don’t know when it will. But I know 29 pounds on the last day of the Classic is big.”
Gonzales angler Greg Hackney weighed in five fish for 14 pounds, 10 ounces and finished his 13th Classic in tenth place. Hackney earned $20,000.
Evers certainly didn’t seem like he was ready to win a Classic championship earlier in the week.
He spent most of Friday’s first round fishing shallow rocks with a crankbait. The pattern had worked well for him before competition began, but he believes it was zapped by the changing conditions.
He brought in only four fish that weighed 13-12.
“That pattern was really strong in practice, but it was going away,” Evers said. “The water was warming, and it just was not happening. I knew I had to do something different, and I feel like I made a really good decision that second day.”
Evers practiced what he called “damage control” during Saturday’s second round by making a long run up the Neosho River. He used a spinnerbait and a flipping stick to catch 17-8 and vault himself into third place.
“You could have a hundred Classics on Grand, and 99 times out of a hundred it wouldn’t be won with what I did the second day. It just helped me get back in it, as tough as things were,” he said.
One factor that made things so tough the first two days was the lack of wind on Grand Lake. With the water calm and flat, bass hanging out in the shallows were skittish and reluctant to bite.
The conditions were so calm, in fact, that Evers neglected to go to a spot in the Elk River where he had caught some big fish on windy days in practice. But with strong winds blowing Sunday, he decided to make the run to the Elk and see if he could start his day with a big fish.
He did — and then he added four more big ones to bring in a five-bass limit that ranked as the heaviest of the three-day event by almost 9 pounds.
“I went in there just to try and get a couple of big bites,” Evers said. “I caught a couple of 7-pounders there in practice. But it was real windy and blowing when I caught those fish, and it had to be that way to catch them in there.”
Mother Nature toyed with him a little early, but the conditions eventually played right into his hands.
“When I got in there and the wind wasn’t blowing, I was getting antsy,” Evers said. “Then I caught one of those big ones, and it just settled me down. I knew I could make something happen in there.
“I still wasn’t expecting to catch 29 pounds, but it all worked out.”
The magic bait for Evers on his magic day was a 5/16-ounce jig that he helped design for Andy’s Custom Bass Lures. It was green, brown and orange, but he said the material used to build the bait was the most important element.
“Andy is one of the few guys where you can still buy that old flat brown rubber,” Evers said. “In clear water, that’s the deal.”
While parts of Grand Lake were heavily stained this week, Evers found crystal-clear water in the Elk River.
“I was focusing on a flat that the current was hitting really hard,” Evers said. “It’s a flat with water coming over the top of it, and it has all types of laydowns. The water was so clear I could see the fish in there.”
Evers is the third straight angler to win the Classic in his home state, following South Carolina angler Casey Ashley’s win last year on Lake Hartwell and Alabamian Randy Howell’s victory in 2014 on Lake Guntersville.
For much of the week, it seemed like Christie would be the Oklahoma angler to hold that distinction. But after landing five-bass limits that weighed 20-14 and 16-11 the first two days, he managed only four fish that weighed 12-9.
Christie caught all of his fish using a heavy spinnerbait with a swimbait trailer.
“All of the rain we had during the winter really made this tournament interesting,” Christie said. “I would love to have gone out there and thrown a Rogue (jerkbait) the whole time. That’s what I prepared for in December.
“But that’s what the Classic is all about — changing conditions. It’s a tough tournament to win.”