Jason Christie was nearly certain his chance to win this week swam away on Saturday when he tried to swing a 7-pound caliber fish into the boat. He failed to execute and the fish took off back into Lake Dardanelle. Still, he managed to weigh a 20-pound bag to work his way into contention entering the final day.
On Sunday, he cemented his place as one of the best closers in the sport with a 19-02 sack that helped him rally from 4th place and capture his second Elite Series win in as many seasons and his fourth tour-level victory in the last 14 months. His 4-day total of 72-03 was just 4 ounces better than runner-up Gerald Swindle, who caught a day-best 20-01 to close with 71-15.
Greg Hackney, who led following days 2 and 3, saw his weight drop off for a fourth straight day and his 15-03 bag earned him a 3rd-place showing with 71-11. Rick Clunn's bid for his first win in 12 years fell short as his 15-04 stringer knocked him down two spots to 4th with 70-15.
Keith Combs rounded out the Top 5 as he caught 14-00 to finish with 68-03.
When it was over the top 4 were separated by just 1-04, an excruciatingly narrow margin on a lake that proved to be a powerhouse despite ever-changing weather and conditions throughout the event.
Here's how the rest of the finalists finished up:
6. Mike Iaconelli: 67-02
7. Cliff Crochet: 66-14
8. Chris Zaldain: 66-10
9. John Crews: 65-14
10. Paul Elias: 64-12
11. Takahiro Omori: 63-06
12. Skeet Reese: 59-13
Christie, the two-tour stalwart who's currently 2nd in the BassFan World Rankings, was coming off a 5th-place finish at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic last week. His familiarity with the Arkansas River, especially the pools close to his home in Oklahoma, certainly paid dividends this week. In 2012, he won a Bassmaster Central Open at Fort Gibson Lake, five pools up the river and had said that Dardanelle fished a lot like Robert Kerr Reservoir.
Along with the $100,000 paycheck, Christie notched a berth in next year's Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell, site of his first FLW Tour win in March 2011.
Heading into the event, the fishing up the river was said to be worthy of producing winning-quality stringers, but ultimately it was won from the middle of the lake and down toward the host city of Russellville as anglers dealt with a reservoir that changed virtually by the hour. What would've normally been an offshore post-spawn event was dominated by bank-beaters who fished grass, rock, wood and stretches with moving water.
Hackney's lead in the Angler of the Year (AOY) chase was short-lived as his finish dropped him a point behind Mark Davis after five events. Davis has 412 points, Hackney 411 and reigning AOY Aaron Martens is 3rd with 390.
The Elite Series is off for a few weeks and will resume June 11 with its inaugural B.A.S.S.Fest, a 5-day event set for Lake Chickamauga in Dayton, Tenn., where Bassmaster Open anglers will vie for an opportunity to compete against Elite Series anglers.
> Day 4: 5, 19-02 (20, 72-03)
By the first week of June last year, Christie had turned the top level of his sport on its ear by winning three tour-level events in the matter of 2 months and rocketing to the top of the BassFan World Rankings. As 2014 started creeping toward the end of the May, the Oklahoma pro was starting to wonder if that wickedly superb stretch was just an anomaly.
With his win today, his fifth career tour-level triumph and yet another come-from-behind effort, it's safe to say what happened last year was no fluke.
just didn't want it to be a little hot streak and have it be over with," he said. "At the start of the year I was thinking about was it a little spurt or can I really compete with these guys? Every time I've won – every single one – I've had no idea that I was going to have a chance to win. This was no different than any of those. I was shocked as anyone else."
He caught a couple decent 3-pound caliber fish in the first couple hours today along with a pair of 2 1/2s and was sitting on close to 12 pounds most of the day. All week, though, his best stretch of time had been between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. It produced again for him today.
"I'd just put my trolling motor down and fish until it got close to 1," he said. "Then when the current got moving, I'd start hopping stretches that were getting the most current and depending on if the water was coming up or going down."
He spent the entirety of the event swimming a half-ounce Booyah jig around the edges of water willow clumps in Illinois Bayou on the lower end of the lake.
More details about Christie's and the other top finishers' patterns will be published soon.