A never-give-up attitude paid off with the win for Stephen Browning at the Ross Barnett Reservoir Bassmaster Central Open in Mississippi on Saturday.
"On most days I only had one fish in the livewell by noon," said the Bassmaster Elite Series veteran from Arkansas. "Every day I caught my fifth bass about 10 minutes before having to leave.
"It was very tempting to give up about midway through the day, but that also was the turning point in my mind to stay focused, bear down and grind it out."
He also staged a come-from-behind win after rising from 5 place after day 2. His total after three days of fishing was 44 pounds even.
Browning stole the lead from Japanese angler Ken Iyobe, who finished 2nd with 42-13. Brad Whatley of Bivins, Texas, took 3rd place with 41-10. Blake Betz of Baton Rouge, La., earned 4th with 40-09. Finishing 5th with 40-07 was Luke Palmer of Coalgate, Okla.
Browning's hot spot was a dense growth of eelgrass on a large spawning flat, he said.
"The key was marking those very thick spots of grass on my GPS and then grinding it out until the fish moved in," he explained. "It was the largest spawning flat on the lake, so I needed the recall of the GPS to keep me on the spots."
Browning's intent to target pre-spawn fish was a good idea. The biological clocks of those bass were ticking, and a move into shallow water to spawn came next. Spawning bass tend to weigh heaver, making his decision even better.
"Pre-spawn fish also tend to be eager to bite, more aggressive," he continued. "They are more committed to moving shallow, and rarely do they completely shut down when bad weather comes through an area."
Browning used a 3/8-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a 4-inch Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ trailer. He chose black/blue for the morning bite and switched to white during the afternoon.
The lures used by Iyobe were key with keeping him in contention to win. He started the tournament using a 1/2-ounce homemade jig to coax slow biters. When the fish turned on, he switched to crankbaits of his own design marketed by Shimano Japan. The Bantam Macbeth diver and Shimano Bantam Rattlin Sur-Vibe lipless crankbait were the choices.
Iyobe flipped the jig to isolated shoreline cover, while a fast retrieve with the diving crankbait worked for prespawn fish moving into shallow water. The vibrating action of the lipless crankbait produced strikes at mid-depth ranges. He rotated through four areas using the same lures.
"On Thursday the bite slowed and the fish stayed close to the brushpiles on the shoreline," he said. "The crankbaits worked best on riprap warmed by the sunshine."
Browning's winnings included cash and a Triton Tr19 with Mercury outboard and factory accessories worth nearly $50,000. He also advances to the 2018 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship, Oct. 18-20, at a location yet to be announced.
Here are the final numbers for the top 12:
1. Stephen Browning: 44-00
2. Ken Iyobe: 42-13
3. Brad Whatley: 41-10
4. Blake Betz: 40-09
5. Luke Palmer: 40-07
6. Frank Talley: 40-02
7. Bradley Burns: 36-13
8. Quentin Cappo: 33-12
9. Allan Nail: 32-08
10. Caleb Sumrall: 30-09
11. Clark Reehm: 28-10
12. Drew Benton: 25-14